A relic certainly, but a fascinating one, Der Golem
is perhaps the screen's first great monster movie. Though it was actually the third time director-star Paul Wegener had played the eponymous creation, the earlier efforts (sadly lost) were rough drafts for this elaborate dramatisation of the Jewish legend. When the Emperor decrees that the Jews of mediaeval Prague should be evicted from the ghetto, a mystical rabbi creates a clay giant and summons the demon Astaroth who breathes out in smoky letters the magic word that will animate the golem. Intended as a protector and avenger, the golem is twisted by the machinations of a lovelorn assistant and, like many a monster to come, runs riot, terrorising guilty and innocent alike until a little girl innocently ends his rampage. Wegener's golem is an impressively solid figure, the Frankenstein monster with a slightly comical girly clay-wig. The wonderfully grotesque Prague sets and the alchemical atmosphere remain potent.
On the DVD: Der Golem on disc has an imaginative menu involving the rabbi opening a book of spells that leads to alternate versions of the film with German or English inter-titles. The print is cobbled from several sources and tinted to the original specifications, with an especially impressive crimson glow as the ghetto burns. The extras are an audio essay, illustrated with clips, on Der Golem and German Expressionist cinema in general, plus a gallery of stills and other illustrations. --Kim Newman
Paul Wegener's landmark gothic horror film was first released in 1914, before being substantially reworked for a reissue six years later. The Golem, a clay hulk brought to life by a magic scroll implanted in his chest, saves the Jews from Rudolf II in 16th Century Prague. Reverting to his inanimate form, the golem is given the gift of life once more by a Rabbi's assistant who wants him to kidnap the beautiful Miriam.
From the Back Cover
In the Jewish ghetto in 16th century Prague, the community leader and astrologer Rabbi Low (Albert Steinruck) forsees doom for his people written in the stars. A short time later, the Emperor Luhois (Otto Gebuhr) issues an expulsion order to the people of the ghetto and they are to leave the city. In an attempt to save his people, Low creates a forbidding clay golem (Paul Wegener) that he brings to life with the assistance of a demon spirit and an amulet placed in the centre of the creatures chest. Subsequently the Golem saves the Emperors life and order is rescinded. Initially the Golem does nothing but good, but changes after Lows assistance Famulus (Ernst Deutsch) uses the creature to ward off Count Florian (Lothar Muthel), who is competing with him for the affections of the Rabbis daughter, Miriam (Lyda Salmonova). Famulus tries to remove the amulet and to return the Golem to rest, but fails as the enraged creature embarks on a trail of destruction, burning Lows house and making off with Miriam; the whole community is threatened.
The third film by actor and director Paul Wegener to feature the Golem, this is the most accomplished. Its influence can be seen in many later films, but in particular James Whales Frankenstein. It is an excellent example of German Expressionism and an important contribution to the golden age of Weimar Cinema.