FAUST [1926]
A review by Robert K. Klepper

FAUST [1926]
Produced in Germany
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Running Time: 116 minutes
Star Rating: 

Faust, Gosta Ekmann (1890-1938); Mephisto, Emil Jannings (1886-1950); Gretchen, Camilla Horn (1903-1996); Mutter, Freida Richard (1873-1946); Valentin, Wilhelm (William) Dieterle (1893-1972); Martha, Yvette Guilber (18651944); Herzog, Eric Barcleq; Herzogin, Hanna Ralph (18851978); Erzengel, Werner Fuetterer.

   Johanne Wolfgang Von Goethe's (1749-1832) Faust legend was filmed a minimum of fifteen times during the silent era -- in 1902, 1904, 1907, 1909, three times in 1910; 1911, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, and 1927. The legend was filmed under the title of Faust and Marguerite in 1900, 1904, and 1911.  It appeared under the title of Faust and Mephistopheles in 1898.  Faust and the Lily was filmed in 1913. Faust in Hell was filmed in 1903. This 1926 silent version, which is an adaptation of Faust Part I, remains the definitive motion picture version of the legendary tale.

   It opens with a wager between Satan and an angel. Satan bets that he can wrest the soul of Faust, a righteous and elderly man. The angel states that if Satan can win Faust over, he can have complete control of the earth. Satan immediately gets to work, by cursing the world with the bubonic plague. Faust, an alchemist searching for a cure, becomes frustrated that his prayers to God have not been fulfilled. As a last resort, he summons the aid of Satan in the form of Mephisto. They make a one-day pact which allows Faust to cure victims of the plague.  Just before the pact runs out, Satan offers Faust a deal he can't refuse - eternal youth in exchange for an eternal pact.

   Along the path of eternal youth, Faust becomes infatuated with a young, virginal girl named Gretchen. Although Satan insists that she is too pure and innocent, Faust insists on having her. Under the curse of Satan, Faust and Gretchen engage in adultery, and Gretchen becomes pregnant. Shunned by the community, she is forced onto the streets with her baby. The baby becomes ill, and despite Gretchen's pleas for help, the door is slammed in her face. The baby freezes to death, and Gretchen is charged with murder and burned at the stake. Faust's love for Gretchen results in his renounciation of eternal youth and Satan, and he turns old again, joining Gretchen at the stake. Is their love enough to save his soul and the earth from the devil?

   This adaptation accomplishes what simply could not be accomplished in the operatic stage versions of the Faust legend. It contains the massive mob scenes during the plague panic, as well as stunning camera work - especially during the sequences in which Faust and Mephisto travel over the earth which is at their feet. The special effects during which Faust initially summons the devil are truly astounding.

   In addition to F.W. Murnau's magnificent direction and fabulous cinematography, this movie features an outstanding cast. Emil Jannings is truly unforgettable as Mephisto. When he first appears before Faust and nods his head, he looks so evil that it sends chills up one's spine. The makeup work on Jannings is astonishingly effective, and it is hard to recognize him at first. Camilla Horn's impressive debut as Gretchen resulted in her being signed to play the female lead in two John Barrymore films in the United States -- The Tempest (1927) and Eternal Love (1929).  A relatively young William Dieterle plays the role of Valentin.  Dieterle gained prominence as a director of such classics as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), and The Life of Emile Zola (1937).  The director, Murnau, was also lured by the Fox Film Company to direct films in the United States and, as a result, Faust was the last film that he directed in Germany before emigrating.

   F.W. Murnau's Faust is truly masterful cinematic expression on the highest level, as well as his greatest achievement. Without hesitation, it can be ranked among the greatest of silent masterpieces -- in the same league as Intolerance (1916), Greed (1924), Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1927), and Napoleon (1927).


Reviewed by Robert K. Klepper.

Click here to view more photos from Faust.

Copyright © 1997 by Robert K. Klepper.  All rights reserved.
Article uploaded December 8, 1997 by Gilda Tabarez at Henning7@aol.com

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