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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.
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