Three and a Half Tombs: Part Two
Silent Films in the Weimar Era ​(1920-1921)

The First Tomb

To begin the adaptation, Fritz made three major changes to the protagonists. First, he zeroed in on the secondary character named Ramigani. In the novel, he is the prince’s Man Friday—a moody, subservient, jack-of-all-trades. In the film adaptation, Ramigani becomes a Yogi, who possess extraordinary powers. To prepare the viewer to accept this innovation, the film begins with these titles:

The Indian Tomb asks knowledge of the mysterious magic forces that are special to the Indian penitents—Yogis. Laws of nature do not apply to the Yogi in the ecstasy of willpower, and it is said that he can even conquer death. The aspiration of the Indian penitent is to achieve Nirvana, the state of complete surrender. To achieve the highest purity by deadening all senses, the Yogis have themselves buried alive. If the Yogi is revived from this sleep of death, he must fulfill his awakener’s deepest wish, to convince him of the futility of all worldly desires.

In other words, a yogi has paranormal powers. This idea was clever, but not original. Lang had already used this gag once in The Diamond Ship (Das Brillantenschiff), the second part of his serial Spiders. In that film, the bad guys are looking for a big diamond with a flaw in the shape of Buddha’s head, and at one point in the film, there is a title card, reading, “An Episode in India.” In a distinctly nondescript setting, a dark-skinned man wearing Indian dress and a turban speaks to two Europeans:  “The Buddha-head diamond has not been found. The Master will make a new attempt today to find the stone. Yoghi All-hab-mah, India's most clairvoyant, will help in this holy cause.” They then meet the “yoghi” (as the word was spelled in the 1920s), who then conducts a “hypnotic-telepathic experiment” at the behest of one of the Europeans: “Find the Buddha stone, so that Asia can become great and free itself from foreign rule.” (Lang was clearly channeling his inner Sax Rohmer here.) The yoghi then obligingly goes into a deep trance, during which he reaches out with his mind to find the location of the Buddha-head diamond—and then promptly dies.

The bad guys consult with Yoghi All-hab-mah in the second chapter of Frit's Lang's serial The Spiders.
Even before Lang used a yoghi in Spiders, German actor-director Paul Wegener had made a 1916 film called Der Yoghi, about a mysterious Indian fellow who has concocted an invisibility potion. And just before putting on the turban to play the rajah in The Indian Tomb, actor Conrad Veidt had just finished playing Cesare, the mysterious “somnambulist” with supposed paranormal abilities in Robert Wiene’s celebrated film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  (1920).

The second major character change was to transform the architect’s wife Irene into his fiance Irene. This small change invested her character with more urgency and also opened up the possibility of her having a flirtation with the prince—a possibility that Lang would use to energize the climax of the film. This change may also reflect something of Fritz’s and Thea’s attitude toward marriage at the time—namely the fact that they were carrying on a very public affair with each other while they were also married to other people. For them to make a film about a heroic wife willing to sacrifice anything for her husband might have been too embarrassing for either of them at this time. The undesirable consequences of marriage would also be strongly emphasized in their next two collaborations, The Shifting Image (Der wandernde Bild) and Four Around a Woman, aka Fighting Hearts (Die Vier um die Frau).


Third, Miriam, the child who befriends and aids the architect in the novel, was transformed into a serving woman named Mirrjah. In the film, she becomes the princess’s ally. Curiously, she does not retain the function of being the character who effects the reunion of the architect and his fiancée. (As we will see, how Lang and von Harbou solved that problem is still a mystery.)


Other details from the novel would also be retained but used in new ways, including the prince’s tiger pen, the killer cobra in the ninth chapter, and even a few lines of dialogue. In particular, Lang’s imagination seems to have been fueled by the prince’s grisly speech to the architect in the third chapter of the book, reproduced here from our translation. The architect is professing his love for India, but the prince expresses the opposite affection:


You will see India, the country that is a woman—you must look to her down to the bone, to the last beat of her heart. You must draw away the veil of secrets that has no secrets. You must sense the origin of the insanity which can cause a nation of millions to tear their flesh for the greater glory of insane gods; the snakes, cows, and monkeys speak sacred words, forcing the people to be in terrible unison with upraised arms in one place, to grow their fingernails to the backs of their fists, to sleep on beds of nails, and to bury themselves in burning cow dung. [ . . . ] You must look at the diseases of this people, for it is as if even they have been gripped by the disease of madness itself. Their members swell until the people resemble Ganesha, the son of Shiva, the god with the elephant head. The snow of leprosy covers them like salt, and the plague rides on the rats no one will kill because the Hindu must not kill.


Many of the images from that speech would turn up later on screen.


Thus armed with enough hokum to sink a battleship, The Indian Tomb began its journey from page to screen, and in the process, Thea von Harbou was about to get a graduate-level course in how to construct a screenplay.



Part One The Mission of the Yoghi (Die Sendung des Yoghi)

Coinrad Veidt as Cesare in Robert Wiene's 
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The first part of the film begins with a kind of prologue not found in the novel—purely Lang’s invention to introduce Ramigani’s super powers. (As was typical of the era, the film was in block and white, but was tinted in various colors to follow changing moods, or times of day. Much of the film is in a pale sepia or blue-green to denote daytime and nighttime sequences.)

