Though mostly forgotten today here in the United States – with the exception of his films The House of the Seven Gables (1940) and The Invisible Man Returns (also 1940) for Universal – Joe May was one of the pioneering figures of German cinema. Beginning his career as a stage director of operettas, he moved into the burgeoning film career in pre-WWI Berlin and eventually started his own film production company in 1915. Following the end of the war, he opened up a film studio in Woltersdorf and would begin work on a few epic length exotic adventures, of which The Indian Tomb was among one of three in a three-year period. Kino has licensed the film for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 3.5/5
Note: this review covers both feature length parts – The Mission of the Yogi & The Tiger of Eschnapur – of the movie.
Amazed by the exotic beauty of India’s Taj Mahal, British architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he is approached by the Maharajah of Bengal, Ayan III (Conrad Veidt) – through a yogi, Ramigani (Bernhard Goetzke) – to build a massive temple as a monument to honor his wife. Unbeknownst to Herbert, the monument is going to be a tomb for Ayan to imprison his unfaithful bride, Princess Savitri, and her English lover Mac Allen; further complicating matters is Herbert’s fiancée Irene (Mia May) follows him to India when she loses contact with him. This leads to a series of escalating tensions that may lead to someone getting fed to the tigers…
Coming during the period of the Weimar Republic – where new ground was being broken in the world of cinema – The Indian Tomb bears little resemblance to the expressionistic films made in Germany and more in line with the Hollywood epics that would become more common in years after the silent era. The epic film – based upon the novel by Thea von Harbou and scripted by Fritz Lang (who would remake the film in color in 1959) – boasts some of the most impressive production design of the era; the special effects in the film are quite ambitious, inventive and impressive for its time. In addition, the action sequences are well staged and fit in quite well with the serpentine and labyrinthine structure of the film’s plot. If there’s only one major flaw with the film, it’s that the film itself is a bit over the cop and corny, but this was before Cecil B. DeMille began to truly make a name for himself in America for doing the exact same thing that Joe May was doing here. Despite that, The Indian Tomb is still an impressive silent epic that can hold its own with the best of DeMille’s movies here in America in terms of sheer entertainment value with little in terms of historical accuracy.
Released just a year after attracting attention with his performance in the quintessential German Expressionism film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Conrad Veidt brought the menace to the part of Ayan III; he would return to exotic adventure territory in the sound era with a memorable villainous turn in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). One of Denmark’s and Weimar Germany’s biggest silent stars of the era, Olaf Fønss acquits himself well in one of his better-known film roles as Herbert Rowland; he would return to Denmark in the 1930’s, where he became politically active and would serve as president of the Danish Actor’s Union for 14 years. Mia May – the wife of director Joe – is decent as the hero’s fiancée while Erna Morena also makes the most of her time as the imperiled and unfaithful wife of the Maharajah; Bernhard Goetzke probably has the best supporting part in the two-part film as the mysterious yogi Ramigani. Rounding out the cast are Lya de Putti as the servant girl Mirrjha, Paul Richter as Mac Allan, whose affair with Princess Savitri may lead him to the tigers, Louis Brody as another servant in the Maharajah’s palace and Fritz Lang favorite Georg John as a penitent.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio, taken from a 2K transfer based off of a 2016 photochemical restoration carried out by F.W. Murnau Stiftung, featuring reconstructed intertitles from the registration/censor cards and original color tints from an original Czech print of the film. The color tints, gray scale and fine details are faithfully represented with minimal problems; there are instances of scratches, tears, print damage and dirt present, but given the age of the film, it’s really not a surprise. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video, easily surpassing the long OOP Image DVD release.
The film is presented with a 2018 score by The Havels (Irena & Vojtech Havlovi), presented on a PCM track for this release. The music comes through strong and clear with no instances of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present to distract from the viewing experience.
Special Features: 3/5
Turbans Over Woltersdorf (46:18) – This visual essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson looks at the creation of the movie as well as the lives and careers of some of the chief participants; featuring interviews with author Laxmi Dhaul and film student Sreya Chatterjee as well as a look at the present-day location of what used to be the May Film studios by Ulrich Ruedel (who created the English intertitles for a previous restoration done by David Shepard).
Although it didn’t exactly win over critics and audiences in Germany during its initial release – it also came and went without much fanfare here in America in a retitled release by Paramount Pictures during its initial theatrical run – The Indian Tomb is still an impressive and extravagant exotic adventure epic to come out of the Weimar era of filmmaking. Kino has likely produced the best home video release of the film, with a decent HD transfer and a nice visual essay on the film as a special feature. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous home video releases.
Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.