Moon of Israel - Silent Movie Austria 1924 - directed by Michael Curtiz

Moon of Israel

(German: Die Sklavenkönigin, or "The Queen of the Slaves") is an Austrian epic film of 1924.
It was directed by Mihaly Kertész (later Michael Curtiz). The script was written by Ladislaus Vajda, based on H. Rider Haggard's novel The Moon of Israel, which in its turn was inspired by the Biblical story of the Exodus.
It was this film that brought Kertész to the attention of the studio head Jack Warner, who invited him to Hollywood in 1926, where he rapidly became Michael Curtiz and made a career with the Warner Studios.
Shooting took place in Vienna with about 5,000 extras, in the studios of Sascha-Film, and outdoors on the Laaer Berg. The premiere was on 24 October 1924. The restored complete edition of the film, which was entirely lost for many years, was first shown on 26 February 2005 in the Wiener Metro Kino.
(piano: Gerhard Gruber)

In about the year 1230 BC the Israelites are in slavery in Egypt. At this difficult time the Jewish slave-girl Merapi falls in love with Prince Seti, son of the Pharaoh Menapta. This socially inappropriate love leads to numerous problems, which can nevertheless be resolved. At the end of the film Moses leads his people through the Red Sea and into freedom.


Moon of Israel

One of the most outstanding scenes is the parting of the Red Sea by Moses (Hans Marr). Since at the same time the American film The Ten Commandments was being made, which also featured the parting of the Red Sea, the Viennese team took extraordinary care over this scene out of fear of superior American special effects technology. In the final version, thanks to subsequent trick editing, the gigantic wooden construction, designed to release 100 cubic metres of water from both sides at once, is unrecognisable. The water poured into a closed wooden trough 8 metres square and 1 metre deep on the Laaer Berg in Vienna. The walls of water to either side were modelled out of plaster, which looked completely realistic on black and white film. One single take could now depict both the parting and the closing of the sea: for the former the shot was simply spliced into the film in reverse.
The actors were filmed in the dry and overwhelmed by the "sea" later, during the editing. When, a few weeks after the Sklavenkönigin opened, the competing film was also in the cinemas, it came as a surprise that the parting of the Red Sea was considerably more realistic in the Austrian production. It was not only the Viennese critics who noted this: even Hollywood colleagues expressed their amazement that in this regard the Laaer Berg had outdone Hollywood.
LA Jewish Film Festival 2012 - Moon of Israel - Gerhard Gruber

LA Jewish Film Festival 2012 - Moon of Israel - Gerhard Gruber

Gerhard Gruber at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival 2012

The director of Sascha-Film, Arnold Pressburger, assisted the film director Michael Kertész as artistic director. The assistant director was Arthur Gottlein. The cameramen Max Nekut, Gustav Ucicky and Hans Theyer were supported by Sascha Kolowrat-Krakowsky, the film's producer, as technical director.
The film is supposed to have cost 1.5 billion Kronen. The true value of the sum is admittedly relativised by the constant high inflation that raged until the mid-1920s, but nevertheless it is one of the highest outlays ever for an Austrian film. Sascha-Film was only able to obtain credit from their bank against the personal security provided by Sascha Kolowrat-Krakowsky. The reason for this was partly the high production costs, but also the film's very risky economic prospects - many Austrian film production companies, after several boom years, had gone bankrupt. Austrian production companies were less and less able to stand up to the strong competition of cheap foreign imports, particularly from the United States. Additionally inflation was receding, which made Austrian films more expensive abroad, after a period in which the film export had flourished, thanks to the weak currency. Besides, the high period of the epic film was gradually passing - the sensation value of the enormous crowd scenes and of scantily clad actresses was falling.

Sets and costumes
The sets and buildings were created by Artur Berger and Emil Stepanek, who already had experience of monumental epics, having worked on the greatest film structure in Austrian film history, the Tower of Babel in Sodom und Gomorrha of 1922. The costumes were by Remigius Geyling. The great majority of the cast were very simply dressed, but the palace residents and the priests had some of the most imaginative and creative costumes of the silent fim period.


Gerhard Gruber in front of Saban Theatre

Like other films of the period the Die Sklavenkönigin was inspired by the Egyptomania that was sweeping the world after the discovery of the intact tomb and treasures of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The female lead, for once, was not the director's wife, as in most of Michael Kertész's previous films: Lucy Doraine was by this time divorced from him, and so the starring role went to María Corda, the wife of his competitor Alexander Korda, who was also making epics in Vienna at this time.
The premiere took place in the Eos-Kino, in which Sascha-Film had an interest. For the occasion the cinema was done up in Ancient Egyptian style and decorated with pictures of gods and statues of warriors.

The black and white silent 35 mm film, 2,300 metres long, had a sound track added in 1932 by the Selenophon Licht- und Tonbildgesellschaft; without the inter-titles it was only 2,074 metres long.
In 2005, using a positive print on a nitrate base of the English edition from the British Film Institute, the film was restored and re-copied by the Filmarchiv Austria, thus re-creating a print of excellent quality with English inter-titles which was used for the reconstruction of the German version, with added music by the leading Austrian silent film pianist Gerhard Gruber.

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