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It is amazing to think that in Murnau's oeuvre this falls in the year just after his revolutionary THE LAST LAUGH. Although there are some influences from that film here, notably a vastly increased use of the close-up, this is essentially a small, "throw away" work. With only a few sets and only a few actors, he retells Moliere's tale of a hypocritical do-gooder who upsets the life of an 18th century aristocrat until he is exposed by the latter's wife. This is told within a framework of a contemporary story. For the first twenty minutes we see a conniving housekeeper, influencing her elderly charge against his grandson and in her favor, to the point of having his will changed. She is also administering poison in small doses to ensure his death. The grandson visits, sees her plan, and upon leaving, confides in the audience that he will be back. Since he is an actor he visits in disguise and performs the play of "Tartuffe." At this point we enter the play. Jannings does a marvelous job playing the sly and ultra-devout Tartuffe (we first glimpse him when the film is already half over and then with one eye open and the other slyly almost closed), proving once again that he was a chameleon and the finest character actor next to Lon Chaney the silents ever had). The play continues with Lil Dagover doing a fine job as Elmire, the wife of the sadly put upon aristocrat, Orgon. Her final seduction attempt of course works and her husband purposely witnesses Tartuffe's downfall. We then return to the present day for the grandson to expose the housekeeper in front of his grandfather and extricate her from the house.
Another morality lesson from Murnau, this one against hypocrisy and greed. The tight use of close-ups brings an intimacy to the tale, but there are no elaborate or artistic images such as in THE LAST LAUGH. There is one striking sequence where we watch a maid descend two flights of stairs with the light of her candle illuminating her face as the only point of reference in a black screen.
The only print available on video is from Grapevine and it is a very poor print indeed. Out of focus (many generations of copying to get to this dupe, I imagine) with frames jumping every so often, moments cut out and some deteriorating nitrate (which gives the impression of rats climbing up Madame's gown).
A Murnau trifle, effective but in no way remarkable. For fans of Murnau and Jannings only.
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