The Golem: How He Came into the World

The Golem: How He Came into the World (German: Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, also referred to as Der Golem) is a 1920 silent horror film and a leading example of early German Expressionism. Paul Wegener starred as the titular creature, as well as co-directing the film with Carl Boese and co-writing the script with Henrik Galeen based on Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel.[1] Photographer Karl Freund went on to work on the 1930s classic Universal horror films years later in Hollywood.[1] This was the third of three films that Wegener made featuring the golem, the other two being The Golem (1915) and the short comedy The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917), in which Wegener dons the golem make-up in order to frighten a young lady with whom he is infatuated. The Golem: How He Came into the World is a prequel to The Golem from 1915 and as the only one of the three films that has not been lost, is the best known of the series.[2]

The Golem: How He Came into the World
Directed byPaul Wegener
Carl Boese
Produced byPaul Davidson
Written byHenrik Galeen
Paul Wegener
Gustav Meyrink (novel)[1]
StarringPaul Wegener
Albert Steinrück
Lyda Salmonova
Ernst Deutsch
Lothar Müthel
CinematographyKarl Freund
Guido Seeber
Distributed byUniversum Film (UFA) (1920) (Germany) (theatrical)
Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (1921) (USA) (theatrical)
Release date
  • 29 October 1920 (1920-10-29)
CountryWeimar Republic
LanguageSilent film with German intertitles


Set in the Jewish ghetto of medieval Prague, the film begins with Rabbi Loew, the head of the city's Jewish community, reading the stars. Loew predicts disaster for his people and brings his assistant to inform the elders of the community. The next day the Holy Roman Emperor signs a royal decree declaring that the Jews must leave the city before the new moon. The Emperor sends the knight Florian to deliver the decree. Loew meanwhile begins to devise a way of defending the Jews.

Upon arriving at the ghetto, the arrogant Florian falls in love with Miriam, Loew's daughter, for whom his assistant shares affection. Loew talks Florian into reminding the Emperor that it is he who predicts disasters and tells the horoscopes of the Emperor, and requests an audience with him. Having courted with Miriam, Florian leaves. By praying with God first, Loew begins to create the Golem, a huge monster which he will bring to life out of clay to defend his people. Florian returns later with a request from the Emperor for Loew to attend the Rose Festival at the palace. He shares a romantic moment with Miriam while Loew reveals to his assistant that he has secretly created the Golem, and requires his assistance to animate it. In an elaborate magical procedure, Loew and the assistant summon the spirit Astaroth and compel him, as per the ancient texts, to say the magic word to bring life. This word is written on paper by Loew which is then enclosed in an amulet and inserted onto the Golem's chest. The Golem awakes. Loew's assistant then tames the Golem, and the Rabbi uses it as a household servant.

When Loew is summoned to the palace for the festival, he brings the Golem with him to impress the audience. Florian meanwhile slips away from the court to meet Miriam, whose house is being guarded by Loew's assistant under Loew's instruction. Back at the palace the court is both terrified and intrigued by the arrival of the Golem. Impressed, the Emperor asks to see more supernatural feats by Loew. Loew projects a magical screen showing the history of the Jews, instructing his audience not to make a noise. Upon the arrival of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, the court begins to laugh and the palace suddenly crumbles. As the building collapses around them, the Golem intervenes and props up the falling ceiling, saving the court. As a sign of gratitude the Emperor pardons the Jews and allows them to stay in the city.

Loew and the Golem return to the ghetto, spreading the news that the Jews are saved. Loew returns to his house and begins to notice erratic behaviour in the Golem. He reads that upcoming astrological movements will cause Astaroth to possess the Golem and attack its creators. Loew removes the amulet and is called down by his assistant to join in the celebrations in the street. As the community rejoices, the assistant goes to inform Miriam and bring her to the synagogue but finds her in bed with Florian. Devastated, he reanimates the Golem and orders it to remove Florian from the building. But the Golem, now under Astaroth's influence, literally does so by throwing Florian from the roof of the house, killing him. Horrified, the assistant and Miriam flee, but the Golem sets fire to the building and Miriam falls unconscious.

