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ALGOL is a sci-fi morality tale from the Germans following WWI. It is much closer in style to CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI than to the impending works of Lang and Murnau. ALGOL has some interesting Expressionist tendencies, all aimed at the tragic life of the main character, Robert Werne, played by Emil Jannings.
The most interesting part of the film is its science fiction core. An alien from a far away star is beamed to earth and meets Robert Werne. It is very much in vein of the "selling your soul to the devil" films that were popular at this time - in fact the star, Algol, is called a 'devil star'. The alien promises Werne an energy source that can take him far beyond his drudging work of shoveling coal. From this incredible secret, Werne becomes the most powerful man in the world - providing the world with the energy current it needs. Sort of like the Bill Gates story substituting energy for computers. Unlike Gates, however, there is no happiness in the ends of these means.
Jannings is a few years away from THE LAST LAUGH and THE LAST COMMMAND. Maybe, too he need directors on the level of Von Sternberg and Murnau to push him for a large performance. His acting, while excellent, is not on the level of those later works. As a whole, this is very old-fashioned. Again, like CALIGARI, this is rather two-dimensional and lacks the sophisticated touch that would have made it a tour-de-force. The art direction makes up for this. The highly stylized main hall of Werne's home seems to be as long as its distant vanishing point. There are some nice artistic shots of the night skies, showing where the Algol star is located. The costumes are equally stylized, and if the print I viewed were better, I'd imagine some great detail would be evident.
Ultimately, this original alien premise settles into a morality tale and is about the abuse of power and how too much power can overcome a single person. In real life, Bill Gates was able to find that donating much of his huge wealth would become an extremely large project and very worthy of his time and consideration. ALGOL does not even try to ask the question of whether something good could be made of this power. It is too primitive in that way. However, it remains an impressive attempt at sci-fi and reflects well the time and place it was made.
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