Paul Wegener's 1913 film "The Student of Prague" told the tale of an impoverished student who made a deal with a devilish stranger: to receive untold wealth in exchange for his reflection from the mirror. The reflection is symbolic of his soul, of course. "Der Verlorene Schatten" (literally "The Lost Shadow") is a similar tale, in which the bartered item is not the student's reflection but rather his shadow ... again, a symbolic surrogate for the soul. The script is by Paul Wegener, who also plays the leading role. If this story (like several of Wegener's other films) is based on a traditional German source, it's one I don't recognise ... except for some clear similarities to "The Student of Prague".
Paul Wegener gives one of his best performances as Sebaldus, a lowly violinist. Sebaldus is in love with aristocratic Barbara, the daughter of a nobleman. Ach du lieber, if only she would love him in return! Sebaldus is approached by a devilish stranger named Dappertuto, the Shadowcatcher. (Very well-played by Hans Sturm). The Shadowcatcher gives Sebaldus an enchanted violin, which will enable Sebaldus to play sweet music guaranteed to make Barbara fall in love with him. The violin is wanting a bow, but Dappertuto remedies that lack by snapping a branch off a nearby linden tree: it instantly changes into a bow. (As opposed to a bough.) In exchange for the violin, Sebaldus must give Dappertuto his shadow.
The deal made, Sebaldus woos Barbara with his violin. There's an eerie scene in which Wegener plays soulfully in bright sunlight, in front of a white stone wall. On the wall, we see the shadow of the violin and the shadow of the moving bow, suspended in midair ... but Wegener casts no shadow at all. Definitely a shudder, and this scene might have inspired a similar scene in Carl Dreyer's "Vampyr". Of course, tne enchanted violin's music makes Barbara fall in love with Sebaldus. This sort of premise worked better in silent films: we can't hear the music, so we have to imagine it. In a sound film, the supernatural music couldn't possibly meet our expectations.
HIER KOMMEN DAS SPOILER. The film's action recalls "The Student of Prague" very closely, but this time there's a happy ending. Sebaldus wins the highborn Barbara (and her wealth) but he is unable to reclaim his shadow. No matter: "I will be your shadow" Barbara tells him, in an affecting intertitle.
Hans Sturm is excellent as the Shadowcatcher, but he's made up (with a scraggly beard and a beaked nose) to resemble a caricature of a Jew ... which is unfortunate, as Dappertuto is clearly meant to be a satanic character. But if the Shadowcatcher is the Devil, "The Lost Shadow" is an interesting variation on the usual deal-with-the-devil theme. For once, the Devil's client gets exactly what he wanted from the deal.
"Der Verlorene Schatten" is slow-moving, but the mood is excellent and the atmosphere (of Bavaria in the early 19th century) is absolutely convincing. Hollywood could never tell this sort of story properly. I usually consider Wegener a very crude actor, but he's excellent here: he seems more soulful after his devilish barter than before it. I'll rate "Der Verlorene Schatten" 9 points out of 10.
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