The Golem & Karl Freund

The Golem is currently available on both Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime.

The Golem (1920) – Not Rated

“Writer, director and actor Paul Wegener delivers the third and final leg of his Golem trilogy, a story based on a legend in Jewish mysticism about an astrologer (Albert Steinr├╝ck) who predicts doom for Jews in 16th-century Prague. The three films make up what is widely credited as the first horror series ever created, with Wegener’s original film, The Golem, premiering in 1914 and its sequel, The Golem and the Dancing Girl, released in 1917.”

As mentioned in the description above this is actually the third film in a trilogy. The real title is The Golem: How He Came Into the World. This probably became known simply as The Golem because there is no surviving footage of Paul Wegener’s first two Golem films. Paul Wegener is not only the writer and director but plays the monster as well in all three movies.

The sets are incredible. Rabbi Loew’s home has an amazing staircase that I’d love in my house. There is a massive gate walling off the Jewish ghetto from the rest of the city. All of the architecture runs off at bizarre angles with equally bizarre curves.

Karl Freund, credited as camera here but essentially the cinematographer, does a fantastic job. He has an amazing way with shadows. He was the cinematographer on F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). As a result Freund helped develop many of the techniques that defined German impressionism.

Freund later came to America and is thought to have essentially directed Dracula (1931) even though Tod Browning is credited. He directed (fully credited) The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935) and was cinematographer on hundreds of Hollywood films including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and Key Largo (1948). Late in his career Freund developed the three-camera system for sitcoms that is still the standard today.

Golem’s story, sets, use of shadows and even the monster’s high-soled boots are a clear precursor to James Whale’s Frankenstein. There is even a scene with a child that is paralleled by a similar (though different) scene in Frankenstein. I did find it hysterical that after foretelling the doom of the Jewish people and creating a golem in response, Rabbi Loew uses it to chop wood and fetch water from a well.

The restoration job from Kino is quite well done. Yes, this film is nearly a century old and there is print damage, flickering, etc. but overall the film looks quite good. The tinting of the frames takes some getting used to and the darker tints obscure some film detail.