Following the title card explaining the obligations of the Yoghi (see above), the scene opens on Prince Ayan (Conrad Veidt), who seems to be pouting while his men literally dig up Ramigani out of the ground, where he is sitting in a fetal position. He’s so dusty he’s almost unrecognizable, so they take him to the interior of a dark temple, where they clean him up a bit and uncurl him (!) and bring him back to life. Ramigani (played perfectly by the perennially intimidating Bernard Goetzke) then says, “Prince, you have restored me to life. The holy commandments direct me to submit myself to your wishes. Command.” The prince says that Ramigani is telepathic and already knows what he must do, so without further conversation, Ramigani slowly rises and disappears into empty space.


Prince Ayan watches as Ramigani, the Yogi, is dug up out of the ground.
From here, the film follows some of the first chapter of the book, but Lang makes some significant changes, beginning with the fact that the architect is no longer named Michael Fürbringer. He is now Herbert Rowland (played by Olaf Fönss), apparently an attempt to make the character more appealing to potential audiences in the countries that had recently defeated Germany in the First World War. Unlike the book, though, Rowland is not recovering from an illness—he is in good health for the moment. He is currently mooning over drawings of the Taj Mahal and wishing such a commission could come his way. His fiancée, Irene Amundsen (Mia May), drops by for a visit, and she shares his hopes for such a project. Their scene, though brief, is important because it establishes their relationship, and it is also the last time we are going to see them together until the latter part of the second film.

In the first chapter of the novel, Michael Fürbringer is recovering from an unexplained illness one night when he receives a visit from a strange visitor, who turns out to be the prince’s right-hand man, Ramigani (but without all the mystical powers). Fürbringer’s wife, Irene, is strangely absent from the house at the moment, and much later in the novel, we learn why. Just before Ramigani’s arrival, Irene supposedly received a phone call from her sister, who had become stricken by some sort of desperate problem and needed Irene’s immediate assistance. Irene then left the house to aid her sister, but later, Irene learned that the sister never made the call. It was all a set-up to get Irene to leave her husband alone with his strange visitor. We learn all of this when Irene herself tells the story to Michael Fürbringer in the eighth chapter of the novel. How Irene was fooled into thinking that she was actually talking to her sister on the phone in the first place, though, is never explained and remains a glaring weakness in von Harbou’s novel.


In the film, Lang handles the problem of getting Irene out of the house more effectively. Lang cuts to a brief scene introducing Irene’s father, Professor Amundsen, who is practicing his chess game at home. Lang then cuts back to Herbert and Irene, and we see the phone ring. Herbert answers the phone and then announces to Irene that her father has called to summon her back home immediately. The viewer may be a bit confused because Lang has just shown the man playing chess at home, so we suspect that he is not the one making the call. Irene can’t imagine why Dad wants her to come home, so she asks for the phone. Herbert gives it to her, but by then, the caller has hung up. Not expecting any funny business, Irene plays the obedient daughter and leaves.

Irene Armundson (Mia May) visits her fiance, Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fönss), in his study--the last time they will be together until the last part of the next film.
Much more probable.

While Herbert is showing Irene to the front door, Ramigani materializes in one of the chairs (like the way characters in Star Trek appear after being transported). He still looks as though he needs a shower and a change of loincloths, so a moment later, there is a dissolve, and suddenly he is nattily attired in a Nehru jacket and a clean turban. Rowland returns to the room and is appropriately surprised to find someone who wasn’t in the room when he left. Ramigani then delivers the prince’s unorthodox invitation to come to India to build the tomb.

Meanwhile, Irene has arrived at her father’s place. He denies having called her, and she quickly realizes that somebody has deliberately lured her away from Herbert’s house. She picks up the phone to call Herbert, but back at Herbert’s house, Ramigani raises his hand mystically and causes the wire to fall out of the phone before it can ring. Sensing danger now, Irene then starts by car to rush back to Herbert’s house.

In the film as in the book, Ramigani reveals that the commission comes with a peculiar caveat:


If you want to comply with my master’s request, sahib, you must leave within the hour. But no one may know—not even your fiancée. To create an immortal work, you must be free of all other concerns. Leave your old life behind! The price, you may determine yourself.


(All of that is a fairly good condensation of the dialogue in the book.) Initially reluctant, Herbert eventually agrees to take the commission, but before departing, he takes the prince’s letter and goes into his workroom to leave a note for Irene. While he’s away, we see that Ramigani’s telepathic powers have revealed to him that Irene is on her way. He knits his eyebrows mystically, and we see a wheel fall off of her car en route. Herbert then exits the house with Ramigani. They get into a car, and Ramigani tells the driver, “Bander-Ko!” and off they go.


Ramigani materializes in Herbert Rowland's study.
Too late, Irene pulls up in a different car (one with four wheels), and the servant tells her that Herbert is gone but has left her a letter. The camera than cuts to the inside of Herbert’s studio for what is arguably the eeriest moment of the film. In the empty room, a disembodied hand materializes out of the void and snatches the letter off Rowland’s desk just before Irene walks into the room.

Later, on board the prince’s yacht, Ramigani hands the letter back to Herbert. Same thing happens in the novel, but von Harbou never reveals how Ramigani got the letter back. Lang’s version is a decided improvement.

