In the 1920s, German filmmaker Fritz Lang was one of the most popular filmmakers in the world.

He made movies with heroes like Dr. Mabuse, who are still discussed on a regular basis today. But there was another filmmaker who had an equally important impact on cinema during this period: F.W. Murnau.

F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) was a German filmmaker who is best known for his work on Sunrise, one of the first feature-length films shot in Hollywood.

Murnau was born in 1889 in Lubeck, Germany and studied art in Munich and Vienna before moving to Paris after World War I broke out.

He made his first film there, The Last Laugh (1924), which was not released until 1936 because of its risqué nature. His second film there, City Girl (1928), was also banned because of its graphic sexual content.

Who Is F.W. Murnau?

In 1925, Murnau moved to Los Angeles where he worked on silent movies before directing one of his great films, Sunrise (1927).

Best F.W. Murnau Films

Murnau’s early films were known for their technical innovations and artistic style. He is credited with inventing a camera that could track actors’ movements, and he was also a pioneer in using film stock with high contrast ratios to capture more detail in his shots than previous filmmakers had been able to achieve.

Murnau’s first film after leaving Germany was Nosferatu (1922), based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. The film stars Max Schreck as Count Orlock, who is a vampire that hunts down young women to drink their blood before killing them; it was also his first film to be shot in color.

Nosferatu is often considered one of the best horror films ever made, and it helped establish Murnau’s reputation among moviegoers around the world.

1. Sunrise (1927)             

The story opens with two couples on a train heading west from Berlin to the countryside.

The men are returning from business meetings and their wives are accompanying them for pleasure or business reasons; however, no one seems to be enjoying themselves.

The woman with whom they are traveling sits quietly reading while her husband tries to engage her in conversation; she ignores him until he finally leaves her alone to sleep.

As they travel through the countryside they are joined by another couple: Hans, an older man who is married but separated from his wife; and his wife Anna, whom he plans to marry after he returns home later that night.

As they continue their journey Hans begins to question Anna about why she wants them to marry so quickly when they have only been apart for a few months; she responds that she has

Sunrise
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston (Actors)
  • F.W. Murnau (Director) - Carl Mayer (Writer) - William Fox (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. The Last Laugh (1924)

This film, directed by Fritz Lang, was the first all sound film and was the first movie to have synchronized music and sound effects. This film is about a man who is obsessed with death and his life-long struggle to overcome it. He wants to live forever but he can’t because he has a terminal illness.

He is obsessed with death and he thinks killing himself will solve his problems. At first we think he is going to kill himself but then we see that his sister is pregnant and she tells him that he must live for their baby’s sake.

The last laugh is not just referring to laughs but it also refers to the fact that this man has no idea what life is all about, he doesn’t know how to deal with people or situations in life that require him to grow up emotionally or how to deal with problems of living such as being unable to find work or finding out that someone you love loves someone else more than you do etc…

The story takes place in Vienna where many people are suffering from poverty, unemployment and disease because of World War I which took place between 1914 and 1918

The Last Laugh (Silent)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller (Actors)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director) - Carl Mayer (Writer) - Erich Pommer (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

Tabu, also known as Indian Summer, is a 1931 German silent film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Peter Lorre and Sylvia Sidney. It was based on the novel The Garden of Allah by Thomas Burke,

which had been adapted into a 1924 silent film by G. W. Pabst, who directed it himself.[1] The film’s English title is taken from the Hindu goddess of fate and destiny, “tabu”, which means “forbidden” or “sacred”.

The story focuses on Peter Lorre’s character Ulrich Weishaupt, a German expatriate who runs a hotel in Southern India during the early years of British rule in India.[2][3][4] Weishaupt falls in love with his servant’s daughter but cannot marry her because she has already married another man.

Instead he marries an aristocrat’s daughter of an upper caste so that they can live together unhappily in strict purdah (separation). However, she falls ill and dies; Weishaupt assumes her dead body and spends much time in mourning rituals.[5] Meanwhile, Weishaupt

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) ( Tabu ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import - Spain ]
  • Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) ( Tabu )
  • Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)
  • Tabu
  • Matahi, Anne Chevalier, Bill Bambridge (Actors)
  • F.W. Murnau (Director) - Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) ( Tabu ) (Producer)

4. Faust (1926) 

Faust (1926) is a classic silent film directed by F. W. Murnau. It was adapted from the legend of Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the play of the same name by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.

The film stars Emil Jannings as Faust, Helen Dora as Gretchen, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Mephistopheles. The film was a commercial success, earning over $1 million in its initial release.

