Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 13th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Germany, 1921 (Schloß Vogelöd), Gemrany, 1922 (Phantom), Germany, 1924 (The Grand Duke’s Finances, Der Letzte Mann), Germany, 1925 (Tartuffe)
Director: F.W. Murnau (All Films)
Writers: Carl Mayer (Schloß Vogelöd, Der Letzte Mann, Tartuffe), Thea von Harbou (Phantom, The Grand Duke’s Finances),
Cast: Arnold Korff, Lulu Kyser-Korff, Lothar Mehnert, Paul Hartmann, Paul Bildt, Olga Tschechowa (Schloß Vogelöd), Alfred Abel, Frida Richard, Aud Egede-Nissen, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Adolf Klein, Olga Engl, Lya De Putti (Phantom), Mady Christians, Harry Liedtke, Robert Scholtz, Alfred Abel, Max Schreck (The Grand Duke’s Finances), Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Emilie Kurz, Hans Unterkircher, Olaf Storm (Der Letzte Mann), Hermann Picha, Rosa Valetti, André Mattoni, Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover, Lucie Höflich, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn (Tartuffe)
BluRay released: September 26th, 2016
Approximate running times: 82 Minutes (Schloß Vogelöd), 122 minutes (Phantom), 90 minutes (Der Letzte Mann), 88 minutes (The Grand Duke’s Finances), 65 minutes (Tartuffe)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: PG (All Films)
Sound: LPCM Stereo with original German intertitles (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Eureka Video
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £27.99 (UK)
The five films included as part of this collection have three key frequent collaborators, cinematographer Karl Freund (Metropolis, Dracula -1931 version), screenwriters Carl Mayer (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Thea von Harbou (Spies, Woman in the Moon, M).
Schloß Vogelöd (The Haunted Castle): Things go awry for a group of aristocrats attending a getaway at castle Vogeloed, when an unexpected guest makes his presence known.
Content wise, this film is melting pot of genres as it alternates between these three genres, mystery, horror and melodrama. With the emphasis on whodunit? Albeit there is a twist! The father of the unannounced guest count Oetsch, who years before was blamed for his brother’s death and subsequently banished from castle Vogeloed. Shortly after arrival the count’s identity is exposed and from there he then proceeds to uncover the truth behind his brother’s death.
When compared to F.W. Murnau most famous films like Nosferatu and Sunrise, this film is rather subdued visually. With that being said, there are moments throughout that do foreshadow what is yet to come in his latter films.
Phantom: An aspiring poets’ obsession with a mysterious woman leads to his eventual downfall.
At the heart of this melodrama is a tale about man who becomes morally corrupted and his eventual redemption. And at just over two hours this film there is a deliberateness that allows key moments just the right amount of time to fully resonate. Structurally the movie opens and ends sometime in the near future with scenes with the protagonist. With the bulk of the film being told via flashbacks the events which lead the protagonist to where he is now. Also there is a dream like state to the story at and visually this film is a classic example of German Expressionism.
This film is a heart breaking drama that will pull at your heart strings. From a technical stand point this film far exceeds what one would expect from a silent film. With the most amazing accomplishment being how much this film is able to say deposit lack of title cards. And this is reinforced by a tour de force performance from Emil Jannings in the role of this film’s protagonist. It is astounding just how much he is able to convey through his body language and facial expressions. Another strength of this film is its visuals which are inventive and foreshadow where the technology was heading towards.
The Grand Duke’s Finances (Die Finanzen des Großherzogs): Unable to service his countries debts the Grand Duke of Abacco agrees to marry Grand Duchess of Russia and thus solve his financial problems. Unfortunately, there are a few things that stand in his way, an unscrupulous businessman, revolutionaries who want to overthrow him and a crucial letter announcing his engagement to Grand Duchess of Russia has disappeared.
Though comedy played a role in many of Murnau’s films. This film would mark his only full length foray into the comedy. Also this film intermittently throws into the mix a little bit of action and romance. Unfortunately, when it comes to delivering the humor this film at time can be a little rough around the edges. With this film’s strongest moments being the scenes that find balance between humor and romance.
Tartuffe (Herr Tartüff): The only living heir to a millionaires’ fortune shows his wealthy grandfather a film that exposes his grandfather’s governesses scheme to leave his fortune to her.
This film features a solid premise, a film within a film scenario, which also happens to have characters that mirror each other in both of these films. And at just over one hour this film moves along at a brisk momentum. Also all the main characters are well defined and their motivations are never in doubt? Another strength of this film how the film within the film moments are shot with a distinctly different style than the moments that bookend this film.
The five films are spread over three dual layer 50 GB BluRay. All films included as part of this release have been flagged for progressive playback and all films are presented in their intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Quality wise all films have been given brand new Hi Def transfers that were sourced from their most recent restoration and the end results are as good as these films have ever looked on home video.
Disc one Schloß Vogelöd, Phantom (44.4 GB)
Disc two The Grand Duke’s Finances, Tartuffe (34.9 GB)
Dsic three Der Letzte Mann (31.6 GB)
Each films comes with one audio option, a LPCM stereo mix with German intertitles and optional English subtitles. All audio mixes sound clean, clear and balanced.
Extras for this release include, What Will You Be Tomorrow? A new video essay by filmmaker and critic David Cairns (16:37), The Language of the Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films, a video piece by Luciano Berriatúa on the early works of Murnau (30:54), an audio commentary by film scholar David Kalat on The Grand Duke’s Finances and The Making of The Last Laugh, a documentary by Murnau expert Luciano Berriatúa (40:34).
Rounding out the extras is a ninety-eight-page book with nine essays – On Murnau’s Schloß Vogelöd written by Charles Jameux, On Schloß Vogelöd written by Lotte H. Eisner, a note on tinting (Schloß Vogelöd), Murnau at the Crossroads written by Janet Bergstrom, The Vanity of Earthly Things: Style as the Servant of Meaning in F. W. Murnau’s Tartuffe written by R. Dixon Smith, Expressionism and the Kammerspiel Tradition in F. W. Murnau’s Der letzte Mann written by R. Dixon Smith, Der letzte Mann written by Tony Rayns, With Murnau on the Set written by Robert Herlth (as told by Lotte H. Eisner), The Ideal Picture Needs No Titles: By Its Very Nature the Art of the Screen Should Tell a Complete Story Pictorially written by Robert Herlth (as told by Lotte H. Eisner) and Blu-Ray Credits.
All of the extras have English subtitles for content that is not spoken in English. Overall Early Murnau is an extraordinary collection that comes with wealth of insightful extra content and solid audio / video presentations, highly recommended.