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on 24 June 2010
This is an excellent restoration set from The Masters of Cinema Series and comprises two early F.W. Murnau films made between the greater works of Nosferatu and The last Man.

Of the two I think the better film is Phantom. It's presented here in a beautiful looking tinted restoration and stars Alfred Abel. Yes, he's a bit of a plank, as you will know if you've seen him in Metropolis, but he fairs a little better here, although he looks way too old to play the character of a young man.

Taken from a novel, the film scenario is written by Thea Von Harbou, obviously having a day off from Fritz Lang, the story concerns a kind of doppelganger love affair. Lorenz, played by Abel, a budding poet falls for a lovely girl who knocks him down with her carriage. The family is very grand and his advances are rebuffed with extreme prejudice. In a delirium of love sick depression he is further reduced by a scam involving a double of the object of his desire. Both girls are played by Lya De Putti. His whole life descends into madness and criminality with final redemptive love coming in the form of the gorgeous Lil Dagover, who's been waiting for him all this time.

It's a beautifully designed and executed film, as one would expect from Murnau, with some good performances, I particularly like Frieda Richard as the mother, but also evident is his overly saccharine portrayal of heterosexual love. Although the super-impositions look rather antiquated these days, there are some excellent expressionist influenced visual effects, particularly when Lorenz becomes deranged.

So, while Phantom is not in the top order of Murnau's work there's still much to admire and enjoy. On the other-hand the package comes with 'The Finances of The Grand Duke'; an entertaining comedy which comes as something of a surprise to those only familiar with the more sombre, more familiar later works. The quality of the restored material seems more variable than with Phantom, but the extensive exterior locations are interesting to see, given that in future films like Faust and Sunrise he would create landscapes and cities in the studio. Again, this stars Alfred Abel and the great revelation is that he's really good and gives a lively comic performance. Also, Max Schreck, Nosferatu himself, plays a small role as a crazy little character.

All in all, if you're a devotee of Murnau, then these films need to be seen, and here are versions that are the best you're going to see.
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“If I could help you… If I could save you… Then I wouldn’t love you anymore.”

Sometimes films can be victims of their title and their director’s filmography, as is the case with Murnau’s The Haunted Castle (a country house drama rather than a horror) and his Phantom. That the latter was made in the same year as Nosferatu and features ethereal poster art of the siren who lures an unworldly man into a nightmare sets up expectations that what turns out to be a well mounted romantic melodrama never made any attempt at fulfilling: clearly bait-and-switch marketing is nothing new in the movie business. It’s not without its occasional flights of fancy courtesy of its hero’s frustrated daydreams, but its another tale of a decent but far too innocent man lured away from the woman he should be with (Lil Dagover) to the woman he can never be with – in this case the high society daughter (Lya di Putti) who leaves Alfred Abel’s pasty town clerk and aspiring poet quite literally love struck when she knocks him down with her carriage. From then on he’s obsessed with her, emboldened by the overoptimistic prospect of his poetry being published while his long suffering mother (Frida Richard) watches her family fall apart as his sister (Aud Egede-Nissen) realises she can make a better living on her back than on her feet and falls in with a scoundrel who sees Abel as the key to defrauding her pawnbroker aunt who dotes on the boy almost as much as she distrusts everyone else.

It’s a combination of those two tried-and-trusted formulas the man who thinks he’s won the lottery and spends his winnings only to find he hasn’t and the unadventurous little man destroyed by a femme fatale. As such there’s no shortage of melodrama, but interestingly the real object of his affections is not the film’s femme fatale: she’s kept out of sight and at arm’s length after the collision, with Abel projecting his obsession onto a prostitute he thinks looks just like her (though we initially see her as she really is) and who is out to take him for every penny until he and his partner in deception are driven to desperate measures.

A lot of the imagery sounds better on paper than it looks on screen, with the recurring image of Abel hopelessly chasing Viktoria’s ghostly carriage – even the memory of which can knock him to his feet in an empty street – or the surrounding buildings starting to fall on him after his deception is uncovered all falling short due to the technical limitations of the day. It’s only in the brief topsy-turvy day sequence where he numbly goes through a day of joyless revelry where everything is askew that the camera and direction really feel like they’re getting inside his head. But then it’s back to the melodrama en route to the inevitable crisis and a happy ending epilogue that doesn’t convince in a film that’s professionally made by top craftsmen but which never really grips.

