Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Golem, The

Several movies have been based on the legend of the Golem, including a German version in 1913 (sequelled 1917) and a Czech version in 1951. The three discussed here are probably the most important.

1. The Golem (ot Der Golem, Wie Er in die Welt Kam) German movie (1920). Projections/A G Union. Dir Carl Boese, Paul Wegener. Spfx Boese. Screenplay Wegener. Starring Lother Müthel (Knight Florian), Lyda Salmonova (Miriam Lowe), Albert Steinrück (Rabbi Lowe), Wegener (Golem). 85 mins. B/w, silent.

One of the most startlingly impressive Expressionist movies, concerned almost less with its plot than with its image – in this it resembles The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919). The starting point is the traditional tale of Rabbi Lowe, who creates a man of clay to defend his people. From here the tale diverges. In one strand the Rabbi's daughter Miriam is seduced by the Emperor's messenger, Knight Florian; the end of this strand (and the end of the movie) is that Lowe's assistant, loving Miriam, has the Golem kill Florian, after which it goes on a murderous rampage until being destroyed by an unwitting child (in scenes forerunning the encounter between Maria and the Monster in Frankenstein [1931]; see Frankenstein Movies). In the other strand Lowe travels to the court of the Emperor, gives a powerful demonstration of Magic (cf Faust), and saves the lives of the Emperor and his throng – for which service the Emperor cancels his edict against the Jews. As will be noted, the Golem itself is somewhat sidelined; yet the movie's use of visual imagery to create both dread and a sense of the Twice-Told is stunning. [JG]

2. The Golem (vt The Legend of Prague) Czechoslovakian/French movie (1936). Dir Julien Duvivier. Screenplay André-Paul Antoine, Duvivier. Starring Harry Baur, Charles Dorat, Ferdinand Hart, Roger Karl. 95 mins. B/w.

Apparently (we have been unable to obtain a viewing copy of this movie) a fairly straightforward remake of 1, but lacking much of the skill.

3. Golem: The Wandering Soul (ot L'esprit de l'exil: Golem; vt Golem: The Spirit of Exile) German/French/Dutch/Italian/UK movie (1992). Agav/Friedlander Film Produktion/Allarts/Nova/Rai 2/Groupe TSF/Channel 4/Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie. Pr Laurent Truchot. Dir Amos Gitai. Screenplay Gitai. Starring Fabienne Babe, Bernardo Bertolucci, Antonio Carallo, Bernard Eisenschitz, Samuel Fuller, Philippe Garrel, Sotigui Kouyate, Bernard Levy, Marceline Loridan, Alain Maratrat, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Mireille Perrier, Bakary Sangare, Ophra Shemesh, Hanna Schygulla (movie lacks proper credits). circa 100 mins. Colour.

This conflates the legend of the Golem with the events of the Book of Ruth; though it is set in modern times, almost all the dialogue comes directly from various books of the Old Testament. A man uses the letters of the alphabet to raise a (female) golem from riverside mud, and charges her with seeking out and aiding the persecuted of the world. She comes to Paris (the land of Moab) and settles on a Jewish family comprising Elimelech, his wife Naomi, their sons Mahlon and Chilion, and the sons' spouses – one of whom is Ruth. The golem appears to them as a Vision which they never consciously see or hear; certainly she seems to bring them little aid. First Elimelech dies; then the two sons are murdered by antisemites. Naomi tells the women to return to their homes, but Ruth refuses: "... for whither thou goest, I will go ... thy people shall be my people ..." The two women, golem in tow, journey to a far land, where the golem – her voice for once obeyed – instructs Ruth to marry Boaz and bear Naomi a grandchild. Beautifully directed and photographed, this is by any standards a striking movie. Yet it seems to rejoice in self-imposed obscurity. Viewers ignorant of the Judeo-Christian tradition must find it incomprehensible (ironic, in that it purports to proclaim that we should all embrace "outsiders"). [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.