Faust has been called “the best German movie ever made”. It has been praised for its cinematography, acting, direction and production design.

In 1808, the city of Wittenberg begins to rebuild after being destroyed in an earthquake; a young scholar named Johann Faust is bribed into helping build its new cathedral by Dr. John George Ihle (Hermann Fehrmann).

The doctor gives him a copy of his book on magic; Faust uses this knowledge to summon The Elder (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who tells him that he can become immortal if he performs several tasks; these tasks include bringing back the dead or curing illness by performing

Faust
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn (Actors)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director) - Hans Kyser (Writer) - Erich Pommer (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

5. Nosferatu (1922)

There are few films that have had as much influence on cinema as Nosferatu (1922), the first vampire film.

The story of Count Orlok, a Transylvanian nobleman who descends into the darkness of his castle to seek revenge on his wife’s lover, has been referenced in countless horror films. In fact, Nosferatu is still considered one of the greatest vampire movies ever made.

It’s no wonder then that director F. W. Murnau shot Nosferatu as if it was a silent film — it was one of the first times that sound had been used in a horror film. While some people may argue that Murnau didn’t fully understand how to use sound for horror effects, what he did do with it is nothing short of brilliant.

Murnau shot Nosferatu with an all-star cast including Max Schreck as Orlok and Gustav Deutsch as Van Helsing, but it was Renée Maria Falconetti who stole every scene she was in from head to toe. Her portrayal of Countess Bathory was so memorable that when Nosferatu was remade by Werner Herzog in 1979, he made sure to

Nosferatu
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder (Actors)
  • F.W. Murnau (Director) - Henrik Galeen (Writer) - Synergy Entertainment (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. The Haunted Castle (1921)

The Haunted Castle is a brilliant example of the silent film. It was made in 1921 and directed by Franz W.Murnau, a German-American filmmaker who would go on to make two other films that are considered classics of the era:

Sunrise (1927) and Nosferatu (1922). The Haunted Castle has all the hallmarks of a classic silent film: it’s atmospheric, beautiful, and well-written.

The story is simple but powerful: a young woman named Emily visits her estranged father in his castle for Christmas vacation during which she comes across several strange occurrences that take place in the castle that point towards something evil lurking within its walls.The film has an incredibly strong cast including Conrad Veidt as Dr. Hugo von Kringle,

Gustave Plunger as Dr. Gizmo, Werner Krauss as Mr. Veidt, and Eduard von Winterstein as Count von Kringle or Mr. Poe or something like that? I don’t really remember his name because he didn’t appear very often on screen; however, his character was very important because he introduced Emily into

The Haunted Castle (Schloss Vogelod)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Arnold Korff, Julius Falkenstein (Actors)
  • F.W. Murnau (Director) - Rudolf Stratz (Writer) - Kino International (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

7. Phantom (1922)          

 The movie Phantom is a 1922 German expressionist thriller film directed by F. W. Murnau. The screenplay was written by Carl Mayer and Murnau based on a play by Frank Wedekind, which was adapted from his novel Pandora’s Box (1891).

It tells the story of Erik, a handsome young music student who falls in love with a beautiful soprano named Christine. As Erik’s passion for Christine grows so does her obsession with death and pain, eventually leading to tragedy.

The film stars Pola Negri as Christine, Harry Liedtke as Erik, and Margarete Schlegel as Madame de la Houdinière. The cinematography was handled by Lee Garmes and Hans Schubert, while Carl Boettcher provided the original score for the film.

   

The film was released in Germany on December 3rd 1922 at Zirkus Krone cinema on Maximilianstrasse in Munich and received favourable reviews from critics who praised its emotional depth and artistic quality.

It fared poorly at the box office because it was released during Christmas period when people would rather be home watching family plays than see a movie about death

Phantom
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Grete Berger, Lya De Putti, Anton Edthofer (Actors)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director) - Thea von Harbou (Writer) - Erich Pommer (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

8. City Girl (1930)

This is the story of a young woman who goes to the city to become a singer, but is trapped in a gangster’s world and forced to perform on stage as a prostitute.

The film stars Miriam Hopkins as the title character, who leaves her home in New Jersey for New York City, where she hopes to make it big as a singer. Unfortunately for her, she arrives at a time when this means being gangster’s moll and prostitute.

As the story progresses, we see how her life becomes worse and worse as she struggles to make ends meet while trying to keep her dignity intact. Eventually she is forced into prostitution by gangsters who want something valuable from her (money or jewelry). She also has many run-ins with policemen who also have their own problems with corrupt cops.

