Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alfred Abel, Grete Berger, Lil Dagover, Lya De Putti, Wilhelm Diegelmann, Anton Edthofer, Aud Egede Nissen, Olga Engl, Karl Etlinger, Ilka Gr�ning, Adolf Klein, Frida Richard, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Heinrich Witte
Written by: Thea von Harbou, based on a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Silent with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 11/13/1922

Phantom (1922)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In the Line of Desire

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Released the same year as the legendary F.W. Muranu's Nosferatu (1922), one might expect Muranu's Phantom to be a similarly supernatural thriller. But the title actually refers to an unattainable desire, a thing to be chased and never caught. Alfred Abel stars as Lorenz Lubota, a hangdog clerk who loves books and poetry. On his way to work and lost in a book, a coach nearly strikes him down in the street. Unfortunately, the coach's occupant, a wealthy, beautiful woman (Lya De Putti) steals Lorenz's fancy. Through a series of coincidences, Lorenz is led to believe that his poetry is going to be published and will most certainly earn him fortune and fame, and so he sets about pursuing the woman. When this turns out not to be the case, his sister's sleazy boyfriend cons Lorenz into swindling their wealthy aunt, and he uses the money to woo a new woman, the rich woman's lookalike (also played by De Putti). The entire tale is told in flashback. Based on a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann, it's a typically tragic plot for the silent era, but not one that was typical for Murnau. In truth, Phantom comes across more as a job for hire than as a genuine Murnau masterpiece. But even so, the master filmmaker managed to include several of his own touches, including a sequence in which Lorenz, sitting at a table in a café, sinks downward, revealing a motorcycle riding in circles above his head, and another in which the buildings on either side of a street appear to be tilting, crowding him out. These scenes demonstrate Murnau's greatness, in finding some visual way to suggest the emotional tone, rather than simply telling a story. Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang's wife and frequent collaborator, wrote the screenplay.

DVD Details: Phantom is the third DVD release from Flicker Alley (after The Garden of Eden and Judex) and all three show the superb craftsmanship of Kino or The Criterion Collection. This Phantom boasts a crystalline picture, with a brand-new score by Robert Israel. Extras include a look at the film's history by UCLA film historian Janet Bergstrom, cast and crew biographies, a "special documents gallery" and a 12-page booklet documenting the restoration process.

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