(director: F. W. Murnau; screenwriters: Hans Kyser/from the play “Faust” by Johann Wolfgang Goethe/from the play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe; cinematographer: Carl Hoffmann; editor: Elfi Böttrich; music: Wolfgang Dauner/Rolf Unkel ; cast: Gosta Ekman (Faust), Emil Jannings (Mephisto), Camilla Horn (Margarethe/Gretchen), Werner Fuetterer (An Angel), Yvette Guilbert (Marthe Schwerdtlein), Wilhelm Dieterle (Valentin); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Erich Pommer; Kino Video; 1926-silent-Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“Revisits the German legend of Dr. Faustus with an amazing use of expressionistic visuals.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
F. W. Murnau (“Sunrise”/”The Last Laugh”/”Nosferatu”) revisits the German legend of Dr. Faustus with an amazing use of expressionistic visuals in this lavish, stylish production that is also noted for the great sets constructed by Robert Herlth and Walter Roehrig. This is the film, though flawed because of its sometimes heavy-handed dramatics and a sometimes hammy performance (when shooting for lowbrow comedy) by Emil Jannings, that gained Murnau international recognition as one of the greatest directors in the silent era even though most critics believe that The Last Laugh is his masterpiece and Nosferatu his most popular film. It was Murnau’s last film in Germany, as he came to Hollywood to make Sunrise and would die there in 1931 at the age of 41 in a traffic fatality. It’s adapted from the play “Faust” by Johann Wolfgang Goethe and from the play “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe.
It covers the familiar story of the elderly Faust (Gosta Ekman) who sold his soul to Mephisto the Devil (Emil Jannings) in return for youth.
It begins with the Devil making a wager with an angel (Werner Fuetterer) that he can destroy the soul of anyone, even of the kindly professor Faust, an alchemist, who has led a simple bookish life and has never succumbed to temptation. Mephisto causes a plague in Faust’s hometown of Prague that kills half of its inhabitants, as the frustrated Faust struggles to discover a cure he slowly loses faith in God and in science in saving the world. When his prayers don’t work, he reads about black magic and invokes the help of the Devil. Mephisto agrees to help him and gets him to sign a pact for one day. But the towns-folks stone him when they discover he signed on with the Devil. Prevented from killing himself by Mephisto, Faust accepts the Devil’s offer of eternal youth. They then fly to Italy on Mephisto’s cloak. There Mephisto seduces a beautiful duchess from Parma, Marguerite (Camilla Horn), on her wedding day and delivers her to Faust. Lust gets the better of Faust and he agrees that one-day agreement should be for eternity.
When Faust returns to his hometown, he falls madly in love with an innocent, religious virgin girl named Gretchen (also played by Camilla Horn). When she doesn’t fall for Faust on her own, the Devil puts a spell on her and Faust makes love to her. The playful Devil tells her brother Valentin (Wilhelm Dieterle), who challenges Faust to a sword fight. The Devil slays Valentin during the duel, making it look like Faust did it. Faust is forced to flee his hometown, while the shamed Gretchen leaves home to give birth. But the child dies and she’s charged by the locals with killing the baby. When Faust learns that the love of his life is to be burned at the stake, he gets Mephisto to change him back to an old man again. Faust then jumps into the burning pyre and reunites with Gretchen and the two die together. This means the Devil loses his wager with the heavenly angel, as the pact was broken in the name of “eternal love.”
REVIEWED ON 11/17/2007 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/