If we were to say about an athlete that they gave a 90% effort we would be dissatisfied to the say the least. But in this case, the case of “The Loves of Pharaoh” or Das Weib des Pharao (The Wife of the Pharaoh), 1922, 90% is just fine and heads and shoulders above many other entries that are at 100%; that is what is left of this early German film, 100 minutes remaining of its original 110. Pharaoh was blessed by some of the most ridiculously extravagant costumes in film history, these by by Ali Hubert, Ernö Metzner and Ernst Stern, which highlight this Historical Epic by famed musical and comedy director Ernst Lubitsch.
The art direction is as complex and detailed as the costumes, and as opulent as and rivaling the grandeur of other mega-sets seen in Intolerance, 1916, The Ten Commandments, 1923, Ben Hur, 1925 and Metropolis, 1927. The incredible sets were designed by Ernst Stern (pulling double duty, wardrobe and sets) and Kurt Richter. Stern was chosen by Lubitsch, because of his longtime interest in Egyptology; as well architectural consultant Max Gronau and Stefan Drössler (specializing in reconstruction), were brought on board to help flesh out the structural realism of Pharaoh. The cinematography by Alfred Hansen and Theodor Sparkuhl is engulfing, revealing, clear, and provides the means (much as the Nile did for the Egyptians) for the rest of the film-elements to do their job, which is to entertain and transport us the viewer to another time and another place.
Principle filming was done at the EFA-Atelier am Zoo (Europäischen Film Allianz). EFA leased a studio from Goron-Films, which had built originally by furniture manufacturer Markewicz. Financial backing for Pharaoh came primarily from Paramount and Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. For The Loves of Pharaoh, Lubitsch had composer Eduard Künneke prepare an original orchestral score, which is an outstanding musical achievement; one of the best of the silent era.
Lubitsch really did not spare a dime in production values or in the music department, and aesthetical expenditures for costumes and makeup did not see thrift, nor did he shortchange with his corps of actors, this was quite a cast of German acting luminaries, including the talented but self-destructive Emil Jannings, the ever working (141 films from 1912-1944) Harry Liedtke, the beautiful Dagny Servaes, and Paul “Der Golem” Wegener.
The restoration by Alpha-Omega Digital (same company that restored Metropolis, 1927) of this silent classic is a triumph; it is amazing to see the clarity of some of the footage, a few scenes looking as though they were shot just yesterday. The Loves of Pharaoh has made its rounds to movie festivals and premiers alike and now can be found on Blu-Ray where we may attend a showing anytime we like. The privilege is all ours to have the 90% that is left of Das Weib des Pharao, so don’t delay, push play and watch the Lubitsch silent-epic experience today (DVD & Blu-Ray available here).