Thanks to KINO VIDEO's set of four new releases in the "Lubitsch in Berlin" series we can now get a better understanding and appreciation of Ernst Lubitsch's contribution to the silent film era. Regarded as one of Germany's leading directors, he stands out as uniquely different from his contemporaries and their works, namely Fritz Lang (who directed "Metropolis") F.W. Murnau ("Faust", "Nosferatu", "The Last Laugh") and G.W. Pabst ("Pandora's Box" and "Diary of a Lost Girl" with Louise Brooks) While German silent cinema was known for its Expressionist style, and generally serious with use of special lighting and shadows, Lubitsch's films are a refreshing contrast with their light, straight-forward and often humorous approach. Lubitsch's early German Silents also reveal his wide range of talents, covering different styles of comedy such as "Wildcat" and "The Oyster Princess" but also serious historic dramas such as "Anna Boleyn" (all in the `Lubitsch in Berlin' series by KINO) and not only was he a very versatile and innovative director as well as co-writer of many films, but his acting should not be overlooked either. "Sumurun" is a surprise in many ways, not in the least in Lubitsch's fairly important role of `the Hunchback' which, to me, stands out as the most eccentric and unforgettable character of the entire film.
One of the main things which struck me about "Sumurun" was first of all its style and sophistication which seem to be far superior to many films of the same year, 1920. Germans, in fact, were quite sophisticated in the 1920s and were particularly fascinated by exotic settings and places, so little wonder that "Sumurun" with its Arabian Nights sets and costumes was a big success, and not only in Germany but also in the USA. Sumurun is a member of the Old Sheik's harem (played convincingly by Paul Wegener) but she defies him because she loves a cloth merchant. Alongside this triangle is another twisted love triangle which includes Pola Negri as an exotic dancer whom `the Hunchback' loves, but she in turn is after the Young Sheik. Originally a popular pantomime act, there are not many intertitles in "Sumurun" but plenty of movement and action in a light and somewhat zany comedic style. The picture quality is overall quite good and is helped along with nice colour-tinting, and the musical accompaniment is a well-suited piano score, although I can't help wondering whether an orchestral score with Arabian or exotic undertones might have enhanced this film even more. Nevertheless, "Sumurun" is no doubt an important part of the Ernst Lubitsch and also German silent film repertoire, and it might be merely a matter of personal taste which of the four in the Lubitsch in Berlin series appeals the most.