It’s always difficult to know how to approach reviews on silent films. You could look for faults, and you could rip them apart for their pacing and poor representation. But to be honest, if you’re choosing to watch a silent film, chances are you already know about that. Of course, like all films they vary in quality hugely, and often the best examples came out of Germany in the interwar years. The Indian Tomb is no exception.

Let’s be clear here, even as silent movies go, this is niche. It’s 4 hours long for one thing. Essentially two films released over two discs, but unlike more modern split films neither can stand alone. They are clearly designed to be watched in sequence. Despite this its pacing is better than a lot of films of this era. Regardless of the typical extended sequences that don’t entirely need to be there it does hold your attention quite well. Contemporary audiences should have been wowed by the exotic environments they were seeing, the elaborate sets, costumes, and characters.

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We can see here what came after it, certain screen language techniques which are commonplace now. Overlays and special effects that we take for granted but in 1921 would have been seen as some sort of magic.

The first film, The Mission of the Yoghi, begins with the opening of an ancient grave. A Yogi named Ramigani (Bernhard Goetzke) is brought back to life by an Indian prince, Ayan III (Conrad Veidt). The Yogi has magical powers, the ability to travel across the world in seconds, alter reality with his mind and heal people. He is duty bound to obey the prince and must do his bidding until he is set free.

The prince tells the Yogi to travel to England and bring back an architect, Herbert (Olaf Fønss). Herbert isn’t allowed to tell his fiancé Irene (Mia May) that he is going, but she finds out where he has gone and follows him.

Herbert is tasked with building a tomb for the prince’s promised wife, Savitri (Erna Morena). Unfortunately, Savitri is in love with an English man, Mac Allen (Paul Richter). She is therefore held captive against her will, plus there’s the whole tomb thing, seeing as she isn’t dead yet, being a slight concern.

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Through both films, escalating in the second part, The Tiger of Eschnapur, the prince becomes more and more deranged, with his intentions towards both Savitri and Herbert becoming clearer. The Indian Tomb builds into an action adventure with fights, fires, magic, tigers, stunts, incredible sets and daring feats. With all of the characters trying to escape the whims of the evil prince.

To modern eyes, many sequences are far longer than they really need to be. This could have easily been a two-hour film without losing any of the plot. But audiences at the time would have been awe struck by what they were seeing. The only person of colour in the film, Louis Brady, shows incredible strength, Paul Richter literally picks up and throws another man, and people are shown getting far closer than is wise to live tigers. It’s clear that the intention was for this to be an epic spectacle, and if you examine it with the right eyes, it delivers on that.

There are the flaws though of course, which make it unpalatable. Every Indian character in the film is played by a white German. And the non-white characters are stereotypes and caricatures. Either being weak or evil.

The Indian Tomb is a worthy film for a specific audience. If you are a fan of silent cinema, there is much to enjoy here, if you’ve got the four hours you need to dedicate to it.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Disc 1 – The Mission of the Yoghi
  • Disc 2 – The Tiger of Eschnapur
  • Both parts presented in 1080p HD, across two Blu-ray discs from 2K restorations undertaken by the Murnau foundation (FWMS)
  • Musical Score (2018) by Irena and Vojtěch Havel
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Brand New video essay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson
  • A collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp

The Indian Tomb is available to buy from Eureka now.

 

 

By Erika Bean

Blogger at screeningviolets.wordpress.com Occasional guest and host on the FILM & PODCAST. New cohost on Mondo Moviehouse. Likes arguing on the beach, long walks on the internet, intersectional feminism and neurodiversity.