20 September 2016

EARLY MURNAU: FIVE FILMS: 1921-1925. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.



EARLY F.W. MURNAU: FIVE FILMS: 1921-1925. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Friedrich Wilhelm 'F.W.' Murnau (1888-1931), the famous German film-maker, directed twenty-one films in his short but remarkable career. Eight of those have been lost, leaving thirteen to survive in their entirety, luckily for us. (Still, all twenty-one would have been even better...!)

One of those surviving films is, of course, NOSFERATU, his out-of-this-world 1922 version of Bram Stoker's DRACULA. This film is so iconic that there's probably not a film fan or movie student alive who wouldn't recognise some of the more famous images from it. It may not have been the first horror or even vampire film ever made, but to this day it remains one of the most important.

There's another brilliant film called SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000) that tells the story of the making of NOSFERATU, with John Malkovich playing a blinder as Murnau, the man himself. The premise of the film is that Murnau so wanted NOSFERATU to be a success that he hired a real vampire to play the part of Count Orlok. For a long time after seeing this film, I absolutely point-blank refused to believe that it wasn't based on a true story. I really, really wanted it to be true...

Anyway, the good news for all Murnau fans out there is that, on Sept. 26th 2016, EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT will be releasing a fantastic three-disc Blu-Ray box-set containing five of Murnau's early films. Talk about Christmas coming early for the dedicated Murnau fan...!

The special features are top-notch and the whole package comes complete with a 100-page book featuring archival imagery and writing by Charles Jameux, Lotte H. Eisner, Janet Bergstrom and Tony Rayns. As a humble reviewer, I only get the films, not the book. I believe I've bitched to you guys about this before, haha. I want the books too, all you promoter-type persons. Kindly remember this for the future, wink wink.

Ever seen that iconic TV ad for those posh choccies Ferrero Rocher which people normally buy by the truckload at Crimbo? Remember all those rich toffs invited to a fancy do at the ambassador's gaff? Remember the legendary tagline? 'Ah, Monsieur Ambassador, with zis Ferrero Rocher you are really spoiling us...!'

Well, in this instance, for 'Monsieur Ambassador' please read 'Eureka Entertainment' and for 'Ferrero Rocher,' read 'Five Fabulous Old Murnau Movies.' Let's go back into the mists of time now and take a peep at this quintet of marvellous films.

SCHLOSS VOGELŐD (1921), or THE HAUNTED CASTLE for all you non-Germanophiles out there, myself included, is a deliciously juicy murder mystery played out against the background of 'a rained-off October hunt' at a rich man's magnificent old castle in the mountains.

The rather sinister Count Oetsch has invited himself to this gathering of wealthy, upper-class men in the Castle and he insists to his mortified hosts that he will stay, despite the fact that he's patently not wanted there. The Count, you see, is suspected of fratricide or murdering his brother, and the brother's widow is expected at the Castle with her new hubby at any moment. Awk-ward...!

The film has a sting in the tail that I guarantee you you won't have been expecting. Someone in the cast, it appears, is not whom they say they are and a shock 'reveal' leads to an utterly spectacular dénouement. As with all the films, the scenes are gorgeously tinted in different hues, some sepia-toned, some bright and some as delicate as butterly wings. This film is literally to die for...

My two favourite scenes in it both involve dreams. The chubby little kitchen boy dreams that he gets to eat all the pudding and slap his boss, the bullying chef, around the chops as well (fair enough, say I!) while a male guest dreams that he is being stolen away by a claw-fingered monster not unlike our old pal Nosferatu, that sinister 'Phantom Der Nacht.'

I really loved PHANTOM (1922), which has a storyline that we can still relate to today. It's the story of an obsession which, when you think about it, can sometimes amount to little more than chasing shadows or 'phantoms,' especially when the object of one's obsession is another person. You're more likely to come a cropper then than if, say, you were just fixated on your work or car.

