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The Indian Tomb (1921): The Masters of Cinema Release

South West Silents' very own James Harrison explores Euerka's The Masters of Cinema Series new Blu-ray release of The Indian Tomb (1921) plus a chance to win a copy!

You would think that Joe May’s lavish adventure thriller, the two part epic that is Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb/ 1921), would be better well known. Especially with the fact that the production’s credits include Thea von Harboua and Fritz Lang as writers and starring Olaf Fønss and Conrad Veidt. Joe May himself is an attraction for many, thanks largely to his early crime films as well as Asphalt (1929) which was one of the first releases under the Masters of Cinema series (alas, now discontinued). So why has The Indian Tomb been left on the side for so long? What is wrong with it? Well, nothing really.

The film is an incredible visual piece of filmmaking thanks largely to future Metropolis (1927) collaborators Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht and Otto Hunte for the production design. From the highly beautifully crafted sets, elaborate costumes and highly detailed modelled structures Everything you see within the frame of The Indian Tomb is lavish!

There are so many elements to this story. But the main outline is set around the design and building, by a German architect (Olaf Fønss), of a magnificent mausoleum which has been commissioned by an all-powerful Maharajah (Conrad Veidt) for the intension to imprison his wife due to her infidelity.

Very much the brainchild of Thea von Harboua and originally adapted from her own 1918 published book of the same name, the film was given an extra bit of spice when the producer/director Joe May suggested that Lang (who shared the same enthusiasm for Indian culture as von Harboua) should help develop the story even more so for the screen.

However, Lang’s enthusiasm got the better of him on this occasion. Not only did von Harboua and Lang begin an affair, which would kickstart an important film collaboration which would produce some of the most important titles of the Weimar era; the pair would later marry in 1922, after the still very questionable death of Lang’s first wife, Lisa Rosenthal in 1921. But as Lang became more engrossed in The Indian Tomb he began to feel that he could direct the project far better than May. May, beginning to sense Lang’s eagerness to direct the project, enticed Lang to make Das Wandernde Bild (The Wandering Image/1920) before filming could start on The Indian Tomb.

With Lang away filming on location May, knowing the potential of The Indian Tomb as a great picture, rushed through the last stages of pre-production before Lang had a chance to return to get back to Berlin. By the time Lang got back to the studio it was too late, May had handed over the directorship of the production to himself.

Lang was furious. And for the rest of his career The Indian Tomb would be become an obsession for him. In the end, Lang got his wish to remake the project in the late 1950s with film directing two films in the shape of The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb both released in 1959 (and both also available on Masters of cinema). But they are light compared to the original 1921 versions. So why is this earlier version been forgotten so much by so many? Is it because of Lang’s very own 1959 adaptation? Has it overshadowed the original? Possibly. After all, it is Fritz Lang and anything with his name on will be an attraction compared to Joe May. If this could be true, then it’s very much a miscarriage of justice in film history as May’s attempt is far more stronger. The original is also strengthened thanks to Conrad Veidt who brings his classic menacing self to the role as the Maharajah.

Alas, while the production design and the image of Veidt keep your eyes on the screen, and they really will, the same cannot be said for the soundtrack by Czech artists Irena Havlová and Vojtěch Havel. The score, which was recorded back in 2018, is totally disconnected with the images and becomes a major distraction for the viewer. In fact, at certain points, I found myself just turning the sound of entirely. It just doesn’t give the film justice. Such a shame then that there isn’t an alternative musical accompaniment for this release.

As always the accompanying booklet produced by Masters of Cinema is wonderfully illustrated with another great essay by Philip Kemp. And if you add in the video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson, which is on the second disc of this two disc Blu-ray set, you will be definitely be fully informed on the film’s history.

Thanks to the recent 2K restoration Joe May’s The Indian Tomb can now really shine. However, I should say that the release is hindered by a very disappointing soundtrack. But this new release by Euerka’s Masters of Cinema series should be welcomed by fans of Weimar cinema as well as silent films as a whole.

The Indian Tomb (1921) is title number #261 in Euerka's The Masters of Cinema series and is available via the label's website.

Thanks to The Masters of Cinema's team we have a brand new copy of The Indian Tomb (1921) up for grabs; just send us your answer to the question below via our contact page by mid-night on Sunday 20th February 2022 to be in with a chance. Good Luck!

Question: Which cinematic villain did Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou introduce to us in 1922 with Rudolf Klein-Rogge in the starring role?

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