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Der Golem

A 1920 silent German horror film based on a Jewish folk tale.

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Silent Masterpiece.

  • May 28, 2007
Set in sixteenth-century Prague, THE GOLEM is a classic silent film based upon a relatively well-known Jewish legend. Even though the Jews of Prague have peacefully lived among the other residents of the city, they have been segregated and live in a separate community ghettoized from the rest of the city. Evil courtiers convince the Emperor to issue an edict that will expel the Jews from the city completely. In an attempt to save his people, a learned rabbi, Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinruck) uses his learning of ancient and mystical arts to create a giant clay creature, the Golem, that is brought to life. He creates the creature in order to save his people by bringing the Golem to the Emperor to perform. However, the creature is brought to life with a warning that it will become evil if brought to life again. The rabbi's assistant, resurrects the creature in an attempt to kidnap the rabbi's daughter, who he loves. Instead, the creature begins a rampage of destruction that is stopped when the Golem meets a young girl.

The story of THE GOLEM has been around for centuries and is a good one (this version of the story was even filmed once before). Story aside, the most memorable things about THE GOLEM are the visualizations and cinematography. The images in the film (even if you see the film in a poor quality transfer) are stunning. THE GOLEM is a film that once you see it, you will remember images from it for a lifetime.

Besides just being a quality silent film, THE GOLEM is notable for two reasons. Cinematically, the film had a huge impact upon many later filmmakers, especially James Whale who paid homage to the film in many of his key scenes in FRANKENSTEIN.

The second major reason the film is notable is because of the eerie historical foreshadowing it had. The film was released in 1920 and portrays Jews in a positive light. However, the Jewish people in the film are persecuted, are forced to live in a ghetto, and have their livelihoods threatened. The oppression of the Jews in the film is quite similar to the oppression the Jews faced in Germany just prior to the rise of the Third Reich.

THE GOLEM is a film that any student of cinema should see at least once and is a movie that fans of silent films will probably adore.

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About this movie


A relic certainly, but a fascinating one,Der Golem is perhaps the screen's first great monster movie. Though it was actually the third time director-star Paul Wegener had played the eponymous creation, the earlier efforts (sadly lost) were rough drafts for this elaborate dramatization of the Jewish legend. When the Emperor decrees that the Jews of mediaeval Prague should be evicted from the ghetto, a mystical rabbi creates a clay giant and summons the demon Astaroth who breathes out in smoky letters the magic word that will animate the golem. Intended as a protector and avenger, the golem is twisted by the machinations of a lovelorn assistant and, like many a monster to come, runs riot, terrorizing guilty and innocent alike until a little girl innocently ends his rampage. Wegener's golem is an impressively solid figure, the Frankenstein monster with a slightly comical clay wig. The wonderfully grotesque Prague sets and the alchemical atmosphere remain potent.--Kim Newman
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Genre: Classics, Foreign, Horror
Release Date: January 1, 1920
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Paul Wegener
Runtime: 1hr 15min
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"Silent Masterpiece."
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