Sunday, June 30, 2013

Das Weib des Pharao

Tonight's Silent Sunday Night selection on TCM is an interesting one, as it's one of Ernst Lubitsch's German silents: The Loves of Pharaoh (the German title, Das Weib des Pharao, literally translates to The Pharaoh's Wife), tonight at midnight.

The story is a fairly standard story of forbidden love being tragic, this time set against the backdrop of ancient Egypt. Emil Jannings plays Egyptian Pharaoh Amenes. One day he's approached by a delegation led by Samlak (Paul Wegener), the king of Ethiopia. King Samlak has a proposal for the Pharaoh: the hand of Samlak's daughter Makeda (Lyda Salmonova) in marriage. It should be a win-win proposition for both sides, as the Ethiopian King can marry off his daughter; the Pharaoh can get a wife; and both sides should be at peace what with their royal houses now being brought closer by marriage. Who needs love in an era of arranged marriages, anyway? Well, this is a 20th century movie and not the era of arranged marriages, so our Pharaoh would like love. And he has his eye on Theonis (Dagny Servaes), who is Makeda's slave-girl. So Amenes takes Theonis for a wife.

This certainly complicates things, in a whole bunch of ways. Unsurprisingly, King Samlak is none too happy about having his daughter rejected for -- a slave girl! How could the Pharaoh disrespect him like this? Well, there's only one thing that will make the Pharaoh respect the king, and that's a nice little conquering. So Samlak prepares his troops to fight a war against Egypt. Oh, but that's not the only complication. While Amenes is in love with Theonis, she's not really in love with him. She's fallen in love with Ramphis (Harry Liedtke), the son of Sothis, one of the king's advisors (Albert Bassermann). Ramphis, unsurprisingly, has fallen in love with Theonis, and those two decide to start carrying on an illicit relationship. The Pharaoh finds out, and sentences Ramphis to hard labor, while locking Theonis away in one of his palaces.

The war comes, and Samlak's men kill Amenes. Technically, this makes Theonis the leader, since the Pharaoh doesn't have any heirs. She selects Ramphis, and presumably everybody who's alive gets to live happily ever after. Oh, no, that's not the way the movie ends. Amenes was only presumed dead; actually, he didn't die of his injuries. And he shows up again. That really complicates matters....

As I said at the beginning, the love triangle story certainly isn't anything new, at least not looking back 90 years. What really makes the movie worth watching is the visuals. Those visuals are, in fact, spectacular, and on a par with any of the grandiose spectacles Hollywood was putting on in the silent era. The Loves of Pharaoh was restored a few years back from what surviving elements could be found, with some production stills filling in for the few lost scenes. The result is a movie that's gorgeous and impressive to look at, regardless of whether the story is trite.

As part of the restoration, The Loves of Pharaoh has been made available on both DVD and Blu-ray, but apparently you have to buy it directly from the people who did the restoration.

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