The release of this six-disc box set, which collects several of Kino’s already-issued F.W. Murnau restorations and adds new ones, presents a puzzle. Do you stand pat with your single-title Kino releases of the director’s three most famous German films (1922’s “symphony of horror” Nosferatu, 1924’s working-class tragedy The Last Laugh, 1926’s operatic fever-dream Faust)? Or do you throw down nearly $100 for the box with new additions? Making it more difficult, each of the individual releases of the “big three” comes with several different cuts. (Murnau’s most popular films were all shot in multiple editions; one for Germany, one for international audiences and one for America.) The box set has none of these alternates, only the most obvious cut.
First things first: You can’t be satisfied with any other label’s discs of Murnau’s big three. Kino’s given them intense cleanups that make certain sections far more visually crisp than ever before. Emil Jannings’s broad, expressive performance in The Last Laugh may not be to all tastes, but in this restored German-release version, you can finally see it in all its glory.
Still, plunk down for these masterpieces only, or the whole box? Go with the box. You miss out on the differing releases, but Tartuffe, The Haunted Castle and The Finances of the Grand Duke give a more fully rounded picture of Murnau’s gift for both the dreamlike (the gauzy sequence in The Haunted Castle that anticipates the horrors in Nosferatu) and the prosaic (a stray shoe expresses a housekeeper’s neglect for her duties in Tartuffe). They’re not all essential, but together they describe the career of one of silent cinema’s undisputed masters.
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