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Kino on Video presents
Sumurun (1920)

"The slave trader presents you with a dancer of exquisite beauty."
- Head Eunuch (Jakob Tiedtke)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: January 09, 2007

Stars: Pola Negri, Jenny Hasselqvist, Paul Wegener, Ernst Lubitsch
Other Stars: Jakob Tiedtke, Margarete Kupfer, Max Kronert, Paul Graetz
Director: Ernst Lubitsch

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes
Run Time: 01h:43m:26s
Release Date: December 05, 2006
UPC: 738329051624
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Ernst Lubitsch's 1920 melodrama Sumurun is an odd duck of a film; part comedy, part love story, all melodrama, it doesn't really succeed at any of them totally, making for a problematic viewing experience. The version seen on Kino's newly released disc comes from a European restoration; the film's original American release was titled One Arabian Night, and was shorn of 40 minutes of footage. It was a success nevertheless, and helped pave Lubitsch's road to Hollywood. If you're looking for some of that famed "touch" however, this film will probably disappoint.

The film weaves together two main plots, both set in some Middle Eastern locale: in one, Sumurun (Jenny Hasselqvist), the sheikh's (Paul Wegener) most favored concubine, has fallen in love with Nur-al Din (Harry Liedtke), a cloth merchant. Being in the sheikh's harem complicates their affair, however, as does the attentions of the sheikh's hotblooded son (Carl Clewing). The son's eyes are turned from Sumurun to a young dancer (Pola Negri) in a traveling show, who continually fends off the jealous attentions of the show clown (Lubitsch). When the old sheikh takes a liking to the dancer, things head toward a bittersweet conclusion.

Part of the problem with Sumurun is that it's never especially interesting, from either a dramatic or comedic viewpoint; it's hard to feel sympathy for the clown, as Negri plays the dancer as an opportunistic slut. She's just an ugly character, period. Similarly, Sumurun and Nur-al Din spend a lot of time looking forlorn when apart and dreamy when together, but neither adds up to anything especially compelling. The lovers' story is bolstered with more comedy than the dancer-clown side of things, with Nur-al Din's "wacky" servants Mutti and Putti (ho ho!) killing time with a lot of jumping about. Similarly, Sumurun is assisted by Margarete Kupfer as a Helen Broderick-esque older woman (her exact standing in the harem is never clear) who pushes things along.

The sets are one of the highlights of the film; they have the richly exotic qualities that the decidedly European cast lack for the most part. The actors generally play up their reactions to occasionally overbearing extremes; there's plenty of eye-bugging going on here in place of more subtle acting. It does suit the story, which is pure hokum from start to finish, and the ending comes as no real surprise. Lubitsch's directing doesn't draw too much attention to itself, but there are a handful of nice shots sprinkled throughout. This is an attractive film if nothing else. Unfortunately, that can't carry it through 103 minutes, though it does its best. Personally, I found the proceedings more enjoyable in small chunks, before the occasional slow stretches killed the momentum. If you're interested in exploring Kino's Lubitsch in Berlin series, I'd recommend starting with one of the other titles before looking at this one, but devotees of the director will want to snap this up regardless.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Restored recently by the F.W. Murnau Foundation, Sumurun on the whole looks pretty good; occasionally, the contrast goes a little too high, obscuring details and rendering faces little more than ovals with eyes, mouth and nostrils. The materials have the usual array of longterm damage that most silent films suffer from, but it's nothing silent fans will be put off by, I'd think.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0music onlyno

Audio Transfer Review: The piano score by Javier Perez de Azpeitia is decent, though it seems a little too middle of the road on occasion. It comes across fine on disc.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Minimal, as expected. A photo gallery and Lubitsch filmography are all that is on hand.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A mish-mash of melodrama and comedy, Sumurun lacks the "touch" of later Lubitsch classics, but the mediocre material he has to work with doesn't help. The presentation is fine on Kino's part, though some of the other entries in this series might provide a better starting point for the interested viewer.


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