Friday, November 22, 2013


This silent German film from Ernst Lubitsch may be the oldest film I've reviewed here. It is definitely a relic in terms of acting (either overdone or underdone) but it's been beautifully restored with rich color tinting and is lovely to watch. The title is an exaggeration: the pharaoh, King Amenes (Emil Jannings) only has one love but she causes quite a bit of trouble. Samlak, the king of Ethiopia, arrives wanting to sign a peace pact with the Egyptians and offers his daughter Makeda as a bride. But trouble is in store when Ramphis (Harry Liedtke), an Egyptian architect, rescues Theonis (Dagny Servaes), a Greek slave to Makeda who was being mistreated. The two go necking at an ancient Egyptian version of a moonlit lover's lane, but when they stray onto treasury property, which is strictly forbidden, they are caught and sentenced to death. As Ramphis is about to be crushed beneath a huge stone slab, Theonis agrees to give herself to King Amenes if he will spare Ramphis. The King agrees and frees Ramphis but tells him that Theonis has been executed. Meanwhile, Samlak wants Theonis back as a slave; one thing leads to another and soon the Ethiopians are on the warpath.

There is some fun to be had here in this early example of a historical epic. The sets are spectacular and the battle scenes are impressive. The acting, as I noted, is all over the place. Actually, I prefer the actors like Liedtke who overact occasionally to Jannings who underplays the lead role—pretty much all he does is glower and look askance; his passion for the slave girl barely registers. But the restoration of the film is amazing. No complete print exists so this was pulled together from three different prints, but aside from the fact that a handful of scenes are missing and represented by stills and explanatory titles, it feels all of one piece. This won't convert anyone over to silent film fandom, and it doesn't feel at all like a Lubitsch movie (glossy, whimsical, romantic), but I enjoyed it. [TCM]

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