Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

28.12.1888, Bielefeld, Germany - 11.03.1931, Santa Barbara, USA


Friderich Wilhelm Murnau, by the real name Wilhelm Plumpe (December, 28th
1888, Bielefeld, Germany – March, 11th 1931, Santa Barbara, USA), is one of the
most significant German directors of silent films. He came from a family of
wealthy textile merchants. Early in his youth he was interested in art,
especially literature and theatre. He studied philology, music and visual arts
in Berlin and Heidelberg. He was an active member of a student theatre where he
was spotted by the famous director Max Reinhardt, who engaged him as an actor
and assistant director. During WW I he was a pilot. After a forced landing in
Switzerland he was hospitalized. Later he started to direct in theatre, and made
commercial films for the German embassy. He returned to Berlin in 1919 and fully
devoted himself to film. He made a debut with Der Knabe in Blau (1919).
In the next five years he made 14 mostly commercial films – among others
(1919) and Der Januskopf (1920), an unofficial adaptation of
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Most of those films were lost but it is presumed
that they were extremely visually attractive, partly because of the
collaboration with the famous German cinematographer Karl Freund as well as
because of Murnau’s own exquisite artistic taste. From those films that have
been saved – such as Der gang in die Nacht (1920) and Schloss Vogelöd
(1921) – it is obvious that Murnau loved the horror genre. He earned the
reputation as on of the most respectable German directors with his tenth film
Nosferatu-eine Symphonie des Grauens
(1922). But his next films Phantom
(1922), Die Austreibung (1923), Die Finanzen des Großherzogs
(1924) – didn’t receive much attention. Even so, with his film Der letzte
(1924) he only confirmed his reputation. Having achieved international
success, he made his next two films in the context of an ambitious producing
plan – a breakthrough of German film into the American market. So, he adapted
Moliere’s theatre play Herr Tartüff (1926) and Goethe’s Faust
(1926). As a result of their success (above all Faust) he signed a
contract with the Fox studio in the US. The producer William Fox
gave him complete creative freedom and ensured good financial support for the
film Sunrise (1927). Even though it received two Oscars (at the first
Oscar’s ever) and it got great reviews, this film never achieved the financial
success that was expected, and consequently Murnau lost his status in the
studio. He partly earned back his reputation with a circus melodrama Four
(1929). The commercial success of this film gave him a chance to make
City Girl (1930), an epic story of earning the daily bread. This
film, made in the time of silent films, and finished at the time of sound films,
was a big commercial failure, (Murnau opposed the adding of sound to the film
and thus it was late for distribution and became less interesting for the
audience). Taboo (1931) was his last film (shot independently from 1928
with financial help of Paramount studio). Only a week before its
premiere, F. W. Murnau died in a car accident. He is considered to be one of the
most talented German authors of the silent era and one of the greatest film
artists in general.


Tabu (1931)
City Girl (1930)
Four Devils (1928)
Sunrise (1927)
Faust (1926)
Herr Tartüff (1926)
Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1924)
Der Letzte Mann (1924)
Die Austreibung (1923)
Der Brennende Acker (1922)
Phantom (1922)
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
Marizza (1922)
Schloß Vogeloed (1921)
Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (1920)
Der Gang in die Nacht (1920)
Satanas (1920)
Sehnsucht (1920)
Abend - Nacht - Morgen (1920)
Der Januskopf (1920)
Der Knabe in Blau (1919)

Films by this director

Schloß Vogelöd


Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: László Schäffer, Fritz Arno Wagner

In a castle Vogelöd the aristocracy awaits the arrival of countess Safferstätt. Among them is the uninvited count Oetsch. Everyone believes that, three years ago, he murdered his brother, countess Safferstätt’ s first husband. Even though he is unwanted, the count stays. He keeps stressing that he is not the murderer and swears to find the perpetrator… It is often said that Schloß Vogelöd was the director’s warming up for the film Nosferatu.

b/w, 56 min


(Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Germany, 1922)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: Fritz Arno Wagner

