Joe May – Das Indische Grabmal: Der Tiger von Eschnapur AKA Mysteries of India, Part II: Above All Law (1921)

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The jealous & vindictive Rajah of Bengal continues to manipulate the fates of his three English captives in his mad scheme to punish his faithless wife.

THE Indian TOMB: THE TIGER OF BENGAL is a perfect example of the grand German cinema epics created during the silent era. Berlin film mogul Joe May turned the full resources of his modern 50-acre Maytown studio near Berlin over to the production, using 300 workmen to create the lavish sets necessary to tell such an exotic tale.

May contracted with authoress Thea von Harbou to write the script for THE Indian TOMB, based on her 1917 novella, assigning young Fritz Lang as her co-writer. Lang, who married von Harbou after starting the writing project, desired to direct the films himself, but he was deemed too inexperienced for such an important project by the financiers and May enthusiastically became the director. Furious, Lang left May’s employ; it would be more than 35 years before he was able to direct his own Indian TOMB films. (After their divorce, von Harbou became Nazi Germany’s official screenwriter; because of his Jewish ancestry, Lang felt it wisest to settle in Los Angeles.)

THE Indian TOMB: THE TIGER OF BENGAL was an artistic triumph, presenting wonderful vistas & sequences to delight the viewer’s imagination. The eerie Yard of the Lepers, for instance, with extras sporting real deformities, offers moments of terror & suspense as chilling as anything Hollywood had to offer. Further scenes – the Tiger Arena, the Suspension Bridge – add intricate strokes to the broad canvas which is THE Indian TOMB.

Conrad Veidt is mesmerizing as the troubled Rajah. With large, hypnotic eyes set in a bony face, he seems forever contemplating terrible memories. Veidt gives a measured, stylized performance, moving very slowly and deliberately, almost somnambulistic in his actions. The scene where he suddenly appears masquerading as an androgynous temple deity underscores the subtle sexual ambiguity of his nuanced portrayal.

Today, Conrad Veidt is remembered in America almost entirely for his villainous Major Strasser in CASABLANCA. This is a shame, as there was so much more to his life. Cultured & sophisticated, Veidt was considered to be one of the best (and one of the most handsome) actors in Germany, and he was a tremendous matinée idol in the 1920’s. Later, he became courageously outspoken in his anti-Nazi sentiments and he found it safer to relocate to England and eventually to America. In Hollywood, Veidt continued to denounce the evils of the Third Reich. Tragically, he was not to live long enough to see the inevitable defeat of Hitler. Completing only one further film after CASABLANCA, Conrad Veidt died of a heart attack while playing golf on April 3, 1943. He was 50 years old.

Equally intriguing is Bernhard Goetzke in the tiny role of the mysterious, implacable Yogi. Although his role is unfortunately much smaller than in Part One, he is still a worthy henchman to the Rajah. Olaf Fønss as the architect & Mia May (the director’s wife) as his courageous fiancée, present a refreshingly middle-aged view of romantic love. Their defiance of the Rajah & desperate flight to escape gives the film its most exciting sequences. (Joe & Mia May would also flee to Hollywood, where, after the end of his directing career, they would eventually operate a popular German restaurant.)

The story was originally presented as a filmed diptych. THE Indian TOMB: THE MISSION OF THE YOGI (1921) precedes THE Indian TOMB: THE TIGER OF BENGAL (1921). A box office disappointment in Germany & a failure in America, the films quickly passed into obscurity. However, down through the decades their reputations scored a renaissance. After much painstaking effort both films were archivally restored to their original luster. They have been released together on home video & DVD.

If only for the striking performance of Conrad Veidt the films would be significant. But their epic proportions & high adventure set in a remarkable culture are a window into the very best which German cinema had to offer in the 1920’s.






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