Sight and Sound - 11/01/2003
"...Handsomely presented. Much of the film's fascination lies in the way it anticipates later horror movies..."
With his third version of THE GOLEM, director, writer, and actor Paul Wegener is credited with creating the first horror movie series, and historians consider THE GOLEM AND THE DANCER (his 1917 follow-up to the 1914 original) to be the first sequel in cinema history. Based on a legend in Jewish mysticism, in 16th-century Prague community leader and astrologer Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrück) foresees doom for the Jews. When the emperor decrees a pogrom of the Jewish ghetto, Loew molds a forbidding clay golem (Wegener) to save his people. Loew invokes a demon spirit to retrieve a magic word that he places in an amulet on the creature's chest. Once the word is positioned, the giant wedge-haired automaton lives. Danger ensues, however, when Loew's assistant, Famulus (Ernst Deutsch), uses the golem to settle a score with Florian (Lothar Müthel), a knight who has stolen his sweetheart, Miriam (Lyda Salmonova). THE GOLEM's influence on future horror films was significant, particularly James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN. Wegener's distorted sets and chiaroscuro lighting, complemented by Karl Freund's expert photography, make the film an excellent example of German Expressionism and an important contribution by German mega studio UFA to the golden age of Weimar cinema.
Director of photography Karl Freund is closely associated with creating the look of German Expressionist films--in addition to Wegener's THE GOLEM, Freund shot F.W. Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH and Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS. After immigrating to the U.S., Freund made a stunning directorial debut with the horror classic THE MUMMY. Coscreenwriter Henrik Galeen also cowrote, codirected, and acted in the first version of THE GOLEM with Wegener. In addition, Galeen directed and cowrote the 1926 remake of Wegener's THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE.
Director Edgar G. Ulmer's (THE BLACK CAT, DETOUR) first job in film was as a silhouette cutter and set builder for THE GOLEM.
In the original New York Times review of the film (June 20, 1921), the writer praises the "pantomimic quality" of the actors, none of whom are "simply a silenced chatter-box, as are so many supposed screen actors in this country."