In her book on pioneering German maestro F.W. Murnau, Lotte Eisner declared that no Teutonic filmmaker could display the light spirit necessary for classic comedy. It’s a sweepingly reductive comment (how quickly Herr Lubitsch is forgotten), but one that haunts The Finances of the Grand Duke as surely as vampires and ghosts haunt Murnau’s other films. Things look grim in the imaginary nation of Abacco: The blithe Grand Duke (Harry Liedtke) is down to his last coins, and a devious creditor (Guido Herzfeld) seems poised to take over the kingdom and turn it into a collective sulfur mine. Hope comes in the form of a pretty runaway (Mady Christians) who turns out to be the Russian princess, and a sly cat burglar (Alfred Abel) who slinks in and out of the intrigue. For a breezy comedy, this is a remarkably convoluted film: Murnau would do away with intertitles in The Last Laugh later that year, but here the action is repeatedly brought to a halt by lengthy title cards, newspapers, and missives that spell out the plot’s assorted disguises and double-crosses. There’s one extended sequence midway through the film, detailing the princess’s evasion of her brother with the help of Abel’s dapper rogue, that vibrates with the bustle of the city of night and nervy camera movements; it could have easily been edited out of the whole and released as a luminous short. Unfortunately, the rest of the film, which at times plays like a tepidly farcical version of a Feuillade serial, is of interest mainly for its peculiar combination of immaculate form and clumsy content. All the same, it should be seen by Murnau completists, and by anyone who’s ever wondered what Max Schreck looks like out of his Nosferatu makeup.
- 77 min
- F.W. Murnau
- Thea von Harbou
- Harry Liedtke, Julius Falkenstein, Mady Christians, Alfred Abel, Adolphe Engers, Ilka Gruning, Guido Herzfeld, Has Hermann Schaufuss, Walter Rilla, Max Schreck
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