Interspersed with these scenes are flashbacks showing us how she got into this situation in the first place. It turns out that she was once married to an abusive husband who cheated on her constantly with other women. After divorcing him, she took up singing lessons and became popular enough that

9. Tartuffe (1925)

Tartuffe (1925) is a silent film adaptation of Moliere’s play Tartuffe, directed by the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau and starring Emil Jannings as Tartuffe and Lilyan Tashman as Elvire.

The film was shot in 1925 and released three years later, but was not widely seen until it was re-released in 1935 after being banned because of its depiction of religious hypocrisy.[1]

Emil Jannings played the title role for the first time in this film, which established him as one of Germany’s best actors.[2] The film won an Academy Award for Best Picture at the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony in 1926,[3] which were held at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on April 5, 1926.[4]

Tartuffe is a gullible hypocrite who pretends to be a devout Christian while secretly plotting with his family to take over the church that they own together.

Tartuffe
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover (Actors)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director) - Carl Mayer (Writer) - Erich Pommer (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

10. The Burning Soil (1922)

Murnau’s first film, The Last Laugh (1924), is a satire on the rise to fame of the young Adolf Hitler in Vienna. The film was banned in Germany until the end of World War II, when it was shown in schools and universities as a reminder of the dangers of fascism.

The next year, Murnau directed Sunrise (1927), an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Idiot (1868). The film is set at a country estate where a wealthy, aristocratic family is preparing for their son’s upcoming marriage.

One by one, each member falls under the spell of an insane young man who has come to live with them and whose presence threatens to destroy their happiness.

Sunrise has been described as “one of cinema’s great psychological studies.” In contrast to many other silent films, which relied primarily on expressionistic visuals and sound effects,

Sunrise used sound effects sparingly but effectively to create moods or convey information about character or action: for example, footsteps coming from another part of the house; doors opening and closing

Sale
Burning Soil (1922)
  • Orchestra Music Score
  • Multi Tinted
  • Eugen Klöpfer, Vladimir Gajdarov, Werner Krauss (Actors)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)

11. The Head of Janus (1920)

The Head of Janus is a 1920 silent film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Karl Dane, Annemarie Roos and Gottlieb Sorge. It was based on the play The Head of Janus by James Ashmore Creighton,

which had been translated into German as Das Haupt des Janus (1914). The film was produced by Erich Pommer’s Unique Productions company, though it was distributed by Paramount Pictures.

The film is set in modern-day London, where a mysterious man named “Janus” (Karl Dane) seeks out a young woman named Diana (Annette Ockerse).

He kidnaps her and takes her to his house; he shows her around his house before locking her in a room with only one window that overlooks an empty street. She then tries to escape but fails; after waiting for an hour she returns to find him standing at the door with a gun pointed at her head.

She tells him who she is and why she came to see him; he explains that he lives alone because no one ever comes to see him anymore.

No products found.

Characteristics of F.W. Murnau Films

The German Expressionist filmmaker F. W. Murnau is one of the most important directors in the history of cinema. His films are known for their visual style, which was influenced by the Expressionists and Surrealists, as well as by his love of the theater.

Murnau began his career as a stage designer in Berlin before making his first film in 1923 with The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann). He made two more films in 1924 and 1925, but did not return to filmmaking until 1929 when he made Nosferatu (1922), based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897).

Nosferatu was a commercial failure when it was released, but it inspired many other filmmakers to emulate its style. In fact, it is considered an important influence on the horror genre.

Murnau’s next several films were also silent films that had some similarities to Nosferatu: The Saga of Dr. Mabuse (1922) and Der Letzte Mann (1924). Both films were adapted from novels by Hermann Lietzmann, who wrote under the name Erich Ponto

Best F.W. Murnau Films – Wrapping Up

F.W. Murnau has been hailed as one of the most important directors in German cinema history and his work is still considered to be some of the most influential in film history, with many imitators trying to replicate his style.

He was also a pioneer of special effects, which he used to great effect in his films Nosferatu and The Last Laugh, both of which featured groundbreaking use of make-up and set design.

Murnau’s early career saw him work as an assistant director on several movies before becoming a director himself, with a number of his earliest works including Faust (1926) and Wings (1927).

His first real success came with The Last Laugh (1924), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won three awards at the Venice Film Festival including Best Picture, Best Actor (Emil Jannings) and Best Director (Max Linder).

 

Ready to learn about some other Film Movements or Film History?