It's hard to focus on just what is the biggest problem with this film. I'd have to start with the casting. Ivan Mosjukine made only this one film in the U.S. - he was a huge star in Europe, but this vehicle did not succeed in making him one in America. I tend to think that he was so gifted, he could do absolutely anything, but here he was clearly miscast. He could play a villain or a lover, but the one thing I think he just could not do was believably play a man who would force himself on a woman. It just wasn't in him - you can tell throughout every film he made that the guy just really loved women, and by all accounts the adoration was reciprocated. Scarpia he ain't, and without a feeling of threat or danger, the plot falls apart. Mary Philbin, as his love interest, is not particularly good, either, but this is probably less a question of casting and more one of her acting ability. She can look merry and she can sob hysterically, but for anything in between, her expression is a sort of pained sullenness. The story wasn't absolutely lacking in dramatic possibilities, after all - maybe with a more fiery leading lady, Mosjukine might have been able to meet her with more passion himself, but she is just utterly inert, even during the love scenes.
There are a few nice things in the film - the portrayal of traditional Jewish village life seems pretty respectful (though I speak as an outsider). It's even rather funny, as two brothers march down the street arguing, and the titles are written in Hebrew, liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks! The way the crowd turns on poor Lea at the end is a bit unbelievable, though I don't think the intention was anti-Semitic; more a reflection on how people in mobs tend to act irrationally, which was hardly a unique theme at the time. Still, I have to think her father might have done a better job telling off the hypocrites in the crowd, who a few hours before were weeping and begging her to sacrifice herself to save them, then as soon as they're safe, start reproaching her and turn her out of town. The ending is a bit perplexing - obviously, in the intervening years, the Russian Revolution has come and stripped Constantin of his princely rank, so we see him dressed as a peasant when he comes back to reclaim his love. But the story is supposed to be taking place in Austria, not Russia, so what's with the 'Comrade' business at the end? And even if he's no longer a prince...uh, she's still Jewish and he isn't, right? And wasn't that the whole problem to begin with, rather than their respective classes? Or are we to suppose that the Communist Revolution (in another country) also managed to obliterate all religious differences as well? Or is everything alright because her father is dead now? It's hard to say - this looks like a "Love Conquers All" happy ending slapped on without any very clear thinking of how it could really come about. And since Ivan Mosjukine had to flee Russia BECAUSE of the Russian Revolution, I have to wonder just how he felt about playing a "reformed" Russian prince who is set free by Communism to finally be united with his beloved? That might have contributed a bit to his obvious unease in this project.
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