Paul Wegener & Carl Boese (director)
18 November 2019 (released)
18 November 2019
This iconic silent horror classic from 1920 – based both on an old Jewish legend and Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel – is not only a typical example of Weimar’s Expressionist cinema but also served as a direct inspiration to James Whale’s equally iconic 1930’s masterpiece ‘Frankenstein’.
DER GOLEM – WIE ER IN DIE WELT KAM (THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD) was director Wegener’s third film featuring the infamous clay monster. An earlier 1915 version had left Wegener, forced to make compromises, dissatisfied while the 1917 horror spoof ‘The Golem and the Dancing Girl’ is lost.
This 1920’s prequel is the version that not only survived but is also the one that has become a classic of the silent horror genre. Wegener, who co-directed with Carl Boese and also co-wrote the script together with Henrik Galeen (Waxworks, Nosferatu, The Student of Prague), can once again be seen in the title role.
The story is set in medieval times and takes place in the Jewish ghetto of Prague, with Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrück), who serves as the head of the community, reading the stars… but it predicts impending disaster. Sure enough, the following day the Holy Roman Emperor (Otto Gebühr) signs a Royal decree ordering that the Jews must leave Prague before the new moon. He sends his arrogant knight Florian (Lothar Müthel) to deliver the official order, however, upon arrival in the ghetto he is immediately smitten by Rabbi Loew’s daughter Miriam (Lyda Salmonova – Wegener’s then wife), much to the chagrin of Loew’s assistant (Ernst Deutsch, who some 29 years later would play Baron Kurtz in the thriller ‘The Third Man’). Desperate to save his people from having to leave the city, the Rabbi and his assistant resort to magic in their despair – first creating a man made of clay before summoning the spirit Astaroth to retrieve the very word from the demon that is meant to bring the clay man, or Golem (P. Wegener) to life. Once he is in possession of the secret word the Rabbi then writes it onto a piece of paper enclosed in an amulet which he inserts onto the monster’s chest – and the Golem comes to live.
Earlier on the Rabbi had managed to convince Florian to deliver message to the Emperor in response to his message. The Rabbi’s message simply states that is he, and only he, who tells the horoscopes to the Emperor. Now Florian returns to the ghetto for a second time – not only to see Miriam again but to invite Rabbi Loew to the prestigious annual Rose Festival at the Royal Palace. The Rabbi accepts and decides to bring his Golem along. At first, the assembled guests are terrified of the fearsome clay monster but calm down when the Rabbi explains the Golem is his servant. The Emperor commands the Rabbi to display some more magic trickery he projects a magical screen onto a wall and the guests see the history of the Jews displayed in front or their eyes. When the Wandering Jew appears on the screen everyone in the ballroom descends into hysterical laughter including the Emperor, resulting in the palace walls beginning to collapse. Only the Golem’s supernatural strength prevents people from getting crushed to death. As a sign of his appreciation the Emperor declares the decree void and the Jews are allowed to remain in the ghetto.
But it wouldn’t be a horror film if all went smooth. Reading the stars again, Rabbi Loew discovers that new astrological events will cause the demon Astaroth to re-claim the Golem and to worsen things further, attack its creators. Deeply worried about this latest discovery, the Rabbi immediately removes the amulet from the Golem’s chest, after all, the Golem can’t do any harm as long as he’s not animated. Unfortunately, Florian – the Emperor’s assistant – secretly returns to the ghetto with plans to escape together with Miriam… when the Rabbi’s jealous assistant finds out he re-animates the Golem again (if only to destroy his rival)… but as he soon is to find out this time round the Golem goes on an almighty rampage and destroy a lot more than just Florian…
With its claustrophobic and unusually designed buildings (the film was shot at Berlin’s Tempelhof Studios), plus Karl Freund and Guido Seeber’s cinematography, DER GOLEM is a must-have for all fans of silent horror. Paul Wegener, already a stocky built and statuesque man even without his platform boots, cuts a suitably terrifying appearance as the clay monster – further enhanced thanks to Wegener’s almost ‘Cubist’ facial structure.
This brand new (and tinted) 4K restoration is presented with a Limited Edition Slipcase (2000 copies only) and features some interesting Extras including the 60 min US version, various video essays, option of three unique scores by Stephen Horne, Admir Shkurtaj and electronic music composer Wudec, collector’s booklet etc.