In the book, Irene is hysterical that her husband has been kidnapped, but the prince himself shows up at the house at just that moment and admits he has been stage managing her husband’s abduction. He even admits to being responsible for the fake call from Irene’s sister (although not how the call was faked).


He explains the commission just as Ramigani explains it in the film and, to allay her fears, offers to bring her along to his palace in India, where she can monitor her husband’s health—on condition that she make no effort to contact him directly. She agrees to go. Again, though, these facts are not revealed until the eighth chapter of the novel.

Click on the YouTube video clip above to watch Ramigani's hand appear out of the void and snatch up Herbert Rowland's letter.

Such special effects, which still are remarkable to see today, were all made in the camera, as they could not combine shots during editing. This means that once the film was exposed, it was rewound in the camera and re-exposed with the second shot as a superimposition. In this particular scene, since it is only the hand that moves in, and takes the letter, with the background scene continuing afterwards,  it is a difficult and complex setup that was perfectly executed, something that is not always appreciated today.
Lang discards all of that in order to center the film on Irene for a while. Herbert’s servant recalls having heard the “Bander-Ko” instruction, and we follow her as she consults with an “orientalist,” who is shown in his study, drinking tea on a library-ladder. And while one might think that, as a scholar, he would know the answer to this question right off, he picks out a huge book and translates for Irene: “Bander-Ko” means “To the harbor!” As an interpolated scene, it is both an attention to detail and the need to extend the scene for Mia May that makes it interesting, even humorous.

Irene then heads for the harbor, where she learns a big private yacht called the Bengal has just left for an unknown destination. She tries to have a wireless message sent to the ship, but Ramigani intercepts it. Irene then determines to follow Herbert to rescue him, but her penny-pinching father won’t give her the money to finance the trip, so she decides to sell her mother’s pearls and sails for India. Not only does Mia May get more screen time, but Irene is established a real force to be reckoned with.


Irene getting advice from a scholar in Eastern languages to learn the meaning of "Bander-Ko!"

Another of Lang’s interpolations follows. Back in Bengal, the prince is feeding his pet tigers. (They are mentioned in the novel, but von Harbou doesn’t use them.) And while this is going on, a title card informs us, “At a hunting lodge some distance away [from the prince’s palace], the English officer MacAllan hosts his friends.” MacAllan is a new character; we will learn he is the fellow with whom the prince’s wife has been canoodling. One of his friends gives him a stern warning: “Don’t wear Savitri’s ring any more, MacAllan . . . the Princess’ pledge of love could cost your head some day.” 

How MacAllan came to acquire this ring is not explained here, but this is a familiar device in Lang films—the telltale clue introduced early in the plot, the most flagrant example of which is the trouble-causing brooch worn by Marlene Dietrich in Lang’s Rancho Notorious. Then, we cut back to the tigers feeding, and then we cut back to MacAllan’s lodge, where he receives word that tigers have been spotted in the jungle, and he decides to go hunting them. Lang’s intercutting subtly presages how MacAllan is destined to have a fatal encounter with those tigers before the film’s end.

MacAllan (left) admires Savitri's ring while his friend warns him not to wear it in public.
Herbert finally arrives in Bengal, where he is received by the prince, and we get our first look at the prince’s island palace across the lake (probably a miniature, a visual effect Lang had used a few times in Spiders). At the same time, though, Irene’s ship has docked, and she is at the military airport in Bombay, where she has chartered a plane to fly her to Bengal. On the tarmac, she turns to an official and says, “Thank you for your help, Consul. Should you not hear from me within three weeks, I would ask you to send a rescue party.” And off she goes.

Arriving on the palace island, the prince walks Herbert through the grounds, where another of Lang’s interpolations occurs. An unidentified woman (we will learn she is the unfaithful princess, Savitri) appears on a balcony and tries to signal to Herbert, but a group of serving women pull her back out of sight. Herbert asks the prince to identify the woman, but the prince virtually ignores Herbert’s question. Again, Lang is planting a seed for future use in the plot.


In the novel, much of the second chapter is devoted to Michael Fürbringer’s tortured first night in the palace, where the mysterious Indian night seems to inspire various nightmare visions—all too interior for a motion picture, so Lang dispenses with all that. A title card tells us that we have moved forward to the next morning. The prince proposes they ride out to the site where the tomb is to be constructed—the content of the third chapter of the novel. What follows in the film is a lengthy but not particularly interesting sequence in which scenes of the elephant convoy’s truding out to the site are intercut with scenes MacAllan’s riding out to hunt tigers and Irene’s plane landing in the middle of town and disrupting the locals.

Herbert Rowland's arrival in Eschnapur. Some of the elaborate exterior sets constructed at Joe's May's studio by Martin Jacoby-Boy
The site for the tomb, as in the novel, is a vast valley, but unlike Michael Fürbringer, Herbert Rowland seems okay with the location and announces with a sort of awe-struck look on his face, “Maharajah, here will I build an imperishable monument so the love and death of that woman shall be immortalized—” But the prince responds, “Who told you that the woman loved me—and who told you that she  died?” So, at last, the cat is out of the bag. In the novel, this revelation and Fürbringer’s response occupies most of chapter four, but Lang wisely compresses the essential events here. The prince announces, “I loved this woman—she was my Queen—she betrayed me with a friend—a white man—understand?” The prince’s murderous intentions now clear, Herbert demands to be released from his commission, but the rajah wants a promise that Herbert will do nothing to interfere with the prince’s plans. Herbert Rowland’s response is bit different from Michael Fürbringer’s and lacks the same moral integrity: “On the contrary, Prince, I give you word that I will do anything to save you from actions that might lead you to eternal remorse.”

