For Balduin, going out to beer parties with his fellow students and fighting out disputes at the tip of the sword have lost their charms. He wants to find love; but how would he, a ... See full summary »
For Balduin, going out to beer parties with his fellow students and fighting out disputes at the tip of the sword have lost their charms. He wants to find love; but how would he, a penniless student, ever dare looking up to any woman worth of loving? Absorbed in his dreary thoughts and indifferent to the advances of Lyduschka, Balduin is unexpectedly offered a fortune by the mysterious money-lender Scapinelli - but on a strange condition... Written by
Eduardo Casais <email@example.com>
You never know what you'll come up with when you go bottom-fishing in the budget bins at Tower Video. Last week, for 6 bucks, I scored a movie I'd been questing a long time. It's the silent German chiller, "The Student of Prague." So what if the print (from an outfit called Alpha Video) is scratchy, fuzzy, and discolored, and if the contrast is so poor at times that I wasn't sure which character I was watching. Hey -- life isn't always a Criterion disc. At least it didn't cost me $40, and at least I finally got to see this movie. It's a gem, and it should be much, much better known. It tells the Mephistophelean tale of a university student named Balduin (the great Conrad Veidt), a dashing fellow and the best fencer in Prague. Unfortunately, he's also penniless, which puts him out of the running for the hand of the beautiful countess with whom he has become smitten. This makes him an easy mark for the Devil, who arrives in Prague one day in the guise of a mysterious stranger named Scapinelli. Scapinelli offers Balduin the astounding sum of 600,000 gold pieces, with only one string attached: Scapinelli gets to take whatever item he wants from Balduin's room. Balduin, glancing around his spartan crib, recognizes that it's filled with nothing but worthless junk. In short, the deal seems to be a no-brainer, and Balduin hastens for the dotted line. No sooner does Scapinelli hand over the dough than he announces which item he wants: it's Balduin's reflection in the mirror. And, in an amazing scene, he calls it forth. The special effects are primitive, of course, yet smashing. The rest of the movie is basically a series of confrontations between Balduin and the unleashed reflection, which has transmuted into a malicious doppelgänger. I won't reveal the final confrontation, which is astounding, both dramatically and cinematic ally, but it's not a spoiler to reveal Balduin's epitaph (which is revealed at the fade-in before the story is told in flashback): "This monument is dedicated to Balduin, the best fencer in Prague. He gambled with Evil and lost .Adieu, Balduin."
The only things I know about director Henrik Galeen are that he directed "The Golem" and wrote "Nosferatu." But I am willing to maintain that he was a movie genius of the first order. His work is full of wonderful expressionistic flourishes, reminiscent of "Caligari," which is probably not surprising since the two movies share the same production designer, Hermann War (they also share Veidt of course). The movie's highlights are unforgettably effective, including the fantastic moment when Scapinelli's giant shadow snatches a love letter that Balduin has sent to the countess. In another scene, Galeen uses a shaky hand-held camera for a drunken POV shot. There's also a neat bit of foreshadowing in an early scene in which Balduin fences with himself in the mirror. I noticed some other shots that anticipated future movies:
o A long shot of Scapinelli, in silhouette, alone on a hilltop next to a solitary tree, vowing revenge ("Gone With the Wind") o A fox hunt captured through hand-held cameras and jerky editing ("Tom Jones") o A lovelorn girl sublimates her unrequited feelings for a guy by secretly cleaning his apartment ("Chungking Express") and get a load of the way she fondles his saber! YOW!
Either these shots are coincidences, or "The Student of Prague" was far more influential than is generally known.
Well, now that I have finally bagged "The Student of Prague," I can turn my quest to two other objects: (1) a decent print of it (preferably in a theatrical screening); and (2) the original 1913 movie, of which this 1926 version is just a johnny-come-lately remake.
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