'The Indian Tomb': Film Review

THE INDIAN TOMB Still 1 - Film Movement Publicity -H 2019
Courtesy of Film Movement
More action-oriented (and in one scene, more risque) than its predecessor.

In the second of Fritz Lang's Indian adventures, sneaky Germans arrive to rescue a hero imprisoned for forbidden love.

Paying off on the melodramatic setup of The Tiger of Eschnapur, Fritz Lang's The Indian Tomb heaps familiar punishments on the lovers who dared to defy a maharaja, building to one of history's oldest threats: a royal marriage in which the bride's only alternative to "I do" is a horrifying death. Introducing more characters and developing the first picture's political intrigues, it's a more conventionally engaging tale with a dash of censor-baiting sexuality as its centerpiece.

German engineer Berger (Paul Hubschmid) and the half-Indian dancer Seetha (Debra Paget), having fled the jealous maharaja Chandra (Walther Reyer), are found by a trade caravan as they lie near death in the desert. But the impoverished villagers who nurse them back to health face a hard choice: obey their law of hospitality, or give the fugitives up and reap the maharaja's lavish reward? A weak-willed man in their midst makes the choice for them all.

But the lovers aren't caught yet. Fleeing into nearby caves, they stumble onto a shrine to Shiva, giving the Indian Tomb its first real chance to invoke the god Seetha's dancing is supposed to honor. She makes an offering at the shrine and is rewarded by some divine intervention. Then the unbelieving German eats one of the fruits Seetha has offered Shiva, and they're both promptly captured by Chandra's men.

Back in Chandra's vast marble palace, Berger's boss Rhode (Claus Holm) has arrived with his wife Irene (Sabine Bethmann), who also happens to be Berger's sister. They're supposed to be building hospitals and schools, but Chandra wants something else designed first: the world's most majestic tomb, to honor the love of his life. Never mind that this lost love is still alive — as Chandra hints, that can be fixed if she doesn't change her mind about marrying him.

Chandra, who sent his brother Ramigani (Rene Deltgen) to retrieve Berger and Seetha from the desert, has been blind to his scheming. Ramigani wants the throne for himself, and believes the proposed marriage will trigger a revolt in the court. So he brings Seetha back and, claiming Berger has died, locks him in a dungeon to use as leverage with the reluctant bride.

Throughout the production, Lang has made fine use of ancient exteriors and, in the mode of '50 exotica, conjured royal splendor on his own soundstages. (Though cinematographer Richard Angst often fails to make additional light sources seem naturally part of the scene.) But the more time we spend in Berger's dungeon and the spaces surrounding it, the less the illusion holds: Secret subterranean passageways afforded a thrill in the first film, but connecting hallways here are sometimes cheap-looking or simply ugly.

As the architect whose client tests his conscience, Holm gives one of the few lively performances in the Indian Tomb; the Rhodes, with their loyal Indian assistant Asagara (Jochen Blume), try to solve the mystery of Berger's captivity, pretending to be shoring up the palace's water-damaged foundations as they search for his cell.

Meanwhile, Seetha knows her beloved is alive, and agrees to marry Chandra to keep him that way. First, she has to convince the groom she didn't run away willingly: The pasted-on costume she wears for a long "snake dance" scene, which leaves her nearly naked, seems to do the trick — though Seetha's wardrobe will hardly distract 21st century viewers from perhaps the fakest-looking writhing cobra in movie history.

The action builds nicely in Tomb's closing act, with escape plots and simmering rebellions and the rare opportunity to see a god, not an old boyfriend of the bride, used as an excuse to stop a wedding at the last minute. Having played his part with a stiffness Lang seems to have wanted, Reyer gets to see Chandra redeemed in the end — though whether the script is being generous to the character, or putting him in his place by quashing his Euro-influenced ambitions, is an open question.

Production company: CCC Filmkunst
Distributor: Film Movement
Cast: Paul Hubschmid, Debra Paget, Walther Reyer, Rene Deltgen, Claus Holm, Sabine Bethmann, Jochen Blume, Jochen Brockmann
Director: Fritz Lang
Screenwriter: Werner Jorg Luddecke
Producer: Artur Brauner
Executive producers:
Director of photography: Richard Angst
Production designers: Willi Schatz, Helmut Nentwig
Costume designers: Claudia Herberg, Gunter Brosda
Editor: Walter Wischniewsky
Composer: Gerhard Becker

In German
101 minutes