Okay, well, whatever, so they shake hands, and the viewer is left wondering whether Herbert is going to build the tomb or not.

Meanwhile back at the palace, Irene has arrived and is eventually received by the prince. At the same time, princess Savitri is languishing in her quarters, where Mirrjha delivers the following message: “The Prince has sent his bloodhounds—the white sahib is in danger.” In other words, the prince must know something of MacAllan’s whereabouts. Now we learn why it was important that Savitri see Herbert when he arrived: Savitri, alarmed, tells Mirrjha, “Yesterday, a white man arrived—today a white woman. Look for them—Tell them one of their countrymen is in danger. Maybe they can save MacAllan.”


The prince reveals his true intentions for the tomb.
Sipping tea with the prince, Irene gets right to the point: “Why have you taken my fiancé?” The prince coolly replies, “To create his masterpiece, he must be filled with the blood and soul of India. This is why you must not join him. In you, Europe would be with him, the un-mysterious, fearless, serene—” This is dialogue compressed from the novel—but unfortunately, it doesn’t make any more sense here. She demands to see Herbert, and the prince accedes to her demand, but on the same condition that he imposes in the book: “But promise me you will not try to to meet him without my knowledge! Until then, grant me the honor of being my guest!”  And they close the deal with a handshake, and we can see that the prince is actually quite taken with plucky Irene. In fact, she is a bit taken with him, too. In the novel, Irene only fears the man, but here, the relationship is much more complex because she is still Herbert’s fiancée, not yet his wife. Anything can happen! (Von Harbou was probably taking notes—her future film heroines would tend to have similarly complicated relationships with men.)

In the jungle, MacAllan prepares to retire from a busy day of tiger hunting, and in the palace Mirrjha tries to gain access to Irene’s room to deliver the princess’s message. However, Irene is being attended by a stern-looking serving woman, and Mirrjha does not have a chance to see Irene privately, so Mirrjha just shouts out, “Lady—a white sahib is in danger! Help!” and then runs off. Lacking any other information, Irene assumes that Herbert Rowland is the white sahib in danger. Irene dashes off to the prince, who denies that Herbert is in any danger of any kind, but the fact that the prince will not allow her to see for herself yet leaves Irene uneasy. In defiance of the prince’s orders, Irene begins sneaking around the palace to try to find Herbert.


At about the same time, Herbert is pacing around his room before going to bed, and through a window, he happens to catch a glance of a woman who looks an awful lot like Irene running around in the moonlight. On the outside chance that it might actually be Irene, he takes off in search of her, and the two of them chase each other around the palace for a while—thus more effectively motivating the sequence that fills up most of chapter five of the novel.

The prince receives Irene and explains why she and he must not see each other.
Now, Lang adds another interpolation. In her wanderings, Irene finds herself in a chamber of “penitents,” including a man sleeping on a bed of nails, a man hanging upside down over a fire, a man sitting unmoving with his arms upraised, and a man buried up to his neck—all bits inspired by the prince’s speech quoted above. She moves on, and a few moments later, Herbert somehow manages to wander into the same chamber, where he has the bad luck accidentally to kick the head of the partially buried man. The man doesn’t like being kicked and curses Herbert, “Leprosy shall eat away your white skin—”

​Next, in a sequence partially derived from the novel, Irene manages to find her way to the gates that open into the tiger pit. Not knowing the tigers are in there, she opens the gates and goes in. Herbert sees this and he is about to run after her to try to save her (as in the novel), but Ramigani suddenly appears. 

The gruesome chamber of the "penitents."
In another eerie bit of Lang’s invention, Ramigani tells Herbert to shut up and hold still while Ramigani goes into a trance. While his body remains outside the pit, Ramigani semi-materializes inside the pit, puts Irene into a trance, and walks her safely out the other side. Herbert, not understanding how Ramigani has saved her (because Ramigani was standing next to Herbert the whole time), rushes to the big doors, which he struggles to open. Eventually, his strength fails, and he collapses, as in the novel.

Wuss.

The next morning finds Herbert in bed, and Ramigani is sitting next to him (again as in the novel). Awakening, Herbert remembers Irene and the tigers, but Ramigani stoically turns to him and asks, “What sort of nightmare were you having, sahib?” Herbert then calms down, and Ramigani adds, “India’s dreams are particularly agonizing,” a reference to Michael Fürbringer’s troubled first night in chapter two of the novel.


While the prince’s men are preparing to ambush MacAllan in a jungle bungalow, Herbert writes a telegram to reassure Irene and hands it to a servant. Predictably, the hand-written note ends up in the prince’s hands, and he calls on Irene to scold her for her nocturnal peregrinations. He presents her with Herbert’s message, proof that he is there and well, and then he says,


Ramigani's ghostly spirit leads Irene safely through the pit of tigers.
It is not absolutely necessary that you stroll through tiger yards at night for news of your fiancée's well being. [ . . . ] Unfortunately, your imprudence tonight compels me to limit your personal freedom for your own safety.

