This review is part of the A Play of Light and Shadow: Horror in Silent Cinema Series
Movie Review – Eyes of the Mummy Ma (1918)
1918’s Eyes of the Mummy Ma is a German film which, despite its title, features no mummies. Instead we get Emil Jannings in blackface playing the role of an evil Egyptian who hypnotizes a young woman, the Ma of the title, played by Pola Negri. Jannings’ makeup is applied haphazardly, leaving exposed gleaming white hands, arms and shoulders. I don’t expect cultural sensitivity in films of this era, but I expect a little more effort from filmmakers to assist the audience in suspending disbelief. For her part, Ma spends the film fainting and doing awkward “exotic” dance numbers. The story is too weak to warrant its feature length run-time, and pacing is a serious issue (thank the movie devils they resolve that, for most films, in the next decade).
The director, Ernst Lubitsch, would go on to earn great respect with his talky films, including 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner, which my wife and I enjoy watching during the Yuletide season. But this early effort, and one of his only forays into horror, is easily forgettable, and it makes me sad that films like this survive while those like Tod Browning’s London After Midnight (1927) are probably lost forever. This would be the first of many successful collaborations between Lubitsch and Negri, who was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood where she would have a thriving career for the remainder of the silent era.
Emil Jannings had an enormously successful career both before and during the Third Reich, at one point being Germany’s highest paid actor. He would star in other horror classics, notably in Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924) and as Mephisto in F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). He starred in numerous Nazi propaganda films and was even named by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels an “Artist of the State” in 1936. After the war, Janning’s was unable to work due to denazification and he retired to Austria where he died of cancer in 1947.