Togo Mizrahi, with a Ph.D in economics, and fluent in several languages, was an immensely productive figure in Egypt’s early cinema. In sixteen years he made thirty-two films, as director, author, scriptwriter, set designer, and sometimes actor. Between 1930 and 1946 he worked with every new aspect of film, making social dramas, musicals, and historical and heritage films, with a particular penchant for themes from A Thousand and One Nights.
Mizrahi’s first film, Kohayeen (Cocaine, 1930) was made at his private studio in Alexandria, where it was first shown under the title al-Haweya (The Abyss). It was not until 1938 that he moved to Cairo and rented Studio Wahbi as his headquarters and production base.
In his early years, following the custom prevalent at the time for a Jewish actor to adopt a screen name that was common to the three main religions of Egypt, Mizrahi changed his name to Ahmed Mishriki. But the new identity was not to last long. In 1934 he released the first of four films that featured an unambiguously Jewish character, Shalom. Al-Mandouban (The Two Representatives, 1934) was followed by Shalom al-Dragoman (Shalom the Dragoman, 1935), Shalom al-Riyadi (Shalom The Athlete, 1937) and al-Ezz Bandala (Prosperity is an Insult, 1937).
Mizrahi cast Ali al-Kassar, Egypt’s famous black actor, in the leading role of nine of his films, notably Alf Layla wa Layla (A Thousand and one Nights, 1941), Ali Baba wal-Arba’een Harami (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, 1942), and Nur al-Din wal-Bahara al-Thalatha (Nur al-Din and the Three Sailors, 1944). Singer Layla Murad was also brought into cinema by Mizrahi, and appeared in five of his films, ending with Layla fil-Zalam (Layla in the Darkness, 1944).
In 1946 came Sallama, one of the most important films Mizrahi made before leaving Egypt. Inspired by Arab history, with lyrics by Bairam al-Tonsy, music by Zakariya Ahmed, and a fast pace, the film was a major success and was Umm Kulthum’s best acting performance.
Soon after the release of Sallama, Mizrahi was accused of zionism and forced out of Egypt. He died in exile in Italy.