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One of the great horror icons,
This review is from: Der Golem  [DVD] (DVD)
The giant frame of Paul Wegener as the Golem is one of the best known characters from the silent era, and one of the first icons of horror. Der Golem is actually the third film to feature the character, the first being The Golem (1915), and the second The Golem And The Dancing Girl (1917), which is a short comedy with Wegener donning the costume to frighten a girl he is in love with. Tragically, those two films are now considered lost, and only fragments equalling about 14 minutes of the first film remain. This film is actually a prequel, and it's full title is Der Golem: Wie Er In Die Welt Kam (How He Came Into The World), but is now commonly know as simply Der Golem.
The Jews of medieval Prague face persecution from the townsfolk. Terrified of their doomed fate, Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinruck) uses his skills in black magic to create The Golem, a mythical figure from Jewish folklore. He is made entirely from clay, and has an amulet in his chest that gives him power, and when removed turns him back into lifeless clay. He is initially used as a servant, and then to terrify the townsfolk who are threatening them. The Golem eventually gets tired of being used as a tool of fear and begins to turn on his creator, and starts to lay waste to the Ghetto.
Like the majority of films made in Weimar Germany, the film has an expressionist tone, with lavish, artistic sets that dominate the frame. Similar in feel to the great Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari, it is however more subtle in its artistic flair, and lacks Caligari's rickety (although wonderful in its own way) sets. It is also quite terrifying in its realisation of a segregation that would occur in the country only a decade later, although it does portray the Jews as vengeful and as studying the dark arts.
The Golem itself is a great movie monster. Tragic in the same way as Frankenstein's monster, he is brought into the world without having asked to be, and is expected to carry out terrible acts against his will. Paul Wagener portrays him with all silent intensity and uncontrollable rage, with his towering frame sending his enemies running for the hills. He also impressively co-wrote and co-directed the film. This is an enjoyable film that breezes by in its rather slight running time, and can be forgiven for some over-acting and the occasional tedious scene. It also has some interesting social comments, and is a frightening prelude to one of the most horrific periods in Europe's history.