Early & Silent Film

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Maharajah’s Favourite Wife / Maharadjaehens Yndlingshustru, Denmark 1917

Posted by keith1942 on September 6, 2018

This title was included among the 35mm screenings at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: in the Chapter headed ‘Dark and Strangers’. In its year of release the film was a ‘crash box-office hit’.

In early 1917 ‘Paimann’s Weekly Film-Lists’ warmly recommended to its subscribers, the cinema owners of Austria, to book Robert Dinesen’s latest film: “The story is gripping and highly dramatic; the acting and photography are excellent, the sets lavish and the harem scenes first-rate.”” (Marianne Lewinsky in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is conventional for the time in many ways. The cinematography tends to offer long shot and medium shots [American shot]. The editing provides straightforward linear development and scenes are relatively short as one follows another. The sequences are constructed around the intertitles which provides much of the plot information. But the film is unconventional in the way it develops a story that is the product of European Orientalism. The film was adapted from a novel. I have not found any references to this so I am unsure how closely the film follows the original source.

The film opens with Elly (Lilly Jacobsson) and her family staying at a seaside resort. She is accompanied by her admirer Kuno von Falkenberg (Carlo Wieth), a naval captain. They meet the Maharajah (Gunnar Tolnaes). He is the embodiment of Orientalist representation,. Dressed in a western variant of Indian costume [similar to some worn by Rudolf Valentino), and resides in an apartment lavish with jewels and decorations. Elly is immediately struck as is the Maharajah. He sends via his servant, ( an oriental stereotype) a present of a book,. ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. Elly meets in him a garden pavilion at night and they plan to elope. This is effected next day by Elly going out alone in a skiff. The currents threaten her but the Maharajah sends his servant to rescue her and the couple elope.

Arriving in the Maharajah’s home state Elly is disconcerted when she becomes a member of the harem, peopled with attractive and scantily clad women. Later the Maharajah orders,

Bring my favourite wife here.’

And following an ellipsis Elly receives jewels and special treatment in the harem, though this excites the jealousy of the other wives. Later, unhappy in her situation, she rejects the gift of more jewels from the Maharajah and pleads,

Set me free.’

Meanwhile Kuno, still carrying Elly’s photograph in his pocket, is ordered aboard the cruiser Neptune and to India. Co-incidentally the ship stops at the port near the Maharajah’s palace and he invites the officers to his palace. Once there, to impress them he orders,

Gentlemen …. My harem where no European has ever set foot’.

And then,

Send for my favourite wife’.

Kuno realises the situation and later, in private, Kuno claims that the Maharajah

stole that woman.’

Surprisingly the Maharajah responds by offering Elly a free choice, opening his safe and showing her all his jewels, the alternative to leaving.

Later Elly leaves at night. The Maharajah has ordered his servants that if she is wearing European clothes she must be allowed to pass. As Elly nears the water and the waiting Kuno, she sees a figure draped in white. It is the Maharajah holding a dagger with which to end his life. Elly, overcomes, chooses to remain and they embrace and return to the Palace,.Kuno leaves.

Since the film included so many conventional tropes from Orientalist dramas I was really surprised when Elly changed her mind. This sequences is intensely dramatic and produces what is [in contemporary terms] a fairly subversive ending. The film plays with stereotypes that are presumed to appeal to a female audience; stereotypes that fuelled Valentino’s stardom. Mariann comments in the Catalogue:

“Miscegenation goes unpunished in this film, contrary to the racist US productions in a similar vein: …. (…. it seems no problem that The Sheik, 1921, is a rapist, after it is revealed that he is white after all).”

We had a 35mm print from the Danske Filminstitut in good condition; and the intertitles had an English translation. And Neil Brand provided a suitable accompaniment on the piano, which included the dance provided as entertainment for the Officers at the palace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: