F. W. Murnau
1926 • 106 Minutes • 1.33 : 1 • Germany
Cast: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Wilhelm Dieterle, Frida Richard, Yvette Guilbert
Screenplay: Hans Kyser based on the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cinematography: Carl Hoffmann
Produced: Erich Pommer
THE SCREEN SENSATION OF TWO CONTINENTS!
Earth and sky shall surely quake, when the dead themselves awake, answers to the Lord to take. When the court is held in sway, hiding shall no longer pay, all must out on Judgement Day!
A beautifully shot lyrical film of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe play. God and the Devil are in an epic battle for the fate of the Earth and they wager the outcome on the soul of Faust, a learned alchemist. Faust, at first, just wants to help his people as a pestilence sweeps his city but Satan soon tempts him with youth, love and power. Faust gives in to his base desires, and the Devil is winning the battle. Can Satan fully corrupt Faust? Or will Faust find redemption, and in turn, salvation?
The film is filled with beautiful imagery that seems to only be found in German expressionist films of the era. A heavily special-effects laden film for the era, throughout the narrative we see the horsemen of the apocalypse, burning letters etched into the soul contract and ominous hooded figures. It's a feast for the eyes, and is essential viewing for its shot compositions alone. The atmosphere Murnau creates is haunting. Very few inter-titles are used, with the story relying heavily on its visuals. At the time, it was the most expensive German film ever produced, only to be surpassed by Metropolis a year later. Fittingly, both films are credited with seriously contributing to the early visual effects industry. The film is also said to have inspired the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from 1940's Fantasia.
Emil Jannings, usually a somewhat hammy actor, puts his over-the-top antics to wonderful use here as the evil dark lord Satan, imposing a menacing presence throughout the film. The rest of the cast is solid, but overshadowed greatly by Jannings.
The last major film Murnau produced in Germany before his debut in the United States with the Academy Award winning Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans in 1927.