Here's an astonishing fact; by the time Schloss Vogelöd was first shown in April 1921, Murnau had already directed eight feature films and a staggering six of them have a production date of 1920. Also, at this point Murnau and writer Mayer were still five films away from the innovations of the 'entfesselte kamera'; the unleashed camera of Der Letzte Mann and the elimination of the inter-titles.
So, what of Schloss Vogelöd? It's one of Murnau's earliest surviving films since most among the number mentioned above are lost. As a self confessed Murnau addict I initially found this one hard to get into but after several plays I'm now won over. The English language title, 'The Haunted Castle' suggests a supernatural tale, but this is in fact a complex moral drama, as one would expect, from the pen of the great Carl Mayer. The schloss or castle is actually a large, isolated country house that's hosting a hunting party. Here a deception is set in motion designed to expose the true facts [and thus vindicate a suspected man] of a murder that has taken place some three years before the action begins.
Murnau and Mayer develop a brooding, almost palpable atmosphere as the moral decay and psychological trauma at the core of the narrative is exposed. This intensity of feeling is masterfully expressed in an image of two motionless figures in an empty hall during a flash-back in which the murderer is first revealed. Yet, there's also comedy, always a moot point with Murnau films, with the antics of a scared house guest, and some below stairs business in the kitchen. The odd gothic moment is played for laughs, too, but it's a wonderful nightmare sequence which is notable for prefiguring a famous image from Murnau's next film, the rather better known Nosferatu.
The film is lavishly designed with a multiplicity of elaborate sets; not all convincing. But, any slight staginess is transcended by Murnau's wonderful eye for depth and the quality of the performances. There are several excellent shots where the foreground action is played off against some detail in the background. While throughout, Murnau constantly draws his characters towards the camera from the deepest background as if to overwhelm the viewer. We are also treated to several beautifully photographed landscape scenes and a stunning flash-back set against a real window. All in all, such cinematic flourishes hint at greatness to come. However, the repetitive insertion of an exterior shot of Schloss Vogelöd [a miniature] becomes tiresome because it exposes the shortcomings of the shot instead of underscoring the mood and isolation of the events as is its intention.
As there are some remarks in the comments section as to whether or not I actually own this disc I have removed my admittedly rather hasty summary of the benefits of the MoC edition over the Kino one. Having waxed lyrical on the film itself I grew weary and knocked-off a clumsy list which has given the impression that I was reviewing the film but not the MoC disc - so I proffer the following instead.
This edition offers an almost flawless transfer of the film, as restored by FWMS, which is clean and sharp with no apparent loss of detail, although the tinting on the MoC edition is more saturated than on the Kino disc, which is from the same source. While the strength of the tinting is a matter of taste this edition has a superior image quality. Also, MoC present the film in 1:37:1 and not 1:33:1 as with the Kino, but I have not made a visual comparison to say what the benefits may be, but I assume the framing is more accurate. MoC use the original inter-titles which makes it instantly superior to my mind.
The MoC comes with good quality extras while the Kino has none. The Luciano Berriatua film made for FWMS, of which different parts appear on the various MoC Murnau releases, is informative but a little dull in delivery but worth having nonetheless. The beautifully produced booklet has a variety of articles and photos, some showing the original expressionistic publicity. This artwork had very little to do with the actual content of the film which is naturalistic in style.
MoC wins on all accounts. If you have the Kino edition like me, be assured, it's well worth investing in this superior MoC edition.