Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#2,451. The Eyes of the Mummy (1918)

Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke, Emil Jannings

Tag line: "All the charm and mystery of the East caught into a passion-swept romance of irresistible appeal"

Trivia: In Denmark the film was released as The Orient's Daughter

The Eyes of the Mummy, a 1918 German-produced drama / horror film, was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who a few decades later would prove himself a master of comedy with movies like Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be. In addition, the film co-starred Emil Jannings, six years away from his extraordinary turn in F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (Jannings was also the recipient of the very first Academy Award for Best Actor, which he won in 1929 for his performances in both The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command). 

And for you horror fans out there, The Eyes of the Mummy also features several key elements that would make their way into Universal’s Mummy series, chief among them the idea that a curse would befall anyone foolish enough to enter the tomb of an ancient Egyptian ruler. 

These bits of trivia aside, however, The Eyes of the Mummy is a less-than-stellar movie, with poor pacing and a story that, even in a film that’s only an hour long, doesn’t generate enough excitement to sustain a full-length motion picture. 

While on a sojourn to Egypt, British painter Albert Wendland (Harry Liedtke) decides to visit the centuries-old burial chamber of the Egyptian monarch Queen Ma, in part because he wants to test the rumor that the Queen’s tomb has been cursed, and anyone who braves it will slowly lose their mind. Greeted at the entrance by Ragu (Jannings), Wendland ventures inside the tomb, where he finds not an ancient mummy but a very real - and quite beautiful - woman, whose name also happens to be Ma (Pola Negri). 

According to Ma, she has been Ragu’s prisoner for some time, forced to play a part in the deceitful Arab’s money-making scheme (it was Ragu who started the story about the curse, hoping it would pique the interest of wealthy tourists). Having fallen in love with Ma, Wendland helps her escape, and before long the two are married and living in England, where the exotic Ma quickly becomes a dance hall sensation. 

But when Ma eventually learns that Ragu has also made his way to England, and is now working as a servant for Prince Hohenfels (Max Laurence), she fears her old captor may attempt to track her down. 

Jannings, so good in both The Last Laugh and Faust, delivers a solid performance as the diabolical Ragu, easily the film’s most fascinating character (though he’s the villain, the movie only seems to come alive when Ragu is on-screen). Equally as strong are the early scenes set in Egypt; along with a handful of well-shot desert sequences, the set piece for Queen Ma’s tomb, which was designed by Kurt Richter (who also worked on 1920’s The Golem) is pretty darn cool. The moment the action shifts to England, however, The Eyes of the Mummy slows to a crawl (thanks in large part to a few ill-timed dance hall sequences), and never recovers.

Die-hard movie fans might find it a curiosity, and enjoy the early glimpse of Emil Jannings at work, but for everyone else The Eyes of the Mummy will probably put them to sleep.

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