When first performed at Versailles in 1664 his play 'Tartuffe' landed Moliere in all sorts of trouble due to its depiction of impiety and religious hypocrisy. Apparently the Archbishop of Paris threatened anyone with excommunication who performed, watched or even read it! It was finally staged with great success in 1669 in the five act version we know today. Obviously humbled by the experience Moliere's satire was never again quite as scathing. The film under review is extremely scathing however and presents Tartuffe in the person of Emil Jannings as a monster of avarice and lechery.Well, nobody's perfect! His true nature is finally revealed and Orgon, played by Werner Krauss is reunited with his wife Elmire, portrayed by Lil Dagover, who had been estranged due to Tartuffe's evil influence. Only these three characters plus Lucie Hoflich as Dorine the housekeeper remain from Moliere's original so this piece cannot be judged as a film of the play. Purely as a film it is exceptionally well made and acted. This is hardly surprising as some of the greatest talents of Weimar cinema are involved. The 'film-within-a-film' concept of the brilliant but ill-fated Carl Mayer is inspired. Director Murnau has once again the services of the superlative Karl Freund behind the camera whilst Walther Rohrig and Robert Herlth contribute their magnificent art direction. It is beyond the power of words of course to define the breadth of Murnau's talent. Werner Krauss is a terrifyingly good actor and makes the most of a pretty thankless part. Although Jannings was dismissed by Dietrich as 'an old ham' it was always, well, nearly always, ham of the finest quality. This is also the first film of the lovely Camilla Horn who is uncredited as Lil Dagover's stunt double! She went on the following year to make her mark as Gretchen in 'Faust' for the same director. 'Tartuffe' is highly recommended for those few who appreciate film as an art form.
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