Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Sumurun poster by Theo Matejko.
Sumurun / Sumurun. DE 1920. PC: Union. D: Ernst Lubitsch. SC: Hanns Kräly, Lubitsch - based on an Oriental pantomime by Friedrich Freksa. DP: Theodor Sparkuhl. Chief of technics: Kurt Waschneck. AD: Kurt Richter, assistant: Ernö Metzner. COST: Ali Hubert. Starring: Pola Negri (dancer), Jenny Hasselquist (Sumurun, the sheik's favourite harem woman), Aud Egede Nissen (Haidee, her servant), Margarethe Kupfer (the old hag), Paul Wegener (the old sheik), Carl Clewing (the young sheik), Harry Liedtke (Nur-al-Din, a cloth merchant), Jacob Tiedtke (head eunuch), Ernst Lubitsch (the hunchback), Paul Biensfeldt (the slave merchant Achmed). 2379 m /18 fps/ 114 min.

Restored version, tinted and toned, Transit Film / FWMS, /18 fps/ 102 min. E-subtitles by AA. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 5 Feb 2008.

One of the most ambitious Lubitsch films, it brings together once more his trusted team and ensemble. In the female leads we meet the Polish Pola Negri, the Danish Aud Egede Nissen (here in her first of her two Lubitsch roles) and the Swedish Jenny Hasselqvist, discovered by Stiller, here in her second film role. While not one of the great Lubitsch films, there is much of interest in it. 1) the harem theme probably interested L., the sheik's favourite, Sumurun, to be replaced with Pola Negri, note the remarkable fun the harem women seem to be having, except Sumurun, 2) it is fascinating to see the familiar faces and sets in new use, most actors are not particularly convincing as Orientals, 3) the crowd scenes are always lively, 4) there are playful ornamental patterns and variations of the film framing by different masks, 5) the mighty sheik belongs to the tyrant tradition of Weimar cinema (as well as Lubitsch's Louis XIV, Henry VIII, and the Pharaon), the young lovers' happiness threatened by the tyrant, the theme of absolute power, 6) based on pantomime, this film sports less titles than the previous Lubitsch films, this belongs to the trend of less titles in Weimar cinema, 7) the tragic clown / circus / variety / show folk theme was very popular during the silent era, this belongs to the same trend as the Danish circus triangle tragedies, and soon Sjöström, Chaplin, Dupont, Robison, Hitchcock, and Sternberg's The Blue Angel, 8) it is worth reflecting that in his last role as an actor Lubitsch plays a sad clown, he overacts, as directors tend to do as actors, 9) instead of fine pantomime the film offers often crude exaggeration, and even the farce is not up to the Lubitsch standard, 10) the foot fetish returns in the scene of Liedtke kissing Sumurun's foot, 11) this print does not add to the content of the ones available 20 years ago, but the colour is new, but the Desmet style of tinting hides a lot of detail and nuance. To sum up: a more rewarding film than I remembered.

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