‘Sumurun’ by Ernst Lubitsch


Year of Première 1920
Format 35mm/1.33:1 original aspect ratio

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ernst Lubitsch
Hanns Kräly
E. T. A. Hoffman
Cinematography by Theodor Sparkhul
Kurt Waschenk
Production design by Ernö Metzer
Kurt Richter


Jenny Hasselqvist Sumurun
Aud Egede Haidee
Paul Wegener Der alte Scheich
Henry Liedtke Nur-al Dun
Carl Clewing Der Junge Scheich
Margarete Kupfer Alte Frau
Jakob Tiedtke Der Briar
Pola Negri Yannaia
Paul Biensfeldt Head Eunuch
Ernst Lubitsch Yeggar The Hunchback

Sumurun “Ali Babelsberg” by David Cairns, 2010

Sumurun is a strange Arabian Nights bedroom farce with a convoluted plot and an inescapably tragic central figure, Lubitsch’s pitiful hunchback, whose mock-suicide scene is a tour-de-force of pathos, oversold to the point where ham becomes poetry. His sagging face and body, a sort of mudslide arrested in human shape, carry an inherent melancholy, as does his obvious ethnicity, reminiscent of the Jewish characters in Arabian Nights tales, usually comedy cuckolds betrayed by wily women. Future Lubitsch comedies will often play adultery for laughs, but not here: in addition to the wet-eyed Lubitsch we get scary Paul Wegener, in a lurching performance that combines the rigidity and scowl of his Golem role [in Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam. / The Golem: How He Came into the World, Paul Wegener and Carl Boese, 1920] with the rigidity and scowl of everything else he ever did. Laughter only creeps in round the edges, by way of camp shopkeepers and coy eunuchs (although one moment, where Lubitsch smiles tenderly at a child and instantly reduces it to tears, has a cruel wit).

And then there’s Pola Negri, lithe and lascivious, playing a ruthless variation on her usual wildcat roles. The particular charm this time is the opportunity to see her acting with her director: even though their characters don’t connect emotionally, their scenes together bubble with chemistry. The intersecting romantic intrigues unfold in a spectacular studio Arabia, as fairytale as any of the later Ruritanian operettafilms. And though Lubitsch has to invent the social conventions of this Neverland from scratch, he doesn’t shirk the job, creating a thousand little details to bring satiric reality to the make-believe: Wegener’s Sheikh requires four Nubian slaves to lift his mighty frame out of bed; harem girls pelt eunuchs with fruit; a little kid runs with arms outstretched in imitation of an aeroplane yet to be invented, or perhaps a roc.

For all the hi-jinks and melodrama, Sumurun’s narrative has Shakespearean aspirations in the way it blends broad burlesque with operatic emotion. Lubitsch may not have arrived at a stable or even functional tone here, but he’s breaking out of every convention that’s restricted him in the past. Soon enough, he’ll assemble a shape of film he can live with. Meanwhile, restless experimentation reigns.

David Cairns is a writer and filmmaker based out of Edinburgh, and author of the blog Shadowplay (http://dcairns.wordpress.com)

  • File created on 21th March 2021 with Handbrake free open source software for archive of theoryreader.org
  • Silent film with German intertitles, music encoded in 320bit AAC
  • Subtitles in English
  • Video is 1h 43min 56sec in length, H.264 10-bit (x264) encoded, with cropped black edges
  • The file is 8,97 GB in size, contained in Matroska .mkv, uploaded and hosted on mega.nz encrypted cloud storage
  • Video Lan Client (VLC) video playback software recommended for .mkv on Linux, Windows, Mac and Android.

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