Eventually, though, Irene does go for another stroll. The prince’s servants direct her into a garden full of various birds. There she discovers a cage of carrier pigeons (how convenient!), and she determines to try to use one to get a message to the Consul. The message reads: “British Consul, Bombay: We are prisoners in Bengal—send help—Irene Amundsen.”

So, will the cavalry arrive at the last minute to pull Irene’s and Herbert’s bacon out of the fire?
Inside the palace, Mirrjha sneaks into Herbert’s quarters and tries to deliver Savitri’s message to him. In a sort of flashback, Mirrjha reveals how Savitri gave MacAllan the ring we saw earlier in the film. We also see the moment when the prince discovered that Savitri didn’t have the ring anymore.  According to Mirrjha, the prince then told Savitri, “I know who carries your pledge of love and boasts about it . . . But you yourself will pull the ring off his finger—when it has turned cold.” Herbert promises Mirrjha that he will do what he can to help,  but Herbert is clearly not himself today. Thinking he has a fever, he sends for quinine.


At the same time, we see the attack on MacAllan’s hut reach its climax. The prince’s men set fire to the bungalow, but MacAllan manages to escape into the jungle.



The prince gives Irene Herbert's telegraph message.
We are now at the final moments of the first film. Herbert sends for Ramigani and announces he is ready to start work on the tomb (why the sudden change of heart is not explained), but Ramigani looks at Herbert’s hand and asks, “Sahib—did a leper touch you?” Herbert does not reply, but Ramigani continues, “You will not build the tomb! You will be dead in a year! You are leprous.”

The camera irises in on Herbert’s horror-struck face, and the first part of The Indian Tomb ends.
A little abrupt, but still an effective cliffhanger.



Part Two: The Tiger of Bengal (Der Tiger von Eschnapur)


The second episode of any serial must begin with some kind of synopsis of events from the previous chapter, and much of the first fifteen minutes of this film are used for this purpose. We open with the prince asking for news of MacAllan. The sequence from the end of the previous film is shown again, and we see MacAllan’s escape presented as if the men are delivering the news to the prince. The prince then tells his men to keep on MacAllan’s trail.

​Irene then brazenly summons the prince to her room, where she announces, “You have no right to keep me prisoner and separated from my fiance—I want to see him.” The prince is amused by her imperious tone. “This is the first time I have ever been addressed this way—” However, he agrees to let her see Herbert.

You think you're having a bad day? Herbert reacts to the news that he is dying of leprosy.
Meanwhile, the tiger hunters are riding in hot pursuit of MacAllan, and we also see a replay of the sequence in which the princess Savitri gave MacAllan her ring.

However, that scene is followed by another flashback, one we haven’t seen before. We are at some sort of party being given by the prince, and MacAllan is a guest. A little too brazenly, he shows off Savitri's ring to another European. However, one of the prince's men steps in just behind MacAllan and sees the ring. He then steps back so MaAllan never realizes he has been observed in this way. Presumably, this man then tells the prince, but that action is not actually in the film.  

(More about that "presumably" part later.)

MacAllan shows off Savitri's ring at the prince's party but doesn't realize he is being observed.
A title card then announces, “The wall surrounding the living dead.” The prince leads Irene up a flight of stairs to look down into a courtyard filled with lepers, and when she sees Herbert among them, she swoons.

​Mirrjha pays another clandestine visit to the princess to tell her that the prince’s tiger hunters are closing in on MacAllan and that Herbert Rowland is now a leper. Savitri agonizes over all of this news. Lang clearly wants us to know that Savitri is aware that she is the cause of other people’s misfortune.

As usual, Lang is setting up something for later.

Herbert Rowland having a bad hair day in the leper pit.
Back with Irene in her room, the prince confirms Herbert’s diagnosis, but then he twists the knife and says that it’s all her fault: “You promised me not to approach your fiancé without my knowledge.” And we see a recap of the chase through the palace the previous night. “Now his life is destroyed,” the prince declares. Sobbing, Irene collapses and then demands, “And no help?”
And now we see just what a thorough scoundrel the prince really is. “There is just one chance of healing,” he replies, and we can all pretty well guess what that chance will involve. “The offended God of Penance demands a sacrifice—You!” Her reply? “Never!!!” The prince then declares, “Then let this terrible destiny be fulfilled.” And he leaves.


A title card then announces, “After a night of feverish insomnia,” and we see that Irene has been thinking things over, and she then repeats the prince’s exit line: “Then let this terrible destiny be fulfilled,” and we know this time she is talking about her destiny, not his. This whole moment in this film is very significant. So far as we now, none of Lang’s previous screenplays or films made from other people’s screenplays have included a self-sacrificing woman. (Lang’s female characters are more typically bad women who get good men into trouble.)

We sense that even though Irene’s decision to sacrifice herself is not in the novel, von Harbou is probably responsible for this turn in the story. (Her fiction contains many stories of self-sacrificing women.) Irene then summons a servant to tell the prince that she is now ready to sacrifice herself for Herbert’s sake.


MacAllan, meanwhile, has avoided the prince’s tiger hunters to far, but his luck finally runs out and he is captured.


