Ever since I saw it, Murnau’s Nosferatu is, in this writer’s opinion, the best silent horror movie ever committed to film. This writer has often wondered over the past few years, what else he might have directed and how one might get to view these films, if indeed they still existed.
Thankfully, the latest offering from Eureka in their Masters of Cinema series gives an ample opportunity for both fans and scholars to explore and enjoy Murnau’s rich talent and incredible diversification of subject matter, with this five film set on Blu-ray.
Spread across three discs, the five movies are a mixed bunch of genres. Disc one contains probably the best of the films, Schloss Vogelod (The Haunted Castle). Not that there’s any actual haunting going on, it’s actually an old fashioned murder mystery set in a stately home, where a man previously accused but never proven guilty of murdering his brother is intent on proving his innocence to his grieving, but since remarried sister-in-law and everybody else. Also on this disc is Phantom – again, not a horror film as one might expect, but a fantasy romantic drama about a man becoming obsessed with a woman who runs him over on his way to work and his attempts to find her again.
The second disc contains The Grand Duke’s Finances, a heavy handed farce about a destitute aristocrat and Tartuffe, a tedious drama regarding a young man’s attempts to safeguard his inheritance by exposing the wiles of a governess employed by his rich grandfather.
The third disc has The Last Laugh. This one is poignant and sad, but insightful. The ageing doorman of a large metropolitan hotel is fired from his job and has to relinquish his grand uniform. He feels diminished and humiliated as a result, as his uniform and job were essentially his identity.
The accompanying “Making of” documentary on this disc examines the film as an exploration of the German tradition of relishing the finery of uniforms and their importance within the German psyche of the time.
Overall, it becomes apparent that Murnau enjoyed recurring motifs, as a menacing clawed hand in a nightmare sequence in The Haunted Castle strongly resembles that of Orlock in Nosferatu, just as speeding coach chase in Phantom brings to mind a practically identical scene in the vampire classic.
The restoration work undertaken on the films is incredible, with the prints looking as crisp, fresh and debris free as something that was filmed yesterday. However, although there’s plenty here to enthral classic silent movie fans, genre fans looking for something a little darker will be disappointed.
Special Features: Video Essay / Featurette / Making Of / Documentary / Audio Commentary / Booklet
EARLY MURNAU – FIVE FILMS (MASTERS OF CINEMA) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: F.W. MURNAU / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: EMIL JANNINGS, ARNOLD KORFF, ALFRED ABEL, GRETA BERGER, HERMANN PICHA, ROSA VALETTI / RELEASE DATE: 26TH SEPTEMBER