|Pola and Jenny: girls on top|
The film, billed as One Arabian Night (its US title) was being presented as part of the Birds Eye View film festival, part of which takes place at the BFI. A new score was provided by Sudanese singer, Amira Kheir with the support of a four-piece band.
|Aud Egede Nissen and Jenny Hasselqvist|
Carry on follow that camera… Sumurun is a screw-ball comedy and one could almost imagine Aud Egede Nissen, whose Haidee “manages” the harem, as Joan Simms leading the girl’s revolt with a brisk wink and some quick thinking.
But the whole cast performs well and this might well be down to the fact that many had already been in the theatrical version of the play including Pola and the Director Ernst Lubitsch who also plays lovelorn Yeggar, the Hunchback Beggar, revealing himself to be an actor of decent expression with comedy, pathos and tragedy all within his range.
Sumurun is announced as a pantomime in six parts and it is important to remember that. For many years the only version available was the truncated One Arabian Night which lost the plot and generated many a negative, fixed opinion but, more recently, audiences have had the chance to view the whole story and the film’s reputation is on the rise. It’s not an absolute classic but it is very silly in parts and is very coherent.
Sumurun (Hasselqvist) is the Sheikh’s favourite from his over-crowded Harem, but she has eyes for another, the Cloth Merchant Nur-Al Din (Harry Liedtke) whilst, at the same time, the young Sheikh (Carl Clewing) longs for her… and this is all before we really meet Yannaia (Pola), whom everyone fancies.
Yannaia is a dancer travelling with a motley bunch led by Yeggar, who jealously guards his prize asset: a woman he can never attain and whom he loves more than any of her paramours. Yannaia is “talent spotted” by Achmed, the Slave Trader (grubbily played by Paul Biensfeldt) who realises that she will make an excellent addition to the Sheikh’s harem.
|Yannaia rebuffs Yeggar|
He’s distracted by the promise of this new dancer and travels incognito to witness some eye-popping contortions from Yannaia who by this stage has also caught the eye of the insatiable (endlessly frustrated) young Sheikh.
|Sumurun refuses to beg for her life...|
Meanwhile… Haidee arranges for Sumurun to visit the merchant’s house so they may further their mutual interest… Here we meet Puffti (Paul Graetz) and Muffti (Max Kronert) the merchant’s two servants who looked Weimar cabaret ready and annoyed my wife no end with their Charles Hawtrey-on-speed mannerisms… (she never did a summer season at Butlins whereas, in my youth, I worked two!)
|The young generation|
Now things get really complicated as Yannaia arrives “oven-ready” with Yaggar not far behind in his seemingly hopeless quest to save and get the girl.
|Yannaia leads the young Sheikh on|
Lubitsch directs these complexities with relish, his familiarity with the play no doubt an advantage. The cutting is fast and the camerawork from Theodor Sparkuhl inventive and assured.
The film is dominated by the two leading actresses with Hasselqvest’s sophistication contrasting with Negri’s raw power and sass: you can take the mickey out of Pola’s style but she was undoubtedly more honest in films like this than many a Hollywood leading lady.
If only she’d have had a von Sternberg to lead her Hollywood career?
Aud Egede Nissen completes the female dominance with her knowing performance but the cast are all clearly having a ball. Tip of the hat also to Margarete Kupfer as the old woman who looks after Yaggar and Jakob Tiedtke as Head Eunuch – tough gig.
|Some eunuchs yesterday...|
This she certainly achieved, enriching one of Lubitsch and Negri’s most energetic collaborations and sending the audience out into a bitter London evening with an extra bounce in their step.
The Kino DVD of Sumurun is available from the usual online retailers.
Amira’s debut album, View From Somewhere is available from emusic and direct from her own website.
Birds Eye View is now in its tenth year and runs until 10th April.