Murnau [6 Discs] [DVD]
- SKU: 17522557
- Release Date: 03/17/2009
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The German The Haunted Castle (Schloss Vogelrod) has been described as director F.W. Murnau's "warm-up" for his subsequent Nosferatu. At this point in his career, Murnau was more interested in effects than in story or characterization, but those effects were among the best within the boundaries of Germany's "Caligari School." The cast included Paul Hartmann, Arnold Korff, Paul Bildt and Olga Tschenova. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Last Laugh
F.W. Murnau's German silent classic The Last Laugh (Der Letze Mann) stars Emil Jannings as the doorman of a posh Berlin hotel. Fiercely proud of his job, Jannings comports himself like a general in his resplendent costume, and is treated like royalty by his friends and neighbors. The hotel's insensitive new manager, noting that Jannings seems winded after carrying several heavy pieces of luggage for a patron, decides that the old man is no longer up to his job. The manager demotes Jannings to men's washroom attendant, and the effect is disastrous on the man's prestige and self-esteem. Logically, the film should end on a note of tragedy, but Murnau (either because he was ordered to by the producers or because he just felt like it) adds a near-surrealistic coda, wherein Jannings, having suddenly inherited a fortune, returns to the hotel in triumph. The Last Laugh was a bold experiment for its time: a film told entirely visually, with no subtitles save for the semi-satirical explanation of the climax. In a sense, Karl Freund's camera is as much a "character" as anyone else, commenting upon Jannings' rise and fall via then-revolutionary camera angles, jarring movements and grotesque lens distortions. Many historians credit The Last Laugh as the vanguard of the "German invasion" of Hollywood during the mid- to late-1920s. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Faust was the mammoth German production which won F. W. Murnau his contract with Hollywood's Fox Studios. Emil Jannings glowers his way through the role of Mephistopholes, who offers the aging Faust (Gosta Eckman) an opportunity to relive his youth, the price being Faust's soul. Though highly stylized, the film is unsettlingly realistic at times, especially during the execution of the unfortunate Gretchen. Even in old age, actress Camilla Horn could recall how close she came to genuine immolation when Murnau burned her at the stake. An American version of Faust had been planned earlier as a Mary Pickford vehicle, but Pickford's mother wanted no part of a film in which her darling daughter strangled her own baby. The scenario for Faust touches lightly upon the previous retellings by Goethe and Marlowe, but is more heavily reliant on the paintings of Pietr Breughel. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs
Director F.W. Murnau and scriptwriter Thea von Harbou both took a change of pace from their usual dramas with this satiric farce about Grand Duke Don Ramon XX (Harry Liedtke), whose idyllic country is threatened by revolution. The troublemakers are a trio of conspirators, working with a corrupt financier who intends to convert the landscape into a profitable sulfur mine. Don Ramon comes close to being hanged, but is rescued by Olga (Mady Christians), the Grand Duchess of Russia, who loves him and agrees to pay off all his debts. A compromising love letter from Olga falls into the conspirators' hands, but she and Don Ramon, with the help of the adventurer Philip Collins (Alfred Abel) are able to set their affairs right. Note who plays one of the conspirators: Max Schreck, who starred as the hideous vampire in Murnau's horror classic Nosferatu. ~ Nicole Gagne, Rovi
F. W. Murnau's landmark vampire film Nosferatu isn't merely a variation on Bram Stoker's Dracula: it's a direct steal, so much so that Stoker's widow went to court, demanding in vain that the Murnau film be suppressed and destroyed. The character names have been changed to protect the guilty (in the original German prints, at least), but devotees of Stoker will have little trouble recognizing their Dracula counterparts. The film begins in the Carpathian mountains, where real estate agent Hutter (Gustav von Wagenheim) has arrived to close a sale with the reclusive Herr Orlok (Max Schreck). Despite the feverish warnings of the local peasants, Hutter insists upon completing his journey to Orlok's sinister castle. While enjoying his host's hospitality, Hutter accidently cuts his finger-whereupon Orlok tips his hand by staring intently at the bloody digit, licking his lips. Hutter catches on that Orlok is no ordinary mortal when he witnesses the vampiric nobleman loading himself into a coffin in preparation for his journey to Bremen. By the time the ship bearing Orlok arrives at its destination, the captain and crew have all been killed-and partially devoured. There follows a wave of mysterious deaths in Bremen, which the local authorities attribute to a plague of some sort. But Ellen, Hutter's wife, knows better. Armed with the knowledge that a vampire will perish upon exposure to the rays of the sun, Ellen offers herself to Orlok, deliberately keeping him "entertained" until sunrise. At the cost of her own life, Ellen ends Orlok's reign of terror once and for all. Rumors still persist that Max Schreck, the actor playing Nosferatu, was actually another, better-known performer in disguise. Whatever the case, Schreck's natural countenance was buried under one of the most repulsive facial makeups in cinema history-one that was copied to even greater effect by Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's 1979 remake - Nosferatu the Vampyre. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
How typical of the great German director F. W. Murnau that he used Moliere's scathing satirical comedy Tartuffe as a launching pad for an extended exercise in expressionism. Emil Jannings plays the title character, a religious hypocrite who capitalizes upon the piety of others to line his own pockets. Lusting after Elmire (Lil Dagover), the daughter of gullible millionaire Orgon (Werner Krauss), Tartuffe all but convinces Orgon to hand over Elmire -- and all his land holdings -- on a silver platter in exchange for Divine absolution. On the verge of triumphantly taking over Orgon's mansion and tossing the old man out, Tartuffe is foiled by the deux ex machina arrival of an emissary of the King, who arrests the "hero" for his chicanery (this final scene was imposed upon Moliere by the French censors; originally, Tartuffe got away with his crimes). In his efforts to make the property more cinematic, Murnau adds a framing story concerning an old woman who tries to cheat an old man out of a fortune while the two of them watch a theatrical performance of the Moliere play. Chock full of offbeat camera angles, forced-perspective sets, and spiderlike shadows, Tartuff owes more to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than it does to Moliere. Emil Jannings went on to collaborate with Murnau in the director's next production, a lavish adaptation of Goethe's Faust. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi