The Indian Tomb

Director Joe May's place in movie history is now largely tied up with his role as an early supporter of Fritz Lang, but that hasn't always been the case. By 1921, he had enough clout to make The Indian Tomb, a mammoth two-part adventure that hit big in its day but has gone unseen for years, only now released on video after an impressive restoration effort. An excursion into exoticism co-written by Lang (who at one point intended to direct) and wife Thea von Harbou (from her novel), Tomb stars Conrad Veidt as a wealthy Indian maharajah who hires European architect Olaf Fønss to build a tomb for his bride. Not wanting to miss a chance to advance his career, Fønss leaves his fiancée (Mia May) behind, only to discover the intended subject of his memorial very much alive, having abandoned Veidt for a handsome Englishman. The plot thickens when May follows Fønss to India and both find themselves held against their will. Traditionally shot and (perhaps consequently) fairly dull, The Indian Tomb remains fascinating both as a time capsule of European attitudes toward India and an example of silent filmmaking at its most grandiose. Hapless Europeans stumble through a version of India filled with lepers, tiger pits, magical yogis, massive architecture, and every object of Indian exotica May could afford to put on screen. Filmed on mammoth sets in Germany, The Indian Tomb was one of the most adventurous undertakings of its day, and should prove fascinating for those already interested in representations of India, silent epics, Lang, or German films. At more than three and a half hours, however, it may prove forbidding for others, a telling example of how yesterday's pop culture can turn into tomorrow's historical footnote. Still, it's worth noting that even if this original version looks thoroughly of its time, Tomb still managed an interesting afterlife, remade in 1938 by Richard Eichberg and in the late '50s by Lang himself.

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