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A jealous & vindictive Rajah sends a powerful Yogi to entice a famous
English architect into constructing a marvelous mausoleum in which to
inter the prince's faithless wife.
THE Indian TOMB: THE MISSION OF THE YOGI is a perfect example of the grand German cinema epics created during the silent era. Berlin film mogul Joe May turned the full resources of his modern Maytown studio over to the production, using 300 workmen to create the lavish sets necessary to tell such an exotic tale.
May contracted with authoress Thea von Harbou to write the script for THE Indian TOMB, based on her 1917 novella. May assigned young Fritz Lang as her co-writer. Lang, who married von Harbou after starting the writing project, desired to direct the films, but he was deemed too inexperienced for such an important project by the financiers and May enthusiastically became the director himself. Furious, Lang left May's employ; it would be more than 35 years before he was able to direct his own Indian TOMB films.
THE Indian TOMB: THE MISSION OF THE YOGI was an artistic triumph, presenting wonderful vistas & sequences to delight the viewer's imagination. Right from the eerie prolog, when an Indian holy man is literally disinterred from his living grave, the film grips the audience with a promise of high adventure & mysticism. Further scenes, including those set in the Tiger Arena adjoining the Maharajah's Palace, or the Cave of the Penitents situated below it, add intricate strokes to the broad canvas which is THE Indian TOMB.
Conrad Veidt is mesmerizing as the troubled Rajah. With large, hypnotic eyes set in a bony face, he seems forever contemplating terrible memories. Veidt gives a measured, stylized performance, moving very slowly and deliberately, almost somnambulistic in his actions. The one short scene where he lets his longing & heartbreak push through to the surface is startling just from the sheer pent-up passion released for a few seconds - as if a mighty dam is breached and almost immediately sealed again.
Today, Conrad Veidt is remembered in America almost entirely for his villainous Major Strasser in CASABLANCA. This is a shame, as there was so much more to his life. Cultured & sophisticated, Veidt was considered to be one of the best (and one of the most handsome) actors in Germany, and he was a tremendous matinée idol in the 1920's. Later, he became courageously outspoken in his anti-Nazi sentiments and he found it safer to relocate to England and eventually to America. In Hollywood, Veidt continued to denounce the evils of the Third Reich. Tragically, he was not to live long enough to see the inevitable defeat of Hitler. Completing only one further film after CASABLANCA, Conrad Veidt died of a heart attack while playing golf on April 3, 1943. He was 50 years old.
Equally intriguing is Bernhard Goetzke as the mysterious, implacable Yogi. Imparting menace in every movement, he is a worthy henchman to the Rajah. Olaf Fønss as the architect & Mia May (the director's wife) as his courageous fiancée, present a refreshingly middle-aged view of romantic love.
The story was originally presented as a filmed diptych. THE Indian TOMB: THE MISSION OF THE YOGI (1921) was followed by THE Indian TOMB: THE TIGER OF BENGAL (1921). A box office disappointment in Germany & a failure in America, the films quickly passed into obscurity. However, down through the decades their reputations scored a renaissance. After much painstaking effort both films were archivally restored to their original luster. They have been released together on home video & DVD.
If only for the striking performance of Conrad Veidt the films would be significant. But their epic proportions & high adventure set in a remarkable culture are a window into the very best which German cinema had to offer in the 1920's.
"The Indian Tomb" features a sprawling, epic story, eye-popping sets
and costumes and a cast of hundreds if not thousands. If you're in the
mood for an old-fashioned, exotic adventure of the type that would be
impossible to produce nowadays its a good bet for you. This is a
two-part film and the DVD with both parts is three-and-a-half hours
long, so be prepared for a few nights viewing. Its also rather slow
going at times, with some scenes being dragged out a bit too much for
modern viewers, but overall I found it a treat to watch.
The most impressive actors to me were Conrad Veidt as the Rajah and Bernhard Goetzke as Ramigani the Yogi. Both have rather amazing and memorable faces. Goetzke's presence is remarkable and he was just as impressive in the same year playing Death in Fritz Lang's "Der Mude Tod". He is unknown today, possible because it looks as if he appeared in several Nazi productions in WWII so was perhaps blacklisted afterwards, but he was quite memorable in these two performances, the only two pieces of his work I have seen. I was not very impressed, however, by the nominal leads of the film, Olaf Fanss as the architect who travels to India to build a tomb for the Rajah and Mia May as his sweetheart. They both seem a bit too middle-aged and stodgy to be the center of all this intrigue, but perhaps that was the style of the times. The decidedly pudgy Ms. May, who was married to the film's director, Joe May, was reputedly 37 when the film was made, but could pass for 57 and in certain scenes has an unfortunate resemblance to George Washington in a dress. It was a big mistake in the "sacrifice" scene to put her in a bare-midriff outfit.
Still, this film is good nostalgic fun with man-eating tigers, leper colonies, globe-trotting action, all-powerful yogis and insanely jealous rajahs. Only Steven Spielberg could get away with it nowadays.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just finished watching Bob Mays' The Indian Tomb (silent 1921) & Fritz
Lang's Indian Tomb (talkie 1960). These movies share the same storyline
but are focused on the story in totally different, you may say opposite
manners. I enjoyed both movies but tend to favor the silent because of
my personal tendencies. Both casts are top rate. Both are wonderfully
The storyline is that of the clash of Indian culture versus Western culture set against the construction of a tomb for an Indian Princess that the Maharajah wants constructed to house the woman he loved. The silent focuses on the Indian cultural differences & seeks to unveil all that is different & unusual to the western viewer. It is backed up by a tale of love lost & the emotional reactions he goes through. Vengeance plays a strong role in this story. There is a story twist but it's revealed very quickly.
The difficulties faced by the married English architect, his wife & the Maharaja's staff due to the total authority of the Maharaja along with the forced subservience of the palace staff is capably portrayed against the background of Indian culture as well as, one of the central themes of the silent, the Eastern mysticism of the Yogi. This mysticism is much more central in the silent than in the talkie. It is also one thing I enjoyed greatly & was surprised at the visuals accomplished in this 1921 film. The outcome is perhaps easily guessed at but the journey is not.
The Fritz Lang (1960) version is much more centered on the love story. The sets & costuming are breathtaking. Perhaps the storyline is not as professionally polished but the change this movie makes in concept is well done. Here you get the fleshing out of the love between an Englishman & an Indian Princess. The life of the princess is more openly portrayed. Debra Paget as the princess is eye-popping both as an actress & a dancer. You'll not find a better serious combination of dance & costume than Fritz shows here. It may be my lack of Paget film experience, I knew she was a raving beauty & had no idea she could dance like this. I'll give a link to one of her dances at the end of this.
I felt the Maharaja was well played in both, but once again, the silent is a stronger portrayal. The wife of the architect in the silent is of an intelligent, strong & resolute woman unusual for this 1921 time period (indeed even in 1960). The part of the Yogi is almost nonexistent in the 1960 version & that loss plays a great deal into my preference for the 1921 silent. There are many wonderful characters in both movies & I suggest that if you are interested in this kind of show then you should skip neither. The inter-cards on the silent are excellent & you don't feel you miss the conversation after reading them. As always the silent acting is more emotive to make up for the lack of talking.
Had I a great magic wand to create movies with, I would combine the themes of these two movies & create a 5 to 6 hour epic using both the revelation of Indian culture & mysticism & the expansion of the love story & dancer's life. Since you don't get this unless you watch both movies I'll give each 4 Amazon Stars with my personal preferential nod to the silent.
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