Photo: Dagny Servaes in “The Loves of Pharaoh.” Credit: American Cinematheque.
Note: This is an encore post from 2011.
To celebrate the 89th anniversary of the opening of Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, American Cinematheque screened the 1922 restored Ernst Lubitsch film THE LOVES OF PHARAOH Tuesday night, October 18. Both revel in Egyptian decoration and mythology and look great in their renovated glory.
THE LOVES OF PHARAOH was the last film Lubitsch directed in Germany before immigrating to America to make films. Larger than life yet full of intimate detail, the film tells a moving story in glorious images. The story is basically a Greek tragedy, where actions set in motion by our lead characters bring destruction and death.
The film contains both the old-style theatrical film acting as well as more naturalistic acting, yet is still engrossing and realistic in its intense emotions. Emil Jannings as the pharaoh does so much with his eyes, while co-star Paul Wegener is an over-the-top Ethiopian king. Stars Jannings and Wegener would go on to greater acclaim in the United States, Wegener in DER GOLEM and in Rex Ingram’s THE MAGICIAN, and Jannings would win the first Best Actor Academy Award for THE LAST COMMAND.
THE LOVES OF PHARAOH wows with its great design work. Huge Egyptian pyramids, statues and temples are peopled with thousands of extras, towering over the crowds. Over-the-top costumes, jewelry, and furniture add to the lavish spectacle. Beautiful camerawork and lighting bring another dramatic element to the film. One wonders if Cecil B. De Mille was influenced by this picture when making his silent THE TEN COMMANDMENTS the next year.
Helping bring the film alive was a fine 16 member orchestra led by Robert Israel, who orchestrated and adapted the film’s original and understated score to the shorter running time.