The prince telling Irene she is entirely at fault for Herbert's condition.
The prince then goes to see Ramigani, but before the prince can speak, Ramigaini says, “I know your wishes Prince Ayan. I will heal the white sahib.”

Although not unexpected, this turn in the plot raises some questions. If Ramigani all along had in his power the ability to heal Herbert’s leprosy, why didn’t he just say, “Not to worry, sahib. Let me wiggle my eyebrows mystically and your skin will be as smooth as a baby’s bum!” This matter is doubly concerning because Ramigani apparently has knowledge of the future and knows already how all this is going to come out. Even as he tells Herbert that leprosy will kill him, Ramigani knows he’s not telling the truth.


Perhaps it’s wiser not to look too closely at these things.


The prince prevails upon Ramigani to cure Herbert's leprosy.
Back in the temple, Irene has been dressed for the ceremony of sacrifice—an elaborate, silly, over-the-top costume that defies description—and she is told that she may watch Ramigani heal Herbert, but she must not speak or reveal herself, or Herbert will die.

Ramigani arrives and sits, mystically, in the middle of the temple floor. The camera then cuts to a despondent Herbert in the leper pit. Mystically--the only way Ramigani does anything!--Herbert rises and begins to walk towards the gate. Mystically, the gate opens, and Herbert sort of sleepwalks his way through.

Next, he arrives in the temple, and Ramigani gestures mystically--you knew he would--and Herbert is cured. Still in a trance, he is then led back to his room. For a few moments, Irene is overjoyed.

About at this point, the prince’s tiger hunters arrive at the palace with MacAllan as their prisoner.


Back in the temple again, a priest tells Irene it’s time for her to make good on her promise, and he leaves her alone as she reaches for the dagger she has tucked into the waistline of her silly outfit.


Irene is pleased that Herbert has been cured by Ramigani.
But before she can off herself, the lighting in the room changes, and Prince Ayan appears— wearing what is, if possible, an even more over-the-top costume. Slowly and ritualistically, he approaches her and grabs her arm, but as she is about to stab herself, he stops her. “What would be served by your death? Your sacrifice was to make me your god. In you, I sought healing—to forget the past and to forgive.” He walks away, and she looks relieved.

What does all that mean? We have no idea. (And no, none of this comes from the novel.)


Later, the prince is back in his usual garb and he greets MacAllan, who is tied up and lying on the ground. The prince orders his men to keep MacAllan in good health until the prince is ready for him.


We then see Herbert waking up in bed, and he has a lovely, smooth, Dove complexion again. Ramigani is sitting by his bedside and admits he has cured Herbert’s leprosy. Herbert doesn’t look all that surprised.


Then, for some reason, we return to the courtyard of the temple, where Irene has remained, for no apparent reason. She leaves, presumably to go in search of Herbert, but she takes a wrong turn and wanders into a casting call for Tod Browning’s Freaks. Inside another outdoor enclosure, she finds herself surrounded by a number of maimed men who are missing hands, legs, and the like, and they all begin crawling and writhing towards her. (Again none of this is from the book. Also, no sources mention this fact, but we may imagine that the maimed men may have been WWI veterans; there was obviously no shortage of former soldiers missing limbs in Germany at the time.) Mirrjha, who is walking around with a bowl of fruit on her head, hears the commotion, and manages somehow to show Irene the secret way out of this place.


Now we see MacAllan walking around in the company of a single guard, who leads MacAllan towards the gates that open onto the tiger pen. The prince’s man then tells MacAllan, cruelly, to go through the gates because freedom is on the other side. Not being especially bright--or perhaps just being overly trusting--MacAllan does as he is told. The gates are closed behind him, and the tigers are released. (As noted before, this moment has been masterfully prepared for by Lang.)


Prince Ayan--wearing god only knows what--stops Irene from sacrificing herself.
And the prince forces Savitri to watch from a window as the tigers munch on her lover.

Nice.

We have seen previous closeups of the tigers eating and fighting over meat thrown to them, so there is no doubt as to how they are behaving with a human victim.

In the book, the character of MacAllan never appears, so readers have no idea how he dies. However, in chapter eight, the prince announces that he is going to hold a little feast. Eventually, the prince explains that the reason for the celebration is that he has just received news of the death of “a man.” Everyone understands he is referring to his wife’s lover.


At this point in the film, a title card announces, “To entertain in his palace, the Rajah gathered the best magicians and the most adroit jugglers.” We then see the prince giving special instructions to the snake handler.


In case you’ve been expecting a big scene in which Irene and Herbert are finally reunited, we must now deliver the bad news. That scene is not in the film—or, we should say, this edition of the film. Another title card announces, “Irene and Rowland, now reunited but unaware of MacAllan’s terrible end, are invited to the grand soirée.” In the book, Michael Fürbringer’s reunion with his wife is the major event of chapter seven, so it’s hard to imagine that this scene was not planned and filmed. (More about this and other missing scenes later.)


Immediately following that title card, the camera cuts to a scene of Irene as she finishes dressing for the party, and Herbert simply walks in. In the book, Mirrjha’s counterpart (Miriam) is not eager to attend this party, and neither is Mirrjha. In the book, Miriam goes along, but in the film, Irene remarks to Herbert, “Poor Mirrjha is scared to death of the Prince!” Irene then tells her, “Wait here till I return! Do not be afraid—you are under my protection!” Thus, Mirrjha remains behind in Irene’s quarters (but not for long).


