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By general consensus, the greatest film of the silent-movie era is
'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans' (1927), made in Hollywood by German
director F.W. Murnau. I personally prefer Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis',
but there's no doubt that 'Sunrise' is one of the most lyrical and
visually beautiful films ever made. So I was astonished to learn that
another German director, Veit Harlan, remade the same story only 12
years later under its original title, as 'The Excursion to Tilsit'. One
would assume that 'Sunrise', being a silent film and therefore
universal to all languages, didn't need to be remade so soon. However,
there's a basic air of unreality to silent films, and Murnau's drama
emphasises that aspect: Harlan's remake is far more earthy, darker and
more realistic. Also, it's notable that this remake was produced during
the Third Reich, and that Veit Harlan was fanatically loyal to Nazism.
He may have felt that Murnau's version of this German story was
'tainted' by having been made in Hollywood with American actors.
The story here is almost identical to 'Sunrise'. Endrik Settegast (Fritz van Dongen) is a poor fisherman in a village across the bay from the city of Tilsit. Elske (Kristina Söderbaum) is his simple wife, plain-looking but not unattractive. Endrik runs afoul of Madlyn, a rather obviously 'bad' woman who sets out to seduce him. It's never clear, in either film version of this story, why the temptress puts so much effort into seducing the pauper husband, as he has nothing to offer her apart from his good looks and brawny physique. Madlyn persuades Endrik that the two of them should run away to the big city together ... but first Endrik must kill his wife. Endrik lures the unsuspecting Elske into his tiny sailboat, on the pretext of taking her to Tilsit. Halfway across the bay, he makes known his intentions to kill her. And then ... if you've seen 'Sunrise', you already know the rest. If not, I don't want to spoil that pleasure for you by revealing it here.
I mentioned an air of unreality in 'Sunrise'. Murnau's film features a bizarre scene in which the husband and wife board a tram that stops in the middle of the woods. After a brief ride, they arrive in a city of hugely exaggerated skyscrapers, resembling 'Metropolis' or 'Just Imagine' more than any realistic place. On some level, this exaggeration makes sense: we're seeing this city through the wondering eyes of a couple of hicks. In Veit Harlan's remake, everything is more realistic. Elske and her husband board a Strassenbahn (streetcar) that looks very prosaic and plausible, and it conveys them to a realistic city. (The exterior sequences in this film have a documentary feel.) Harlan's version of this story is in every way more realistic than Murnau's silent masterpiece ... but for precisely that reason, this remake lacks most of the lyrical beauty of that splendid film. In 'Sunrise', the main characters are identified as 'the Man' and 'the Woman', and they visit a generic Big City. This heightens the universality of the story, and also its unreality. In Harlan's remake, a realistic peasant couple visit a clearly identified real place. It's possible that German audiences in 1939 preferred a story that was explicitly about Germans in a German setting. (We see no Jews or other 'foreign' characters in this movie.)
The photography in 'The Excursion to Tilsit' is beautiful throughout. The scene in the Tilsit cafe, when Endrik desperately pleads with Elske to forgive him (after he's just attempted to murder her) is compelling and deeply believable: this was for me the least plausible scene in 'Sunrise', and it's the one scene in which Harlan's film surpasses the original. Kristina Söderbaum gives a fine performance as the peasant wife: we completely understand that she lives in a world in which women with no money have few options, and that she's arguably better off with a husband who might just possibly kill her than with no husband at all. Fritz van Dongen is believable as her husband. The child actor who plays their small son Jons actually gives a good performance that avoids becoming maudlin. The scenes in the fishing village are fascinating, and utterly realistic. I'm aware that this movie was made by a bunch of Nazis, but it's a good movie anyway... very nearly a great film. I'll rate 'The Excursion to Tilsit' 7 out of 10, but the silent version 'Sunrise' is a 10 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm giving it a nine cause It needs restoration to be a pristine as the 1927 version.Now this version was made under the National Socialist dictatorship So the characters are a bit different.But Now for the Nazi Germany's equivalent to Fox News.Franz Lehar has created a new operetta ," Land of the smiles. Poland is accused of causing wreak and havoc to a small town.A factory is shown how helmets are made for the enemy,at that time. National socialist meeting is Held at Victimized Nietherlands.More Lies!Now the film.In the 1927 version,Janet Gaynors character was passive and innocent acting.She did not know that her fisherman husband, played by George O Brian, was having an affair with another women ,played by Margaret Livingston, until he attempts to murder her.In the Nazi remake,Elske, played By Kristina Soderbaum, characters is strong women.She knows that her fisher man husband Endrik,played by Philip Dorn,before he got smart and left Nazi Germany,maybe he was waiting for the quotas?was having an affair with the other women ,Madlyn played by Anna Dammann.Madlyn is so open about her affair with Endrik, who seems to be more successful as a fisherman than OBriens version,that she openly gives Elske's son,Jon, i.m.d.b makes a mistake and claims Jon is Kleins son,a book as a gift ,in front of everyone in the ice skating scene.Madlyn even confront Elske to give Endrik up.In this version,you have a school teacher and friend of Elske and Endrik, played by Albert Florath.You also got Elskes father, who later confronts Madlyn for trying to break up his daughters marriage with a dog whip.When Elskes agrees to go with Endrik to Tilsit to buy Joan a birthday present and to sell the horse that both got as a wedding present,she already knows that he's going to push her off, since earlier he wanted to take her son away from her when he got the divorce.She rather be dead.But after he changes his mind and she forgives him,she rewarded with a cheap fur coat and a hat ,1939 style,looks exactly like the hat Jane Fonda wore in that film with her and Vannesa Redgraves about Lillian Helman, and champaign as well as a night on the carnival.When the storm happens ,when they go back to their village,in their boat,it's quite different than the other version.While he gets dumped over on the boat,Elske disappears,but the horse swims home.The other women, Madlyn, changes her attitude and spots the horse coming up to the shore with Elske ,holding on to the reins .As soon as Madlyn seeks help, Elske is already up and recovered quickly.The only one who is lying in bed is Endrik and Elske's son Jon. Excellent remake . Available with subtitles at Germanwarfilms.com 11/02/12.11/27/12 I made some Boo Boos on the 27 version.I had not seen it for a long time ,Since it's over exposed on t.v. and I don't want to get burned out from it .So excuse me for that.
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