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When farmer Rog dies, his son Peter stays, but Johannes can not be satisfied with such a condition (and servant Maria's love) and finds a job as old Count Rudenberg's secretary. His ambition leads him to charm Gerda, the Count's unique daughter. But when he discovers that Count's second wife Helga will soon inherit a field that only he knows his underground is full with petroleum, he changes his allegiance... Greed and death. Written by
This movie was considered lost for a long time. In 1978 an almost complete print was found in the estate of an Italian priest who had organised screenings in mental hospitals. See also The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). See more »
This early film of Murnau's could have been titled GREED, like the Von Sroheim masterwork, because that is what it is about. Murnau tends to paint morality canvases in his films: lust and infidelity in SUNRISE; lust for youth and immortality in FAUST; flaunting society norms in TABU; false pride in THE LAST LAUGH, etc.
THE BURNING SOIL has the same early silent film look as does NOSFERATU, straightforward and slightly hard of line. Within only a few years cinematography was to become an entirely different creature and no one had lusher images than did Murnau of that period.
The story is simple. An old farmer dies and leaves his two sons the farm. The one son is content to stay and continue his father's work. The other is ambitious and lusts for wealth. He infiltrates himself into the home of a wealthy landowner, becoming his secretary and transcribing his will. He romances both the landowner's daughter and her stepmother but chooses to marry the latter at the old man's death, even knowing the daughter has gained almost all the inheritance, the stepmother being bequeathed the mansion and the "devil's field." The latter is a piece of property that abounds in superstition since it contains a hole that was seen once to "burn." Our conniver knows petroleum is buried there and plans to sell it and retire rich, having married to obtain wealth at the expense of love.
His plans go awry but not before he wrecks a number of lives.
The story is well told, well directed, and the performers are all adequate. A tinted print was recently discovered in Europe after being believed lost for many years. Worth seeing for Murnau's tight and interesting directorial style before he became "artistic" and as a fine example of early German silent film.
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