Loew's assistant rushes to the synagogue to alert the praying Jews of the disaster, but upon their arrival at Loew's house they find that it is burning and both the Golem and Miriam are missing. Despaired, the community begs Loew to save them from the rampaging Golem. Loew performs a spell that removes Astaroth from the Golem. Promptly, the Golem, who is wandering the ghetto causing destruction, leaves Miriam, whom he has been dragging by the hair through the streets, lying on a stone surface and heads towards the ghetto gate. He breaks the gate open and sees a group of girls playing. They all flee except for one, whom he picks up, having developed a docile nature following the removal of Astaroth. Out of curiosity she removes the amulet from the Golem. It drops her and collapses. Loew meanwhile finds Miriam, who awakes shortly after. Happily reunited, they are awkwardly joined by Loew's assistant, who informs him that the Jews are waiting for him by the gate. Loew having left, the assistant promises to Miriam that he will never tell anyone of her forbidden affair with Florian, and asks in return for forgiveness for his actions. The Jews meanwhile gather at the gate to find the dead Golem. Rejoicing and praying, they carry it back into the ghetto, the Star of David appearing on the screen as the film ends.



Wegener had been unhappy with his 1915 attempt at telling the story, due to compromises he had to make during its production. His 1920 attempt was meant to more directly convey the legend as he heard it told in Prague while he was filming The Student of Prague (1913).[3]

In 1919, Wegener announced plans for Alraune und der Golem, uniting the two folklore characters in one film. Though posters and other publicity material survive, it was almost certainly never made. Instead, Wegener produced his 1920 film, but later starred as Professor Jakob ten Brinken in the 1928 version of Alraune.

It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. Architect and designer Hans Poelzig created the film's scenery as a highly stylised interpretation of the medieval Jewish ghetto of Prague.

Preservation and home video status

The Golem is in the public domain and over the years has been released many times in poor quality, unrestored black and white versions.

The film was first restored in 1977 in Germany and scored by Karl-Ernst Sasse. This version is unavailable on home video.

In 2000, a second restoration was carried out by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna at the laboratories of L'Immagine Ritrovata in Italy and licensed by Transit Film. This version is based on an export print transferred at 20 frames per second (85 minutes) and with its original tinting intact. It was given an ensemble score by Aljoscha Zimmermann and released on DVD in Germany (Universum Film, 2004), the UK (Eureka, 2003), France (mk2, 2006), Spain (Divisa, 2003) and the US (Kino Lorber, 2004).

A third, fully digital restoration, this time based on the original domestic negative, was completed by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in 2017 and is available on DCP.[4]

Critical response

Critical reception for The Golem upon its initial release was positive. The New York Times' 1921 review praised its "exceptional acting" and "expressive settings", the latter of which was compared to those of another early German expressionist horror film, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).[5]

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 100%, based on eight reviews, with a rating average of 7.9/10.[6] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 1/2 out of a possible 4 stars, calling it a "chilling, visually dazzling story of the supernatural, based on a famous Jewish folktale of the 16th century" and a "classic of German Expressionist cinema". Maltin also noted the film as a forerunner to the 1931 film adaption of Frankenstein.[7] The film was presented at the Star and Shadow cinema in 2014 as part of the British Film Institute's Gothic season. This screening featured a new unique live soundtrack which was the result of a collaboration between Noize Choir and Wax Magnetic.[8] The Castle, Newcastle screened the film in 2016, again with a live soundtrack from Noize Choir, this time accompanied by artists Mariam Rezaei and Adam Denton from the Old Police House.[9] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews rated the film a grade B+, praising the film's "powerful visuals". In his review of the film, Schwartz wrote, "a landmark of early German expressionism. It is through the striking black-and-white German expressionism photography of Karl Freund that the film displayed its unusual feel for the macabre and might be considered a precursor to the Frankenstein horror films and how horror films were to be made from now on".[10] The film is listed in 101 Horror Films You Must See Before You Die, a spin-off of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die, which the authors called "a classic of German expressionist cinema".[11]

See also



  1. Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). "Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era". Midnight Marquee Press. p. 220.ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.
  2. "Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam". Silent Era. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  3. Hardy 1995, p. 27.
  4. "Neue DCPs der Digitalisierungsoffensive 2017/18". Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation.
  5. "Movie Review - - THE SCREEN -". The New York Times. 1921-06-20. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  6. "The Golem (Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam) (1920) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  7. Leonard Maltin (28 June 2015). Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 259–260. ISBN 978-0-14-751682-4.
  8. "The Golem (1920) + Noize Choir + Wax Magnetic".
  9. "The Golem (1920) + Noize Choir +The Old Police House".
  10. Schwartz, Dennis. "dergolem". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  11. Steven Jay Schneider (2009). 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die. Octopus Publishing Group. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-1-84403-673-8.


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