Long thought lost, the film has been very decently restored but features no extras.

Its companion piece on Masters of Cinema’s two-disc UK DVD, The Finances of the Grand Duke, is shorter and sweeter, with Murnau showing his lighter side in a comedy of revolution, concealed identities, blackmailing bankers and stock market manipulation. At the centre of it all is Harry Liedtke’s Duke of a small Mediterranean duchy with a large debt he has only three days to pay off, though that turns out to be the least of his troubles when he turns down a rich businessman’s offer to buy up the sulphur rights, leading the unscrupulous would-be mogul to start a revolution. It’s a very small revolution, mind you, seeming to consist of only four conspirators (one of whom is Max Schreck, looking much more recognisable human here than in Nosferatu) who strike while the Duke has left to meet the Russian crown princess who has offered to marry him sight unseen, assuring him that she has more than enough money for both of them. Unfortunately her letter falls into the hands of the blackmailing cad who the Duke owes a fortune to, which is turn leads to more complications when professional adventurer Alfred Abel notices it while breaking into his house. And wouldn’t you know it, the mysterious girl he finds himself protecting from the evil descendant of Ivan the Terrible (who, thanks to post-release cutting, is never heard from again) and her overly protective brother just happens to be… Well, you get the picture.

Surprisingly the film was based on one of a successful series of Swedish literary thrillers based on Abel’s character, Philip Collins, though it’s played as sophisticated comedy without that many laughs but an excellent use of locations that brings out the best in Karl Freund’s cinematography and enough plot to pass itself off as a cliffhanger serial (the film is actually divided into six chapters). There are odd moments where Murnau’s private life leave the film open to interpretation, such as the Duke throwing coins to naked boys to dive for or Abel making up the heroine to look ugly because that’s exactly as he expects a wife of his to look, but there’s not much depth here: this is a glossy, sunny crowdpleaser. The biggest surprise is Abel, so dour and one-note in Phantom as he is in so many of his films, who positively breezes through this one on roguish charm and unexpected wit, whether holding dog races in his palatial home or disguising himself as a chimneysweep to recover incriminating letters for a small consideration. It’s not a major Murnau film by any means, but it is a very amiable and easygoing one.

The film went through substantial re-editing after it premiered at around two hours, and the version on DVD is the 77-minute general release version that ups the pace but clearly leaves the odd character and subplot on the sidelines. There’s a bit too much edge enhancement on the DVD transfer but – aside from the customary Masters of Cinema booklet – it does contain the set’s only extra, a very good commentary by David Kalat that imparts a great deal of information and offers some speculation in an accessibly light manner that suits the film it accompanies.
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on 11 December 2010
This review is only for "Phantom".

Another masterpiece from Murnau. Taken from a book by Gerhart Hauptmann, the script could be from one of the tales from E.T.A.Hoffmann. One simple and romantic man falls in love, obsession and madness after a random and accidental encounter with a young girl. He can't escape from his ideal images created in his brain. He tries, but he can't. With Alfred Abel, Lya De Putti and Lil Dagover, amongst others. Veronika is the ideal girl for Lorenz, like Esmeralda was for the Hunchback. But the destiny has the last word. If the final word from destiny is right or wrong depends on our own interpretation. Like in the real life.
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on 29 July 2015
Excellent quality of DVD's, two films for the price as well. I meant to ask for these at Xmas, but have bought these myself and I am extremely happy at the goods. I do not know how many times I have enjoyed 'Nosferatu', so this brace of films has to compliment that. The brief look I gave the discs when they arrived look very good to my eyes, the picture excellent and very clear. Until I watch them thoroughly, I cannot comment on story content, but they sound good according to the 40 page booklet that also came with the dvd.
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on 28 February 2015
It definitely is a classic of the cinema!Its maybe a bit long but the story is good and the hallucinations of the lead character are filmed well.
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on 17 November 2009
You can always trust the Masters of Cinema series; they clearly put their hearts into it. These two early Murnau films are now available in an easily enjoyed format, with restored titles and musical accompaniment. Highly recommended.
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on 4 November 2015
great print !
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on 6 June 2013
Another amazing Murnau's film, well two of them. Phantom brings all that cinematographic magic, love it. Die Finanzen Des Grosserzogs isn't in my opinion his best film but still what a treat and Max Schreck unlike Orlok in it. Must see.
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on 17 April 2015
v good
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on 3 August 2014
great service,great purchase,very happy.patrick fay
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