Pola Negri in a promotional photo for “Sumurun,” Ufa, 1920, aka “One Arabian Night,” First National, USA, 1921.
Miss Negri’s appearance as “The Desert Dancer” in a Warsaw stage version of Max Reinhardt’s pantomime, “Sumurun,” got her an invitation to appear in Reinhardt’s own re-staging of the play in Berlin in 1918. After she signed to appear in movies for Ufa, she was cast in the same role in film version of the play directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Pola once claimed she invented the depiction of sex on film and her performance backs up her claim. Her role is an erotically-charged one and her character is about as licentious as they come. The German release print has her in a costume that bares her belly–a shocking thing back in 1920–and when she rolls around in the dirt, it’s quite clear that she could have been the serpent in the Garden of Eden. By the end of the picture, she had turned father against son and caused both their deaths and she, in turn, is destroyed by her own wantonness. It’s one hell of an acting job from Pola and encapsulates the charisma and sexual appeal that got her imported to make films in America.