5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Alberto M. Barral
- Published on Amazon.com
This movie can not compare in visual splendor to the earlier version (1921) by Joe May, which had been written by Fritz Lang, inspired in the Thea von Harbou book, but it is a wonderful rendition of the same story line: Insanely jealous maharaja discovers that his lady love is having an affair, decides to bury her alive and contacts a European architect to build his version of the Taj Mahal while plotting to kill his rival.
No doubt the film would have greatly benefited from being silent: These actors can not deliver their lines within a range of believable possibility and this is the main drawback of the film.
However, Debra Paget, mostly remembered for her role as Lilia the water girl partnered with John Derek as Joshua in de Mille's "The Ten Commandments" is here in the role of Seetha absolutely stunning to look at, her sacred temple dance is a culmination of a film genre that depicts female sensuality in an exotic setting and starts with Pola Negri in "The Eyes of the Mummy", (1922) is developed most by Garbo in her sacred dance rendition in Mata Hari (1931) given an added musical comedy twist by Marlene Dietrich in "Kismet" (1944) and finally reincarnates here in its 'ultimate' version. To watch Ms. Paget dance for Shiva, here conveniently transformed into a female deity for the benefit of the atomic-sized breasts of the monumental sculpture that stands as the perfect erotic counterpoint to Paget's curvaceous excess, is a memorable, I dare say unforgettable, experience in cinematography, but one that has no connection to spiritual revelation, and thankfully, everything to do with the libido. The costume is scarcely present as three pieces of heavily embroidered cloths, strategically distributed in Ms. Paget's perfect physique, a glorious tribute to the pre-silicone, pre-steroids era that has remained unsurpassed to this day in visual impact. This costume barely manages to disguise the dancer's nudity, and would have doubtlessly been the envy of Versace or Roberto Cavalli at their most risqué. How it is mantained in place throughout the long, acrobatic dance, is a miracle of early suction-fabrics that pre-date licra that should be studied in detail by specialists. The fact that this exquisite kitsch eroticism was allowed to exist at all in a mass marketed movie is a miracle that could not be repeated or even approximated today, in our much more retrograde and provincial era. As a matter of fact, this is as good a reason as any to watch the film!
Please note that high definition will unfortunately spoil the effect of the cobra in the temple dance, as you will be able to see the thread that was holding it above its head. It will also tarnish some of the shine of the jewels, which will look keenly platic or crystal-like, but are abundant to an insane degree even within the standards of exotica. The opposite of Ms. Paget's grace and good looks is Sabine Bethmann, playing the architect's sister who arrives late to the scene and is a character study in what should be avoided in acting, at all costs. Her demeanor is so out of place in the Indian palace that she gives the impression of a mid size dinousaur trying to get to the food in a diner, also her extreme 'whiteness' which has a tinge of the ideal model for Hitler's idea of a superior race, is so much more schoking and foreign in an Oriental setting, that it seems to jump at us like a flaming torch through the film. These are the only hard scenes to watch. The film was shot on location in Udaipur, one of the most beautiful cities in Rajahstan which gives it a perfect background in all the long shots and a grandeur in the interiors that would have been impossible to replicate in a set.
Every other expected visual treat of the exotic realm makes an appearance: The wise yogi, endless royal processions on elephants, tiger hunts, leper-stampedes, mysterious caves, underground passagess and temples, and brocade and gold embroidered cloth everywhere! This movie in both parts is highly entertaining and perfect for fans of "Indiana Jones" which must have copied lots of scenes from this movie. An absolute must-see for scholars of kitsch aesthetics and fashion historians who should particularly concentrate on the turbans, which reach here unbelievable proportions and designs.