- Actors: Alfred Abel, Grete Berger, Lil Dagover, Hugo Block, Mady Christians
- Directors: F.W. Murnau
- Format: PAL
- Language: German
- Subtitles: English, German
- Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.37:1
- Number of discs: 2
- Studio: Eureka Entertainment
- DVD Release Date: 19 Oct. 2009
- Run Time: 199 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- ASIN: B002MPLR3A
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 67,296 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
Phantom/Die Finanzen Des Grossherzogs [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] 
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Two Films by F.W. Murnau. After filming the landmark Nosferatu, the silent cinema's master innovator F. W. Murnau demonstrated the reach of his genre versatility with a pair of films that explored the dimensions of the psychodrama and the adventure-programmer. All the Murnau characteristics are present: a vibrant naturalism, exquisite imagery, passages of dreamlike revery, and an atmosphere redolent with romantic longing. In Phantom, an aspiring poet on the verge of what he takes for a big break experiences a chance encounter with a beautiful woman in the street and falls headlong into love and fantasy. With debts piling up and his promised literary celebrity failing to materialise, the poet descends into obsession, deception, and, ultimately, a criminal act in this delirious film that stands as an early precursor of Hitchcock's Vertigo. Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs sees Murnau exploiting the Mediterranean clime to film the tale of a rakish duke whose lifestyle has dried up his noble coffers. When word arrives about the existence of valuable sulphur deposits on his tiny duchy of Abacco, a comic adventure of high-seas intrigue, 'animal impersonators', and the Crown Princess of Russia unreels at a sprightly pace. Max Schreck (the mythic actor behind the makeup of Nosferatu's Count Orlok two years earlier) appears in a supporting role, in what might be Murnau's nimblest effort. ----SPECIAL TWO-DISC EDITION including: *The most recent film restorations, licenced from the F.W. Murnau Stiftung, Germany. *Original German-language intertitles with newly translated optional English-language subtitles. *Audio commentary by film-scholar David Kalat on Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs. *A lengthy booklet containing a new essay on both films by professor and film-scholar Janet Bergstrom and more!
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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.
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.
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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