After having already written and directed several films for the German studio Decla, Fritz Lang and co-writer Thea von Harbou concocted a lengthy diptych, titled "The Indian Tomb, blending a South Asian mysticism, a scheming Sultan, and plenty of elaborate chase sequences.
Though Lang had developed the project with himself as planned director, Decla's owner and lead director, Joe May, finagled his way into the production, citing Lang's alleged inexperience. Perhaps May was worried about his company's investment - budgeted at 25 Million Marks, it was an outrageous sum for a movie, made during Germany's worst economic period - or maybe he just wanted the epic all to himself; all the better to direct his wife in the role as the woman who interferes with Sultan's plans.
Lacking the brisk pacing of Fritz Lang's 1920 two-part, mega-serial, "The Spiders," May's 1921 films - also released in two parts as "The Mission of the Yogi" and "The Tiger of Bengal" - remain fine examples of epic pulp mysticism. Exquisitely photographed, the princely production incorporates a beautiful collection of exotic sets, wide and exterior locations, and mountainous terrain for the film's lengthy finale.
Although the source print shows wear, "The Indian Tomb" nevertheless looks beautiful, combining diverse tinting, and the print detail is quite strong. Some minor jittering appears in the film - perhaps a registration problem with the camera negative - and detailed door and wall panels in certain scenes are visibly affected by shimmering.
The stereo synth score uses popular score themes of the period, and while heavily repetitious, at least the audio is cleanly mastered.
Some supplementary material on the DVD would have helped place the film in its historical context, along with biographical information regarding Lang, von Harbou, and Joe May - the latter a prolific and influential director in Germany, who later fled to America with his wife Mia, and directed a handful of B pictures before retiring in 1945.
Film archeology is a term often applied to the work involved in the restoration of lost or neglected classics, and a recap of the efforts to present "The Indian Tomb" on DVD would have helped viewers understand the effort that goes into proper DVD releases, and appreciate the rarity of these historical gems.
Fritz Lang would ultimately get the chance to remake his screenplays in 1959, as "Indian Tomb" and "Tiger of Eschnapur" [M] (released by Fantoma through Image), but fans of those films will pleasantly find the May versions have held up quite well over the years.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan