Das Weib des Pharao

I watched the restored version of the 1922 Das Weib des Pharao last night.  The English title is The loves of pharaoh, although my rudimentary German suggests that Das Weib means The wife. It’s an interesting entry from director Ernst Lubitsch, who became associated in the US for his sophisticated, elegant, and wry comedies, and for whom the phrase “the Lubitsch touch” was coined.  This was his last German before he left for the US, and which he made to expand his repertoire to include epic films.  The story of the restoration of this film is fascinating, since no single print survived. It’s certainly not a film I have seen before, nor is it one that is shown much on television, so I am grateful to TCM for the opportunity to see it. The film is a shortened version of the original, since some parts have been lost forever; it includes also some still shots for scenes for which film is unavailable.  The story is clearly based on Verdi’s Aida, but no such attribution is provided. This film certainly lacks the Lubitsch touch, as no wit or humour is to be found.  As is the case with so many silent films, the acting is often over the top, which was the norm for this medium, but it is taken to some extremes in this film, particularly by the actors in blackface playing the Ethiopian characters.  The battle and crowd scenes are often stilted and clumsy; I don’t think this is surprising for an director who was known for his subtle and light touch. Perhaps because of Lubitsch’s lack of expertise in such a genre, the film and action sequences are too over the top, even by silent film standards. Still interesting to watch, however, especially because it is such an odd contrast to Lubitsch’s other films.

The film stars the controversial Emil Jannings, a favourite of director F. W. Murnau; in Hollywood, he is likely most known for his role in The blue angel, the simulataneous English-filmed version of Der blaue Engel. Janning’s work during the Third Reich in Nazi propaganda films meant the end of his acting career after the war.

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