The Eyes of the Mummy (Germany, 1918):
(Die Augen der Mumie Ma)

No mummy, first of all -- the eyes belong to Pola Negri, an abducted gal peeping from behind hieroglyph-tattooed walls to scare off visitors in a modern-day Cairo tomb. "The eyes are alive," chants a traumatized tourist, but smitten German painter Harry Liedtke doesn't scare easily, and shanghais her with him to Europe, away from her Arab captor (Emil Jannings, dusked-up). Negri's insinuatingly blocky slinking at a party as "something oriental" gets tickled on a piano launches her to dancing fame, and back into her obsessive nemesis' orbit: made servant to nobleman Max Laurence, Jannings spots his beloved on the stage and, from across the theatre, the concentrated hate of his gaze knocks her down. Just one of the mystical intimations of the story (later, the villain materializes as a superimposed apparition in Negri's bedroom), but tragedy, not horror, is Ernst Lubitsch's aim, even as the triangulation is closer to Murnau's disruption of the couple (indeed, anticipating Nosferatu by nearly five years) than to the director's own later ménages of liquid desire. Not a patch (or a wrap) on the definitive version made in 1932 at Universal by another UFA alum, yet even the primitive exoticism cannot dampen Lubitsch's embryonic feel for emotion welling within manner, suspended here between Egypt and Germany, oppressed and oppressor, impulse and order, and, of course, woman and man. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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