THE EYES OF THE MUMMY

(1918)


Notes: German, a.k.a. Die Angen Der Mummie Ma. 57 minutes.
Directed: Ernst Lubitsch
Scenario: Hans Kraly and Emil Rameau

Ma (a.k.a. Mara): Pola Negri
Radu: Emil Jannings
Albert Wendland: Harry Liedtke
Prince Hohenfel: Max Lawrence.


Summary: Albert Wendland, a painter hanging about the Egyptian sand dunes, catches a glimpse of a captivating but frightened woman at a desert well. Back at the luxury Palace Hotel, he overhears Prince Hohenfel's intention to visit the burial chamber of Queen Ma. But he is somewhat dissuaded by reports of a legendary curse on anyone who enters the crypt. In fact, a recent victim is lounging in a lawn-chair nearby, completely out of his friggin' mind. Albert goes to this man, who cries, "The eyes are alive!" The man then lapses into unconsciousness or death.

After a few moments at the Cairo market square, Albert rides to the tomb. The sleazy and oppressive Radu scurries Ma, the frightened woman, inside. Radu dramatically invites Albert on a tour. Inside a wall carving indeed has eyes that are alive, but after some gunplay during which Radu is cowed, Albert enters a room to see that the eyes are really Ma's. "Who are you? he asks her. She unleashes her life story, which really just amounts to a Persephone-like kidnapping one day by Radu when she was fetching water. Albert takes her away.

Radu starts after them but is discovered later by Prince Hohenfel's tourist party passed out on a dune. Upon recovery back at the hotel, Radu pledges to serve the Prince back in Europe. He also privately swears, by the "high priestess" Osiris (!), that he won't rest until he finds Ma.

Back in polite society, Ma is being tutored but has more fun with a cat. Her enthusiasm in greeting Albert is indecorous, but later it turns out that he has married her. Mixing some The Taming of the Shrew into the influence of Antony and Cleopatra, the plot has a milliner enter to prepare Ma for her social debut. Radu is back in Europe too, serving the Prince and vowing to get revenge on "the girl who betrayed me," whatever twisted logic that designation requires.

At the party, the waltz-challenged Ma feels excluded until she dons her "Oriental" dress and stages an exotic dance, somehow heavily influenced by Nijinsky. Variety show agent Bernhardi immediately books her for the Alhambra.

Radu is among the Prince's retinue at the theater and sees Ma performing. She too sees him from the stage and faints. Now she can't even enjoy her own portrait, painted by Albert, at an art exhibit, as she is ill and haunted by hallucinations of Radu. When a letter arrives for Albert from the Prince who claims to be purchasing the portrait, Ma begs Albert to cancel the sale.

Too late. Radu sees the portrait hanging in the Prince's den, takes out an enormous knife, and stabs it. He sees the artist's name, Wendland, and now knows where to stalk. Albert and the Prince see the stabbed portrait and the Prince identifies Radu's dagger. (As a new scowling Egyptian servant he was allowed to carry around a two-foot-long knife?)

Radu climbs to Ma's window. She tries to use the telephone, but soon is powerless to resist his will. He wields another identical knife; she faints. Instead of stabbing her, she falls unconscious down the stairs and is killed. Radu kisses her corpse and kills himself. Albert and the Prince rush in, and, ignoring the body of Radu, Albert carries Ma to a couch. "Too late."


Commentary: Typos in the new English cards for the originally German film are irksome, and I guess it's a bit too early for the famous "Lubitsch touch" here, but it's a fairly gripping film. The sense of inevitable tragedy completely overshadows any notion of a mummy's curse being responsible for any of this, which is probably a good sign of the film's effectiveness. And it's the first time I've seen the famous Polish femme fatale Pola Negri.


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