As a party of aristocrats gathers at the Vogelöd family manor house for a hunting weekend, the uninvited arrival of Count Oechst (Lothar Mehnert) interrupts their plans. While rumours persist that the urbane and disdainful Oechst may have murdered his own brother (Paul Hartmann), social discomfort increases further when the Baron (Paul Bildt) and Baroness (Olga Tschechowa) arrive, as she is the recently remarried widow of Oechst’s brother. When the Baroness’ confessor, Father Faramond (Victor Blütner), unaccountably disappears, the villa becomes the arena for separating truth from lies, via two dreams and two flashbacks, plus multiple deceptions, accusations and confrontations. If the traditional English-language title (The Haunted Castle) suggests the supernatural, the film itself eschews goblins or golems in favour of the hypnotic unfolding of a moral horror. Although the identity of the murderer can be predicted, what’s unpredictable is the dream-like intensity that Murnau builds from the restrained acting and refined staging, where again and again characters move out of the depths toward the foreground, like profound upwellings from the subconscious. Though this counts as Murnau’s ninth film, the first person camera eye and sweeping movements innovated in Der Letzte Mann (1924) still lay in the future. With none of the flashing lights, and extravagant tracking shots of the later films, Schloss Vogelöd offers a different clarity, its subtly unsettling images resonating especially with its immediate successor, Nosferatu (1922), cinema’s definitive vampire film. —senses of cinema
To this day German filmmaker F. W. Murnau remains one of the most influential directors of cinema. After studying art and literature history at the University of Heidelberg, he became a student of director Max Reinhardt until serving in World War I as a combat pilot. During a flight, he accidentally strayed into Switzerland and stayed there till the war’s end. He made his directorial debut in 1919 back in Germany; although he made several films over the next three years, most of them have been lost. Murnau first gained international renown with Nosferatu the Vampire in 1922. Unlike others, Murnau filmed this still chilling masterpiece on location. His next film, The Last Laugh (1924), utilized unique camera techniques that later became the basis for mise-en-scene. He continued making German films, notable for their pessimism and pervading sense of doom, until he moved to Hollywood in 1926 to work for Fox studios. His first American film, Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans (1927), is considered… read more
Beware poor prints of this 1921 Murnau chamber drama, like the one offered on Netflix, in which a country party in a big old country mansion becomes rife with intrigue and suspicions when a suspected murderer crashes the party. Otherwise, on a clear print, as offered by Kino, the drama is decent, and as always Murnau's lighting and framing are excellent.