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Tartuffe (1925)

Herr Tartüff (original title)
Young man shows his millionaire grandfather a film based on Molière's Tartuffe, in order to expose the old man's hypocritical governess who covets his own inheritance.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Hermann Picha ...
Der Greis
...
Seine Haushälterin / Housekeeper
André Mattoni ...
Sein Enkel / Grandson
...
...
Lucie Höflich ...
...
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Storyline

Young man shows his millionaire grandfather a film based on Molière's Tartuffe, in order to expose the old man's hypocritical governess who covets his own inheritance.

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Drama

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24 July 1927 (USA)  »

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Tartuffe  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Camilla Horn served as Lil Dagover's foot double in this film. This small role effectively launched her lengthy acting career, as she was noticed by director F.W. Murnau and cast as the lead actress in his film, Faust (1926). See more »

Connections

Version of Tartuffe (1971) See more »

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A minor Murnau work, but remains essential viewing
22 February 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

As I've discovered after relatively recent viewings of 'Nosferatu (1922),' 'The Last Laugh (1924)' and 'Faust (1926),' F.W. Murnau was one of the most exciting and influential European directors working during the 1920s. His contributions towards early German cinema are rivalled only by Fritz Lang, and his ability to use lighting and shadows to create atmosphere are almost unparalleled. 'Herr Tartüff / Tartuffe (1926)' was apparently forced upon Murnau by contractual obligations with Universum Film (UFA), and you suspect that perhaps his heart wasn't quite in it, but the end result nonetheless remains essential viewing, as are all the director's films. The story is based upon Molière's successful 1664 play, "Tartuffe," which explored the notion of hypocrisy, particularly among self-proclaimed religious "devotees." Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer stripped the story to its bare essentials, removing any extraneous supporting characters and creating a close-knit triangle – Herr Orgon, Frau Elmire and Tartüff – around which the story revolves. Murnau also added an interesting framing device, whereby the story of Tartuffe becomes a film-within-a-film that a young actor shows to his grandfather to warn of his housekeeper's evil intentions.

Interestingly, I found the story's prologue – of the old man and his scheming housekeeper – to be a more engrossing story than the film that the characters are later shown. The conniving old woman (Rosa Valetti), with a devilish grin like a Cheshire Cat, manages to convince her senile employer (Hermann Picha) that his grandson has dishonoured the family name by becoming an actor, and so she sets herself up to inherit his entire fortune. When the sincere young actor (André Mattoni) finds out about this betrayal, he plans an ingenious stratagem to outwit the malicious housekeeper and convince his grandfather of her evil. Murnau was obviously a great believer in the power of cinema, and so it's no surprise that the young man chooses the cinematic medium with which to reveal the ultimate truth about hypocrites. The film, by employing a few deceptively simple shots, immediately translates the inner motivations driving each character: the housekeeper, greedy and malevolent, kicks aside her master's slippers, whereas the kind, loving grandson delicately sets them back into place. Also notable is a moment during the narrative when the young actor turns to the camera and addresses the audience directly, one of the earliest instances I've seen of a character "breaking the fourth wall."

The tale of Tartuffe himself is also worth watching for its technical accomplishments, even if the story itself seems somewhat generic and uninteresting. Most astounding is Murnau's exceptional use of lighting {assisted, of course, by cinematographer Karl Freund}, and, in many cases, entire rooms are seemingly being illuminated only by candlelight. This story concerns a happily-married woman, Frau Elmire (Lil Dagover), who is distraught to discover that her beloved husband, Herr Orgon (Werner Krauss), has become obsessed with Tartüff (the great Emil Jannings), a grotesque little man who speaks with divine importance and claims to be a Saint. However hard she tries, Elmire cannot convince Orgon that he has been duped by a religious fraud, so great is the cunning of Tartüffe's deception. In the film, Jannings predictably gives the finest performance, playing the unsavoury title character with a mixture of sly arrogance and lustful repugnance. Nevertheless, the role falls far short of the silent actor's greatest performances, which include Mephisto of 'Faust (1926)' and the hotel porter from 'The Last Laugh (1924).'


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