Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harry Liedtke, Mady Christians, Alfred Abel, Adolphe Engers, Julius Falkenstein, Ilka Gr�ning, Guido Herzfeld, Georg August Koch, Walter Rilla, Hans Hermann Schaufuss, Robert Scholtz, Max Schreck, Hermann Vallentin, Balthasar von Campenhausen
Written by: Thea von Harbou, based on a novel by Frank Heller
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 74
Date: 19/03/2013

The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Duke' of Whirl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

F.W. Murnau had already released Nosferatu (1922) and was in pre-production on The Last Laugh (1924) when he made this, so viewers will be surprised and perhaps disappointed that it's a comedy, and one seemingly without any of Murnau's visionary touches. For only 74 minutes, it's hugely convoluted and I found myself lost in the plot once or twice. It's basically a drawing room comedy, though shot in the great outdoors and even at sea, filled with disguises, mistaken identities and duplicity.

It involves the Grand Duke of Abacco (Harry Liedtke), who is dashing and likeable and whose carefree attitude blows away clouds of despair. His country is in dire straits, unable to pay back its massive debts. A man wants to buy part of it for mineral rights, but the Duke finds his salvation in the Russian Princess Olga (Mady Christians), who wants to marry him and settle his accounts. There's a letter of intent and its forgery, escapes and chases, and a small revolution before everyone winds up in the same room for a happy ending. (And everyone wears trenchcoats a lot.)

It's actually quite cheerful and picturesque, and Liedtke's comic performance is somehow both relaxed and precise, and not as mannered as many of Murnau's other heroes. The picture even has its Lubitsch-like touches. Nosferatu himself, Max Schreck, appears as an evil lackey, though I was unable to pick him out (he wears heavy, radically different makeup in both films). Edgar G. Ulmer claims to have worked on the film in some capacity, though he's uncredited.

In 2019, Kino Lorber released The Finances of the Grand Duke together on a single Blu-ray disc with Murnau's The Haunted Castle; the image quality is delightfully crisp on both, with resounding piano scores. Historian David Kalat provides a commentary for Grand Duke.

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