Sumurun

Ernst Lubitsch (1920)
103 minutes

A special edition of LAYKA Lens series in partnership with the Thomas Mann House, takes a look at Ernst Lubitsch’s Sumurun originally released in the English-speaking world as One Arabian Night. Our panel met with our largest ever virtual LAYKA audience on Facebook and YouTube to discuss this silent classic on March 14, 2021.

You can stream the entire film and the discussion below.

Shortly before his emigration to the United States, director Ernst Lubitsch created a silent film in which he himself participated as an actor for the last time. Set in Baghdad in the Islamic Golden Age, Sumurun tells of the unrequited love of a hunchback (played by Lubitsch) for a traveling dancer (Pola Negri) and the illicit love between the enslaved harem girl Sumurun (Jenny Hasselquist) and a cloth merchant (played by Harry Liedtke) — thwarted by a brutal sheikh (Paul Wegener).

Writer Thomas Mann saw the film in Munich in 1920 and later incorporated the film experience into his novel The Magic Mountain:

They watched as a rousing tale of love and murder in the court of an Oriental potentate unrolled silently before them; scene after opulent scene sped past, full of naked bodies, despotic lust, full of cruelty, prurience, and fatal desire — and then suddenly the film slowed to linger revealingly on the muscular arm of an executioner. In short, it had been produced with a sympathetic understanding of its international audience and catered to that civilization’s secret wishes. (The Magic Mountain)

While Sumurun has been often criticized for stereotypes and historical distortion, the film’s orientalism is also a European projection that tells us much about the social order after the end of the German monarchy and the early Weimar Republic.

This month’s LAYKA panel includes:

Moderator: Rob Adler Peckerar

Executive Director
Yiddishkayt

Nikolai Blaumer

Program Director
Thomas Mann House Los Angeles

Boris Dralyuk

Executive Editor
Los Angeles Review of Books

Deniz Göktürk

Professor, Department of German
University of California, Berkeley
Watch Ernst Lubitsch’s 1920 Silent Film: Sumurun
Watch the LAYKA Lens Discussion of SUMURUN