Mind you, it's never good to be too hung-up on one thing, is it really, whether it's the attainment of the perfect body or the cleanest house...? (I don't really care about either so I'm grand, haha...!)

Lorenz Lubata is a lowly town clerk and would-be poet living with his hardworking, respectable old Mum, his good-time girl of a sister and his art student brother. He allows a one-time glimpse of a beautiful woman to drive him to the brink of madness and despair. Well sure, isn't that the way it always happens? Sigh.

Anyway, a convoluted but inevitable series of events sees Lorenz, hitherto the most honest man you could ever hope to meet, commit a crime. It's not a monstrous crime, as such, but it's a crime nonetheless and poor old Lorenz will have many amends to make before he can write down the story of his life (and crimes!) while seated at that beautiful little writing table overlooking that most beautiful of gardens...

DIE FINANZEN DES GROSSHERZOGS (1924), or THE FINANCES OF THE ARCHDUKE, sees a rakish but stoney-broke Duke setting out to rebuild his fortune via comic misadventures on the high seas.

DER LETZE MANN (1924) does not mean THE LAST MAN as I assumed but in fact THE LAST LAUGH, and it's the story of a hotel porter who dreams of a higher station in life. Don't we all, gentle readers, don't we all...?

HERR TARTÜFF (1925) or, quite simply, MISTER TARTUFFE, is possibly my favourite of the five films. It's a terrific blend of sex, religion, love and loyalty and, for this reason, it was apparently pretty damned controversial when it was released back in the day.

Based on the writings of the French scribe, Molière, it's the story of a young man, an actor, who needs to make his elderly grandfather see that he is putting his trust in entirely the wrong person. He employs a simply marvellous ruse- a travelling cinema, of all things, I want one of those to visit me!- to show the misguided old man the error of his ways.

A story-within-a-story is told to us then, by means of the 'travelling cinema.' We meet a beautiful and elegant hausfrau who eagerly greets her husband on his return from a journey only to find that he's not the man he used to be. He's become obsessed with a saintly, pious fellow by the name of Tartuffe, who supposedly 'frowns' upon things like ornaments and rich food and drink and sexual congress, even between marrieds. The po-faced old buzzkill!

You'll notice that I italicised the word 'frowns' and put a 'supposedly' ahead of it. Yes, dear viewers, Herr Tartuffe, expertly played by Emil Jannings, is the biggest, grossest, fattest, most lecherous old hypocrite ever to carry a prayerbook in his greasy coat pocket.

He's a physically repulsive scrounge, layabout and thief and he won't be happy until he's deprived the man of the house of all his money and worldly goods in the name of 'giving to the poor,' which of course is slang for lining Tartuffe's own pockets. He's also not averse to driving a wedge between husband and wife while he's about it, the dastardly devil.

It's up to the lady of the house, the brave and comely Elmire, to come up with a scheme to show up the troll-like Tartuffe for what he is in front of her husband, who has blinkers on where the hypocritical old religious fanatic is concerned. In so doing, she proves her undying loyalty to her husband but just how much of herself must she sacrifice to the odious Tartuffe before she proves her point...?

This film is great. It's all legs and heaving bosoms and sexuality tempered with a big dollop of religion, or should that be the other way around? Either way, I can imagine why it was so controversial when it was released. The idea that a holy man like Tartuffe could be tempted by the sight of a pair of barely-covered boobs or sexy stockinged pins probably didn't go down all that well with churchgoing types...!

To finish my little treatise on these five superb examples of Murnau's early work, may I just observe that, according to the last film, HERR TARTÜFF, gift seems to be the German word for
poison? I could be wrong about that but it really seems like it is. I have just one minor observation. 

Did no-one ever stop to think that that might be a tad misleading to some speakers of both languages...? Ah well. Why should I care? I'm not the flippin' safety inspector around here, haha. Just buy this excellent box-set. It'll be the purchase of a lifetime.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com










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