This is the first film version of Dracula, brilliantly creepy and full of imaginative expressions never achieved by any director of similar themes. The role of Nosferatu was played by Max Schreck and he became the most ominous (and the ugliest) vampire in film history. It is an interesting fact that this film is not an official adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but rather its direct plagiarism. Stoker’s widow unsuccessfully demanded from the court to ban and destroy this film. But...

b/w, silent, 94'

The Last Laugh

(Der Letzte Mann, Germany, 1924)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

The old porter of the Atlantis hotel is proud of his job and he does it well, perhaps even too well. One day he has to carry a huge suitcase because the bellboy is not around. For a moment he sits down and rests. But the young hotel manager sees him and writes him up. So, the porter loses his job and is degraded to work in the hotel’s toilets. He tries to hide his sadness and it seems only a miracle could help him…

b/w, silent, 90'


(Faust: Eine deutsche Volkssage, Germany, 1926)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: Carl Hoffmann

Faust is a luxurious German production that ensured Murnau a contract with the Hollywood studio Fox. Mefisto, brilliantly portrayed by Emil Jannings, offers to the old Faust an opportunity to be young again, for the price of his soul. This is a highly stylized film, which was disturbingly realistic at the time of its creation.

b/w, silent, 107'


(Herr Tartüff, Germany, 1925)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Adaptation of Molier’s theatre play which has, for years, been on the black list of the Catholic church. It is a satire about religious hypocrisy and a parasite. The action takes place in Prussia in the time of Friedrich II. This Murnau film achieved great success. It premiered in Berlin in January 1926. Emil Jannings, the leading actor, personally wanted to play Tartüff because the character has tragic and comic strength of demonic power.

b/w, silent, 70'

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

(USA, 1931)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

On an island in the Bora Bora lagoon, a young fisherman is in love with a girl. But the girl is chosen by her tribe to be sacrificed to their God. So, she becomes a taboo for all men – she is not allowed to marry and have a life like other girls on the island. The tribal holy man takes the girl into the forest, and the fisherman jumps into the ocean and swims after them…The film Taboo is almost a documentary account of life on an island in Polynesia. Its purpose was to encourage the...

b/w, 86'

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

(USA, 1927)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: Charles Rosher, Karl Struss

Nakon što atraktivna Gradska žena stigne u seosku zajednicu u kojoj ljudi iz grada ponekad provode vikende, s njom će vezu ubrzo započeti mladi Muškarac, oženjeni farmer. Riječ je o sofisticiranoj ženi koja bez mnogo truda uspije zavesti mladića, te ga počne nagovarati da se riješi svoje supruge i s njom započne novi život u gradu. Mladić pristane dražesnu, ali izgledom odveć običnu suprugu povesti na put u grad te ju putem utopiti u jezeru, ni ne sluteći da se ništa...

b/w, silent, 94'


(Germany, 1922)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: Axel Graatkjær, Theophan Ouchakoff

Skromni Lorenz Lubota službenik je u ne osobito važnom vladinu uredu, ujedno i ambiciozni pjesnik te povučeni knjiški tip koji živi uz svoju brižnu majku udovicu, nezadovoljnu sestru Melanie koja se često sukobljava s majkom te mlađeg brata Huga, studenta umjetnosti. Pjesme koje piše Lorenz daje na čitanje starom Starkeu, knjigovescu koji ih daje na uvid profesoru koji ima dobre veze s izdavačima, zbog čega se Lorenz nada da bi mu pjesme mogle biti i objavljene. No on ne zna da je...

b/w, silent, 125'

City Girl

(USA, 1930)

Directed by: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
PHOTOGRAPHY: Ernest Palmer

Na samom početku 30-ih godina prošlog stoljeća, u vrijeme velike gospodarske krize koja trese Ameriku, mladi Lem Tustine od svog oca J.L.-a dobije zadatak da otputuje u grad i proda usjev pšenice s njihove obiteljske farme. Ondje mladić upozna Kate, privlačnu konobaricu koja je umorna od neprestane užurbanosti gradskog života i koja mašta o životu na selu. A kad na tržnici odluči prodati pšenicu, Lem će biti prisiljen to učiniti po cijeni znatno nižoj od one koju mu j...

b/w, 90'
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