Most of us are familiar with the story of the Golem. It comes from Jewish folklore and is about a creature being created from inanimate matter. The term itself is referenced in the Bible and refers to the unfinished human form. The most popular story has become that of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, who was lived in the late 16th century in Prague. According to legend, he created the Golem to protect those in the ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, desired all Jews to be captured or killed. The Golem was constructed out of clay and brought to life through ancient Hebrew rituals. His only weakness, besides that he could not speak, was that he had to rest on the Sabbath. The Golem must also follows the orders of his master and can often take such orders too specifically. Various tales describe the Golem as having gone on a rampage after being rejected.
There are still some strict orthodox Jews who believe that the tale of the Golem is real. Reportedly, the remains of the Golem were kept in an attic while other stories tell of the Golem being removed. When the attic was renovated in 1883, there were no remains found. However, there are documented accounts from rabbis claiming it did exist and to avoid going into the attic. True or not, it makes for a fun tale. So it should come as no surprise that the Golem has been featured in numerous movies, including the famous Paul Wegener Golem trilogy of the 1920s. Golems have appeared in such recent television series as The Simpsons, The X-Files and Supernatural.
In 1936, French director Julien Duvivier (Pepe le Moko, Flesh and Fantasy) brought his vision to life in Le Golem. It is essentially a sequel to Paul Wegener’s The Golem: How He Came into the World. Set in a Prague Jewish ghetto, Emperor Rudolph II (Harry Baur) is oppressing the Jews and is obsessed with finding the Golem, which could be a source of strength for the Jewish community. A tale of lust and betrayal are the background that leads to the Countess Strada (Germaine Aussey) orchestrating the theft of the Golem, which is in the attic of Rabbi Jacob (Charles Dorat), supposedly passed on from Rabbi Loew. The Golem is eventually captured and chained in the Emperors palace. Apparently, the Golem will awaken when a beast roars, so as Jews are being led to their death in lion pits, the word “emet” or “truth” is carved into the Golem’s forehead. It awakens and rampages through the Emperor’s palace. As Emperor Rudolph’s brother is arriving to bring peace to Prague, Rabbi Jacob changes the word on the Golem’s forehead to mean “dead”, causing it to crumble.
Le Golem has had a variety of running times ranging from 83 minutes in the UK to 70 minutes in the US under the title Legend of Prague. My copy ran 95 minutes, which is as complete a version that is known to exist. Le Golem has never been released commercially, so it is going to take some effort on your part to track a copy down. My DVD was from a fairly worn print with some contrast issues which made reading the English subtitles a bit difficult at times. The movie is a little slow at times but pays off nicely with the Golem’s rampage at the end. I recommend chasing a copy down but go in with some lower expectations as the movie focuses more on the intrigue and less on the Golem until the final act. However, once that act kicks into gear, it’s a lot of fun. Check out this clip on YouTube for the climax. Although it has no subtitles, none are really needed to understand what is going on. Le Golem is definitely recommended for those searching out something new and a little different this Halloween season.