The Emperor and the Golem

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The Emperor and the Golem
Directed by
Written by
Music byJulius Kalaš
Release date
1951 (Czechoslovakia)
1955 (USA)
Running time
86 + 69 min or 112 min
Budget7,220,000 KČs[1]

The Emperor and the Golem (Czech: Císařův pekař a pekařův císař - "Emperor's baker and baker's emperor" literally) is a two-part Czechoslovakian historical fantasy comedy film produced in 1951. The film shares parts of the plot with the 1936 French film, Le Golem, directed by Julien Duvivier, filmed in Prague and co-written by Jan Werich (this film's star and co-author) and Jiří Voskovec. It was originally directed by Jiří Krejčík, but after disputes with the leading actor Jan Werich, Krejčík was replaced by Martin Frič.[2] In addition to the two-part version, a 112-minute-long one-part international version was prepared, with most propaganda flavoured scenes cut out (e.g., songs). The film was filmed in color (not common for Czechoslovak films in that period) because of the international release.

The film is set during the reign of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. It is one of the best known films with Jan Werich (performing a dual role of Emperor and baker).


Model of the Golem from the film

The film first follows the aging and eccentric Rudolf II, who is obsessed with finding the Golem, refuses to hear out ambassadors and falls into destructive fits. The conflict between him and his brother Matthias is also touched upon.

He welcomes Magister Edward Kelley in his palace and shows him around. He keeps an alchemist laboratory in his palace. The alchemists are presented as either charlatans and swindlers, or fools: one desires to materialize darkness; another hits an anvil with a hammer, examines it with a magnifying glass and says he is trying to split the atom. There is also a character who, when the Emperor asks him of his doings, always babbles in a nonsense language (it is later revealed that he has been making "slivovice", a well known Czech plum brandy).

One character, Alessandro Scotta (who is actually a Czech named Honza Skoták), appears repeatedly. Instead of experimenting, he is revealed to use his equipment to cook sausages. He also approaches the emperor with a cleaning product, with which he immediately polishes the floor, making it slippery and causing another person to slip, to the amusement of the Emperor and his court. Rudolf wants Scotta to make him an elixir of youth, and in the end pressures him into performing a related magic ritual at night. While performing the ritual, they accidentally stumble upon the Golem. But Rudolf does not have the Shem and cannot awaken the Golem.

Meanwhile, the film also follows a baker, Matěj (also played by Werich, but as a younger man than Rudolf). Matěj is confronted with angry people who want bread rolls but cannot receive them, because the bread rolls have to be "especially baken" for the emperor. When the corrupt head of the bakery leaves the building, chasing after the court astrologer who stole his money, Matěj distributes the emperor's bread rolls to the poor and is imprisoned in the dungeons for this deed.

Kelley reveals his homunculus Sirael, whom the Emperor wishes to teach everything of our world, including love. Rudolf does not know that Sirael is a regular country girl, Kateřina, acting after coercion by Kelley. Kateřina and Matěj communicate through vents between Kelley's room and the dungeons and fall in love through conversation, although they cannot see each other.

Alessandro Scotta concocts an elixir of youth for Rudolf (actually a mix of strong alcoholic drinks and morphium). Meanwhile, Matěj escapes the dungeons. The first part ends here.

In the beginning of the second part, Rudolf drinks Scotta's concoction and falls asleep. Matěj ends up in the emperor's rooms. Unknowing servants of the Emperor find the fugitive Matěj (who bears a remarkable likeness to the Emperor in his young days) hiding in the bath and, believing the rejuvenation has worked, they hold him for the emperor and dress him accordingly. After waking up, Rudolf sees Matěj and mistakes him for his younger self in the mirror. Elated by his supposed new vigour (and not a little drunk, too), Rudolf and his old loyal servant ride alone in a carriage to the countryside to remind themselves of the sins of their misspent youth.

The emperor's mistress, Countess Stradová (who has spent much of the first part pressuring the unwilling Rudolf into marrying her) also believes the rejuvenation worked and drinks up the remnants of the concoction. She embarrasses Matěj by her advances and then falls asleep. The horrified and confused Matěj, who only wants to be reunited with Kateřina, puts her on top of a two-story bed. Then he finally realises his own resemblance to the emperor, and decides that he has to act as Rudolf because Rudolf is gone and it is his best chance at finding Kateřina.

Matěj as the emperor turns the court upside down, dismissing Rudolf's astrologer (whom he knows to be a con man), minimising the extravagant expenses and inviting other people to his table, dealing with all the waiting ambassadors and leaving off Rudolf's eccentricities and idleness for an honest attempt at fair rule, all the while searching for Kateřina. (He also slips in a decree taking the bakery from its corrupt owner and granting it to himself and the apprentices.) He finds a compatriot and helper in Scotta, who knows his elixir could not have worked and therefore knows Matěj is not the emperor, and they reveal their true names to each other.

Meanwhile, intrigue abounds among the emperor's councillors (Lang, the chamberlain; Rusworm, a general; and the court astrologer) and Kelley; they initially want to overthrow Rudolf and replace him with Matthias, but end up vying for power among themselves. They all want to utilise the Golem and chase after the shem, which a dog found at the same time the emperor and Scotta found the Golem. This intrigue is often played for comedy. For example, at one point, Matěj sits at a table with the conspirators and Tycho Brahe and talks with Brahe about planets. The conspirators have poisoned Matěj's cup of wine (trying to kill the supposed emperor), but before he can drink it, de Brahe uses it, together with the other cups, to demonstrate the movement of planets according to Koperník. The conspirators try in vain to keep track of the poisoned cup.

Kelley then pressures Kateřina (as Sirael) into killing the emperor, but after some misunderstandings, this only serves to reunify the lovers. Matěj is revealed to the councillors and chaos ensues: they all try to capture Matěj and Kateřina, while fighting among themselves. The situation escalates as the Golem is awakened and destroys the general, who wanted to use him to conquer the whole world, but to his misfortune, the Golem only obeys the person who put the shem in its head, and Rusworm has killed his co-conspirators, including the person who has done so. The Emperor returns and the Golem is at large. Eventually, with the help of the townspeople whom Scotta and Kateřina aroused, Matěj succeeds in stopping the Golem and removing the shem. Rudolf is reinstated, after Matěj convinces him to give the Golem to the people rather than use it for his own means. The Golem is installed in the bakery and its power is used to make more bread for everyone.



The film was provided with English subtitles and distributed in the United States in 1955 by Artkino Pictures Inc.


  1. ^ "Výroba a distribuce barevných filmů" (PDF). Masaryk University. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Císařův pekař – Pekařův císař". Retrieved 2011-02-05.

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