Runtime: 94 minutes
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Starring: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston, Bodil Rosing, J. Farrell MacDonald
From: What later became 20th Century Fox
It was about time I watched another silent, so why not see one that is said to be among the best silents ever made? I now can confirm it is pretty great. The melodramatic story has themes as old as time itself but it's presented in an expert manner.
Things aren't much more complicated than a love triangle where a metropolitan woman from the city has an affair with a married farmer (he has a wife and a young son) out in a rural area and the mistress wants her lover to murder his wife. The rest of the film is his decision whether or not to do so, and the ramifications. It sounds basic and the plot isn't too terribly complex as presented, yet it's always riveting due to how the story is presented.
Around these parts I am sure I don't need to explain F.W. Murnau's credentials or why he's so highly revered even today. He brought his German Expressionist style to Hollywood in what was his first American picture; he was given carte blanche to make whatever he wanted by the studio that was to become 20th Century Fox, and the style he had honed over the years was used here to bring this fable to life. I won't spoil much of what was shown-and if you are familiar with Murnau you have some sort of idea anyhow as to the sorts of images that are here-but there is a tremendous tracking shot that is still impressive today; back in '27 it must have been mind-blowing. Visually, the movie is absolutely dazzling, with various tricks used to create a distinctive look throughout, not to mention all the flourishes that pop up.
There are few intertitles shown; the movie and how it was shot expresses the plot perfectly with only a few cards to explain things or note what someone is saying. As I sometimes say, this is another one of those movies better seen than described; all the hype it's gotten over the decades as a masterpiece worthy of viewing: that is indeed true.