FROM SILENT GERMANY TO NINETIES HOLLYWOOD

Tartuffe          F.W. Murnau          1926

The idea of Molière’s play as a film within a film is inexplicable.  Molière never needs updating; and the framing story, which is unoriginal, uninteresting and overlong, can’t compete with Molière  —  except that the alteration of the original and the reduction of into essentially three scenes has emasculated a great comedy which is never funny here.  Molière not funny.

Murnau at work, courtesy of New York Public Library

Murnau at work, courtesy of New York Public Library

Werner Krauss is never interesting as Orgon.  But the great Jannings is unforgivably over-the-top , physically repulsive and not recognizably human.  The superb role of the maid Dorine is a travesty in this vulgar version.  Only Lil Dagover as Orgon’s long-suffering wife offers a good performance in the strangest film from the Murnau canon.

Why such splendid production design and outstanding photography have been invested in this botch remains a mystery.

Pauline Kael, in her essay on Murnau in World Film Directors, V. 1 by John Wakeman, quotes Gilberto Perez, academic and film critic, whose description I am happy to make my final word:  “the performance is not of the Molière play but of a coarsening and reduction of it.  Yet…somehow this version of Molière turns out as a faintly comic variation of Dracula, with Jannings as Tartuffe suggesting a fat Nosferatu…and a sense of unexpressed horror pervading the soft lighting and the graceful architecture of the sets.”

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

The Devil’s Own          Alan J. Pakula          1997

I like this immensely.  The moral choices that the characters face, if not original, are hard, always interesting, and heartbreakingly played.  Ford, even subtler than the script, is outstanding.  Pakula and his camera are in love with Pitt, and the expressive face is almost always up to the requisite emotion as the film moves to what has long been an inevitable conclusion.

The angry imdb reviews, denouncing the film from both sides of the Irish Troubles, prove its excellence.

Harrison Ford as Tom O’Meara
Brad Pitt as Frankie McGuire
Ruben Blades as Edwin Diaz

NEXT FRIDAY POST DECEMBER 2

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

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