The evil prince forces Savitri to watch through a window as MacAllan is eaten by tigers.
While the entertainment goes on in the grand hall, one of the prince’s servants breaks into Irene’s quarters and carries off Mirrjha. He carries her to another serving woman and orders her to dress Mirrjha because this night she is to dance for the prince.

Back in the hall, the entertainment continues, and after a few moments, Mirrjha appears in a dancer’s costume. The prince announces she is going to dance, but as she starts, a basket containing a poisonous snake is laid at her feet. To Irene and Herbert’s horror, Mirrjha is bitten and collapses (as in the book). The prince then says to her, “Soon you will join MacAllan, who you aided—send him my regards—and tell him—she will follow you soon!”

At this point, Lang begins weaving his new ending for the story.


The prince welcomes his guests, Herber and Irene, to watch the acrobats and dancers.
Dying in Irene’s arms now, Mirrjha says, “Death is also upon you! Save the princess—and escape!” Howard and Irene then go back to their rooms, change their clothes, gather up their stuff, and prepare to flee.

They make their way to the princess’s chambers, and here Herbert displays some spunk by knocking out the princess’s guards. Irene and Herbert then take flight with Savitri. (In the book, the architect and his wife flee without the princess, who never appears in the book at all.)

At the island dock, Herbert unties and pushes away all but one of the boats so the prince cannot follow them, and then they get into the last boat and shove off. The prince arrives and is predictably unhappy that none of his boats is accessible. He offers to reward any man who will swim out through the crocodile-infested waters to bring back a boat. The first attempts are not successful  (or, rather, they are successful from the crocodiles’ point of view), but eventually the prince’s men secure a boat. By then, the Europeans are on the far shore and beginning their ascent up the side of a hill to escape. The prince’s men follow as they do in the book, keeping the film story on a rough track with its source.


Dying, Myrrjha warns Herbert and Irene that they must escape and take Savitri with them.
Eventually, though, the Europeans arrive at the peak, where they must cross a rickety rope bridge over a steep gorge—shades of Indiana Jones! Herbert has to carry the princess across, but once he and the princess are safe on the other side, Lang throws us a curveball: Irene pulls out her dagger and cuts the ropes mooring the bridge, which falls into the gorge with her on the wrong side. Apparently, she expects the missing bridge to slow down the prince and his men, and based on the curious business in the temple, she may think that the prince will not harm her.

The prince and his men arrive, and the prince calls out to Herbert, “Surrender that woman!”
Herbert then pulls out a gun, but the cowardly prince grabs Irene and holds her in front of him as a shield. He then pushes her forward as if to toss her over the edge. “Hand over my wife, or your fiancée goes into the ravine!”


(My goodness—this is a serial, isn’t it!)


Herbert then puts down his gun, but Savitri, who has been standing behind Herbert, shouts out, “No more innocent victims! I will atone!” and she leaps to her death in the gorge. Although the scene is somewhat surprising, Lang has shown us previously that Savitri was feeling a lot of guilt for her actions.


Herbert must carry the swooming Sacitri across the rickety rope bridge while Irene remains behind.
Subsequently, Savitri’s body is recovered and Irene and Herbert are reunited again. The prince kneels over Savitri’s body. He is emotionally shattered by her death—as badly as he wanted it, the ultimate irony is that he still loves her.

A title card then announces an epilogue: “Finally, Herbert Rowland built the last resting-place for Princess Savitri—the monument of a great love—and a great guilt.” We now see we are in the inside of the great tomb, with Herbert and Irene are together, sort of taking a last look, and they begin to walk toward the camera. The view changes to outside, a massive flight of wide steps for them to descend. About at the halfway point up the steps is a dirty figure in torn robes—the prince, or what’s left of him, a broken man. Herbert and Irene pause to look for a moment, and then keep on walking.


The End.


Von Harbou’s novel is about Michael Fürbringer and his Kafka-esque experience in an alternate-universe India, but Lang and von Harbou’s screenplay shifts the emphasis off the architect (wisely) and makes the prince the central character. The film begins and ends with the prince, and Lang’s new ending effectively transforms the story into a pious moral fable about the futility of revenge: Once the prince has the revenge he has been seeking throughout the film, he has nothing, and he becomes a broken man.


The prince cradling Savitri's dead body. 
In that sense, the prince is a character who appears in a lot of Lang’s films: the helpless victim of bad women who lure otherwise good men to their doom. Savitri doesn’t get a lot of time on screen, but until her act of self-sacrifice, she is clearly not an admirable character. After all, she is directly responsible for the death of MacAllan, and the prince at the end of the film might just as well be dead. In future collaborations with von Harbou, Lang would frequently revive the bad woman character (he had already used the character extensively in his previous screenplays), but beginning with this film, there is a good woman (Irene) who balances the bad one. The fact that Savitri commits an act of self-sacrifice is clearly von Harbou’s way of mitigating the Langian bad-girl stereotype.  (A later example of this kind of balance can be found in Metropolis, the Jekyll-Hyde characters of Maria and her slutty robot counterpart.)

