Article #818 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2003
Posting Date: 11-8-2003
Directed by F. W. Murnau
Featuring Emil Jannings, William Dieterle, Eric Barclay
Mephistopheles makes a bet with an archangel that he can turn Faust away from God, and thereby gain possession of the earth.
Title check: No complaint; it IS the guy’s name, after all.
I read Goethe’s play years ago, but I will come flat out and admit that I found it pretty boring back then. If this movie had done nothing more than recreate the play, I would have had little use for it. Murnau, however, uses the story as a springboard for some of the most amazing fantasy/horror images I have ever seen in my life, featuring hordes of winged devils, three of the horsemen of the apocalypse, and my favorite sequence in which a giant devil towers over a city before setting loose a plague on it. In fact, the first third of this movie is so breathtaking, that the somewhat prosaic middle section of the movie (where Faust tries to use his new-gained youth to seduce a beautiful but religious woman) disappoints me merely because it can’t maintain the imaginatve imagery of the opening third, though it in itself is quite strong; however, the whole thing regains that power towards the end, and the movie ends strongly. So far, this is the only Murnau movie I’ve seen other than NOSFERATU, and I have to admit I’m really looking forward to catching more of his work. As it is, this may well be the most powerful silent fantasy of them all.