The Indian Tomb (1921) – Film Review
Director: Joe May
Cast: Olaf Fønss, Mia May, Conrad Veidt
By Sarah Morgan
Sometimes stories can get under your skin. That must have been the case for Fritz Lang and Das Indische Grabmal, a novel written by his future wife Thea von Harbou in 1918.
“Reputation has grown”
But this was not the first time the story had been filmed or treated in this way. In 1921, Lang and von Harbou collaborated on the screenplays of The Mission of the Yoghi and The Tiger of Eschnapur, now collectively known as The Indian Tomb.
Lang originally intended to direct them both himself, but was replaced by Joe May, who was at the time more established as a film-maker.
This silent version wasn’t a critical or commercial success on its initial release, but its reputation has grown in the intervening years. It certainly looks impressive, particularly in this new 2k restoration, but with a running time of just over four hours, it’s not always easy viewing.
The movie begins with the discovery of a yoghi who, after being brought back to life by a maharajah, promises to do anything his saviour’s heart desires. Bizarrely, what the nobleman wants is for the yoghi to transport himself to the west and bring back an architect capable of building a magnificent mausoleum for his princess.
Herbert Rowland, although slightly perturbed by the sudden appearance of the strange mystic, jumps at the chance, even though the job comes with the condition that he must leave that moment without telling his fiancee where he’s going.
Once in India, Rowland learns the shocking truth – the princess is not dead. Instead, the maharajah intends to imprison her in the mausoleum as punishment for her infidelity.
Meanwhile, Rowland’s fiancee Irene decides to track down her man, little realising the dramatic fate in store for all involved in the sorry tale.
Much of the acting is as you would expect from a film of the period – what we might term ‘large’ these days. Only Conrad Veidt as the maharajah delivers a low-key, believable performance that wouldn’t look out of place on screen today.
May’s direction is at a very slow pace which sometimes makes the film feel even longer than it already is, but it’s worth watching for the incredible sets and costumes alone.
• 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 released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £17.99