The one truly unfortunate thing about the film, though, is that Fritz Lang did not get to direct it. May promised him the film and then reneged on his promise. The film received attentive, if not enthusiastic reviews , and was distributed throughout Europe in several languages.


​Why Didn't Lang Direct the Film?


Unusual Czech release poster for Metropolis, showing the split personalities of Maria and the robot.
When the screenplay for Tomb was finished, the substantial sets and costumes had yet to be created, so in the interim, May commissioned von Harbou and Lang to write another screenplay, this time based on their own original story. This film became The Shifting Image (Das wandernde Bild). This story was considerably less elaborate and could be put into production quickly, once again with Mia May playing the lead. At some point while Lang was working on The Shifting Image and the sets and costumes for The Indian Tomb were under construction, May decided to direct The Indian Tomb himself—but failed to inform Lang about his change of mind. According to Lang’s biographer McGilligan, Thea had to deliver the news to Lang while he was on location shooting Image up in the alps, and he was fit to be tied.

The official explanation for the change in directors was that May (or, more probably, May’s investors) considered Lang too inexperienced as a director to be trusted with such a costly, prestige film. Other people speculate that May thought the film was going to be big success and he wanted the glory for himself. There is also the strong possibility that Mia May may have been involved in the change of directors.


DVD cover for the recently restored version of The Shifting Image (Das wandernde Bild). 
It’s also possible the director and his leading lady were not getting along on the set of The Shifting Image. No sources suggest or confirm this possibility, but we do know that Lang was frequently an ogre on set and had a history of being particularly hard on his female stars. We also know that Mia May never worked for Lang again. It’s entirely possible that after working for Lang on Image, she told her husband that she didn’t want Lang to direct her again in The Indian Tomb. One way or another, Lang completed filming The Shifting Image and then tore up his contract with May, and we’ll never know how the film might have further evolved under his direction.

And yet, according to McGilligan, Lang was not one to forgive and forget, and late in Lang’s career, he would have another chance to direct The Indian Tomb.

Ironically, The Shifting Image was released before The Indian Tomb, and the reviews were very good. Lang was proclaimed a budding genius, and soon, he and von Harbou would produce a minor masterpiece, Weary Death, (Der müde Tod) released as Destiny in English-speaking countries, and The Three Candles in the rest of Europe. When The Indian Tomb was finally released in 1922, the reviews were generally favorable, although McGilligan reports that at least one reviewer felt the script was weak, a tweak on the nose for Lang.
​​

The Missing Scenes

Before describing the next film adaptation of the novel, we should note that David Shepard’s restoration of the second half of this film is about thirty minutes shorter than the first part, a fact which leads to speculation that there are some missing sequences. Fritz Lang plotted his films very tightly, and he seldom introduced plot elements without developing them. Recall that in this film, he introduces the viewer to the tiger pen very early to set up its use at the end of the film. Recall, too, that when Herbert Rowland arrives, Lang shows us an unknown woman trying to signal him—that is the beginning of a string of events that eventually leads to Herbert’s bout of leprosy and Irene’s weird scene in the temple. However, this film sets up audience expectations in certain places and then does not fulfill those expectations. For instance, Lang pointedly has Irene instruct the British consul to send help if needed, and then—just so we won’t forget—he has Irene send the consul a message by carrier pigeon. However, nothing comes of this plot line. We never learn if the consul got the message or not. We keep expecting the cavalry to ride to the rescue, but they never do. If Lang changed his mind about wanting the cavalry at all, then why do the two sequences setting up their involvement remain in the film?

Also, Lang laboriously builds up the business with Savitri giving her ring to MacAllan, and in the second half of the film, we see part of a sequence involving a party at which MacAllan unwisely shows off Savitri’s ring, and yet we never see clearly the moment when the prince discovers Savitri’s infidelity. The party scene involves a lot of extras, so there’s a lot of build-up, but the film cuts away before the most important events can occur. Not like Lang to leave us hanging in this way.


Perhaps the biggest omission, though, is the scene in which Herbert and Irene are reunited. In the novel, the sequence goes on for several pages (partly because Irene has to explain how she got to the palace and why she has not previously communicated with Fürbringer). Also, the novel includes a scene in which Fürbringer confronts the prince about keeping Irene a virtual prisoner. In the film, he’s adamant that he doesn’t want Herbert to know Irene is in the palace, so the fact that we don’t get to see how he reacts to their reunion is very strange. All we have to cover these developments is an awkward title card. Hard to imagine that the scenes were not filmed.

So what happened to those scenes? On the Turner Classic Movies website, David Shepard describes the provenance of the film that he restored:


DVD cover of David Shepard's reconstruction of ​The Indian Tomb.
I first saw The Indian Tomb at the 1996 Pordenone Silent Film Festival, after a restoration by the Munich Film Museum that had been supported by the Lumiere Project . . . The copy that Munich had had been restored from two prints and both were under the control of private collectors—but I ended up using just one of the prints, from a French collector.

The implication is that one of the prints Shepard used may have been more complete or in better condition than the other, a situation which suggests that perhaps the missing scenes could have suffered from nitrate damage (particularly if they occurred at the beginning or ending of a reel) and were not usable for the restoration. One way or another, their omission makes the The Tiger of Bengal choppy, not so coherent as is The Mission of the Yogi.