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With: Emil Jannings, Max Schreck, Hermann Vallentin, Julius Falkenstein, Camilla Horn, Emmy Wyda
Written by: Carl Mayer, Thea von Harbou, etc.
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 500
Date: 18/03/2013

Murnau (2009)

4 Stars (out of 4)

German Genius

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Murnau on DVD

Kino already released an impressive F.W. Murnau DVD box set back in 2003, but this is an updated version, including two new discs -- The Haunted Castle (1921) and The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924) -- and also the remastered versions of three other titles (Nosferatu, The Last Laugh and Faust). Only Tartuffe (1925) remains the same as in the last set. The only drawback is that this new box does not contain Tabu (1931), which had been licensed from Image Entertainment for inclusion in the 2003 box. Neither box contains Sunrise (1927), which still belongs to Fox.

Regarding the three re-mastered titles, they have been released elsewhere in two-disc sets, and in the box set, the viewer only gets single-disc editions. However, unless you're a very finicky completist, you're not missing much. The Last Laugh two-disc set contains Kino's earlier transfer, which is not as good, and the Nosferatu two-disc set comes with an alternate version of the movie with German intertitles and English subtitles; the first disc comes with already-translated English intertitles. As with the earlier Murnau set, this is an essential item; it's not only a huge piece of film history, but it's one of the most telling bits of evidence of film as an honest-to-goodness art form. Not to mention that the films are just really fun to watch. You can read my comments on Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Tartuffe and Faust elsewhere. Following are my notes on the two new films.

The Haunted Castle is the earliest of F.W. Murnau's existing films, and the earliest available on DVD. Like Phantom (1922), its title and its nearness in time to Murnau's popular masterpiece Nosferatu may lead viewers to believe that they're going to get another Expressionist chiller, full of creepy shadows. But it's really a brightly-lit murder mystery, in which the murder(s) take place entirely off camera. Lord Vogel�d (Arnold Korff) hosts a hunting party at his castle, though continuing rains keep all the would-be hunters indoors. An unwelcome break in the boredom comes with the unexpected arrival of Count Oetsch (Lothar Mehnert). The Count has been accused, but not convicted, of the murder of his own brother. The problem is that the dead man's widow, the Baroness (Olga Tschechowa), has been invited and will soon arrive. But the Count will not leave. The Baroness sulks and broods and will only speak to a priest that is also visiting from Rome. I was able to see through most of the movie's twists, but once we get past the fact that this is not Nosferatu, it has its own share of striking moments, and it even has some rare attempts by Murnau at comedy. (There are some flashback and nightmare sequences with bits of horror.)

Murnau had already released Nosferatu and was in pre-production on The Last Laugh when he made The Finances of the Grand Duke, 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 fellow 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. It 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. Historian David Kalat provides a commentary on Kino's 2009 DVD release.

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