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Proof that the Germans were among the best filmmakers in the world.
By 1930, American studios had abandoned silent filmmaking. So, in that sense Hollywood was well ahead of the world. However, even though "The White Devil" is a silent, it was an incredibly beautiful and well made film. This is especially true of the cinematography, as the German film crew managed to make one of the prettiest black & white films here. The use of fantastic filters, close-ups, set design and backgrounds were all first-class in this production and ample proof that aside from sound, the German film industry was one of the very best in the world at that time.
The film is about a period of history that is pretty much forgotten now. Back in the mid-1800s, the Russians were out for conquest. One of the places they had their eyes on was the Circassia region--and they were determined not only to get it cut to kick the native Circassians out of their own land. While the film would make you think these folks won this war, eventually the Russians did prevail--and Sochi (where they just held the Olympics) was originally Circassian--though apparently there is little evidence of this group there today.
The 'white devil' in the title refers to a warrior named Hadschi Murat (Ivan Mosjukin). In the film he was very successful against the Russian invaders. However, he also had a falling out with their chief--as the chief wanted all the prisoners they took put to death. Murat refused and was himself condemned to death--and barely escaped with his life. What is next for this hero? See the film.
Mosjukin (Ivan Mozzhukhin) performed his role in a very typical late silent period style. His emotions were held in check and he did not exaggerate himself to convey his feelings, though he did use his piercing gaze to an excellent effect (not too often in other words). He was quite convincing and manly in the role--and, interestingly, he was actually Russian. However, for me the big stars of the film were the director and cinematographer--they really created a beautiful and sweeping film. My only complaint, and I mentioned it above, is that the film makes you think that ultimately these people were successful in their efforts to drive out the Russians--which they definitely were not, though they did fight bravely and managed to keep the war going for about a century!
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