A Jewish rabbi (Steinruck) creates a gigantic Golem (Wegener), a man built from clay, to protect his people when an Emperor declares all Jews be expelled from his city. But the magic that creates him also sees it turn on his master when the monster runs out of control.
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A one-man band for busy-bee Wegener in this impressively photographed but wildly uneven precursor to the Universal Frankenstein films of the 1930ís, based on an ancient Jewish legend.
This was one of the big, early expressionist films of 1920ís German cinema, where the exaggerated sense of acting, design and music represents the inner feelings of turmoil, fear and horror of the characters and plot. Der Golem is no exception in the design departments as the impressively realised sets (the Jewish ghetto resembles the Baghdad of 1001 Nights rather than a medieval German citadel) and the photography by Freund (later to become a top cameraman at MGM and for Lucille Ballís I Love Lucy show much, much later in his careers) evoke a creepy, foreboding atmosphere.
The scene where the Golem is brought to life is still vividly eerie.
Downsides are the deranged score that builds to thumping crescendos during intimate moments as if the composer had another film in mind and the hysterically unstable acting (even for an expressionist film, this is a ridiculously over gesticulated ballet).
There are moments of good humour, particularly when the poor Golem is used as a servant by his master to fetch and carry things and is sent out into the ghetto with a girly shopping basket.
Given the events that would transpire in Germany over a decade later, the titles with their talk of Jews in ghettos carry a ghastly clairvoyance.