Sunday, July 14, 2013

Silent Sundays: The Loves of Pharaoh (1922)


Ever since I was little I have always loved anything that had to do with ancient Egypt. I think my love for history and museums and mostly ancient Egypt started when I was very, very little and I watched the Sesame Street video Don’t Eat the Pictures when the cast gets stuck in the Metropolitan Museum of Art over night. Big Bird and Snuffy have to help an Egyptian boy become a star so he can join his parents in the sky. From there my life has never been the same. I have had an unfortunate love of history since then. I say unfortunate because there are no well paying jobs for history lovers but that is what happens when history traps you by the leg and does not let go. Maybe my love for history was destined to get me hooked to classic films and Old Hollywood and it led me straight back to my first historical passion of ancient Egypt with the film The Loves of Pharaoh. I have been led back on several occasions to Egypt to the times of the great pharaohs and queens with both Cleopatra films (with the 1934 version being the better) and The Ten Commandments and various other films.
                 In the 1920s Egypt and anything Egyptian themed was all the rage after the tom of King Tut was found. His tomb was one of not very many up to that time to have been found intact untouched by grave robbers. From then on ancient Egypt has been romanticized and dreamed about. I have a feeling that The Loves of Pharaoh was one of several outlets to cash in on the Egyptian craze of the 1920s.
            Pharaoh Amenes has received a letter from the Ethiopian king Samlak. The Ethiopian requests a meeting with Pharaoh to make a pact against their common enemies. Samlak is also going to bring his daughter Makeda to offer to Amenes as his wife. In the meantime Amenes’ treasury is nearly done. His workers have been working in miserable conditions and are dying. The people storm the Pharaoh’s palace. He sends his guards after the people to drive them away.
            A young man named Ramphis is traveling by boat to the treasury. He sees a Greek slave named Theonis getting water on the shore. Theonis is beautiful. Her beauty makes Ramphis jump off his boat and swim to her. Theonis belongs to Samlak’s daughter Makeda and is punished for what has happened. Ramphis steals Theonis away from Makeda.
            Makeda and Samlak arrive at Amenes’ palace. She wants to see his new treasury which is the Sphinx. Amenes tells her that it is punishable by death even if you go near it and he does not want to break his own commandment. Makeda tells him that her slave girl was stolen and wants her back. Amenes sends his people to look for Theonis.
            Ramphis takes Theonis to meet his father who is the chief architect of the treasury. At night his father falls asleep while they are playing a game and they sneak away on their own. Theonis sees the treasury and wants to go see it. Ramphis begs and pleads with her to come back she will be severely punished for going near it. He goes to take her away when they are caught by the pharaoh’s guards. Amenes was just about to sign the marriage pact between him and Makeda when he hears an alarm has gone out about his treasury. He tells Samlak he will sign the pact in the morning. Ramphis and Theonis are brought before Pharaoh. He tells the king that he walked by the treasury by accident. Amenes does not believe Ramphis for a moment. Theonis run to the pharaoh saying it was her fault not Ramphis’ and to take her instead. Amenes looks at Theonis and is struck by her beauty. He goes to see her in her cell and tells her that he is willing to save Ramphis’ life if she would be with him. In anger she pushes Amenes out of the way. The following morning Theonis can hear Ramphis screaming as he is being crushed to death by a heavy stone. She yells for the guards to take her to pharaoh if they will save Ramphis. Ramphis on Pharaoh’s mercy is sentenced to a life of hard labor in the quarries.
            Amenes is desperately and fatally in love with Theonis. He wants to give her everything and anything to win her love. Samlak sees Theonis with the pharaoh and tries to attack her with his dagger. The pharaoh’s guards protect her. Amenes lets Samlak know that he is in Egypt and Samlak replies that he will never forget what has happened. Samlak has his people invade Egypt. The workers in the quarry, where Ramphis has been sentenced to, hear the news of the invasion. Every worker runs for their lives out of the quarry. Theonis in the meantime has been made queen. She topped the guards from hurting a small child and now the people love her.
            With the invasion Amenes has to go off to war. He wants Theonis to swear to him that if he should die that she will marry no other man. Theonis refuses especially because Ramphis has escaped the quarries. In anger Amenes has Theonis put into the treasury where no one can find her. Ramphis’s father knows where all the secret passages are. Amenes has the poor man blinded so that he could not show his son where Theonis  has been hidden. Ramphis sees his father upon his return. He think Theonis was the one who has his father blinded and wants to seek his revenge by killing her.
            Pharaoh Amenes does not have his mind concentrated on fighting the Ethiopians. He hallucinates seeing Ramphis finding Theonis in the treasury and taking her away. The Egyptians are beaten by the Ethiopians. Amenes tells Samlak that if he finds Theonis not to harm her because she is his wife. Then he apparently collapses and dies. Ramphis finds Theonis. He goes to kill her but she begs him to forgive her for wanting to save his life by doing what she did. She also tells him she is as pure as when they first met.
            The city is taken over by the Ethiopians. Ramphis and the people of the city fight furiously the drive the enemy away from their homes. Ramphis and the people are victorious against the Ethiopians. Since Amenes is dead Theonis is now queen of Egypt and must pick a worthy king. She of course picks Ramphis and he is very worthy after his brave victory.
            There is no happy ending for anyone in this story. The ending has a bit of a twist that I do not want to give away.
            This film was Ernst Lubitsh’s last German film before he left for America. I am so used to seeing Lubitsh’s comedies. Seeing a drama from him as well as a silent film was quite interesting. The man was a brilliant director. He filmed some scenes beautifully and creatively.
            The Loves of Pharaoh is the type of film that romanticizes ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt has been built into a myth all thanks in part to writers and filmmakers. Hell, I have to admit I have often though about what it would have been like to be a princess or just even alive during those ancient times. My aunt sidesteps the wondering and just claims she was Cleopatra in another life haha. The Loves of Pharaoh was not one of the greatest films and neither did it have a great story but it was very entertaining to watch. The film is incomplete. There are several scenes missing that have either been filled with title cards with direction taken from the script to explain what is going on or there are still photographs. I thought the missing scenes with the title cards explaining what was supposed to be shown were really cool. You have to imagine for a minute what was supposed to be seen. The restoration is beautiful. Every tinted film color is clear and beautiful and every detail can clearly be seen. 
            After watching The Loves of Pharaoh I feel my old passion sneaking back. I feel like a little kid when I learn, read, or watch anything to do with that time period. And I did watching The Loves of Pharaoh. I feel like I am back to being my ten year old self sitting in my new ancient Egyptian themed room.
            If the film is ever aired on TCM again check it out.