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Silent Sunday Nights - July 2013
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,Phantom

Phantom (1922)

The German silent Phantom (1922), long considered lost, was directed by the legendary F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) and released the same year as Nosferatu, his much-celebrated version of the Dracula story. Because of its association with that film and its title, some viewers expect Phantom also to explore supernatural themes. Instead, it's a story of psychological obsession, as small town clerk Lorenz (Alfred Abel) convinces himself that he will find wealth and glory as a poet.

Lorenz also is obsessed with a woman whose carriage struck him in the street, and is nearly driven to insanity by his ongoing vision of a girl driving a team of white horses. After borrowing money from a rich relative for a prostitute who looks like the "ghost girl," Lorenz is accused of stealing and sentenced to 20 years in prison, winding up as a broken man.

"Murnau was fascinated by the motif of the character who breaks away from the social conventions to grasp life, but the conventions prove stronger than the rebel and force him either into submission or suicide," wrote Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler, his cinematic history of the Weimar Republic. Film historian Alex Jacoby notes, "Murnau's dazzling imagery transforms a picturesque small town into a realm of disquiet and despair, and the web of strange relationships helps to construct a thrillingly perverse edifice of passion and obsession."

Phantom, based on the popular novel by Gerhart Hauptmann and structured as a long flashback, was co-adapted by screenwriter Thea von Harbou, who would collaborate with director Fritz Lang on many of his silent classics. The expressionistic sets, which include a stylized town with wide squares that Lorenz imagines is literally falling upon him, were created by production designer Hermann Warm, who also designed sets for Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Abel is best remembered for his role as the arrogant master of Lang's Metropolis (1927). Lya De Putti, who has a double role as both the young woman in the carriage and the look-alike prostitute, regained a measure of fame a half-century later when Sally Bowles, Liza Minnelli's character in Cabaret (1972), claimed her as one of her idols.

Producer: Erich Pommer
Director: F.W. Murnau
Screenplay: Thea von Harbou, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, from novel by Gerhart Hauptmann
Cinematography: Axel Graatkjaer, Theophan Ouchakoff
Production Design: Hermann Warm
Cast: Alfred Abel (Lorenz Lubota), Grete Berger (Pawnbroker Schwabe), Lil Dagover (Marie Starke), Lya De Putti (Melitta), Anton Edthofer (Wigottschinski), Aud Egede Nissen (Melanie Lubota).
BW-117m.

by Roger Fristoe VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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