After filming the landmark Nosferatu, the silent cinema’s master innovator F. W. Murnau demonstrated the reach of his genre versatility with a pair of films that explored the dimensions of the psychodrama and the adventure-programmer. All the Murnau characteristics are present: a vibrant naturalism, exquisite imagery, passages of dreamlike revery, and an atmosphere redolent with romantic longing.
In Phantom, an aspiring poet on the verge of what he takes for a big break experiences a chance encounter with a beautiful woman in the street — and falls headlong into love and fantasy. With debts piling up and his promised literary celebrity failing to materialise, the poet descends into obsession, deception, and, ultimately, a criminal act in this delirious film that stands as an early precursor of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Grand Dukes Finances
Die Finanzen des Großherzogs sees Murnau exploiting the Mediterranean clime to film the tale of a rakish duke whose lifestyle has dried up his noble coffers. When word arrives about the existence of valuable sulphur deposits on his tiny duchy of Abacco, a comic adventure of high-seas intrigue, “animal impersonators”, and the Crown Princess of Russia unreels at a sprightly pace. Max Schreck (the mythic actor behind the makeup of Nosferatu’s Count Orlok two years earlier) appears in a supporting role, in what might be Murnau’s nimblest effort.
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