The Grand Duke’s Finances (1924)

I recall years ago when I used to frequent the alt.movies.silent Usenet group, there was some film under discussion, can’t remember what one, but I’ve always remembered one rather mocking description of it: “the humour is by Murnau”. And old F.W. isn’t really the first name you think of when you think of classic comedy, to be sure; even when this film appeared in 1924 it was apparently greeted as an anomaly in his oeuvre to that point (and would largely remain one thereafter), hence why it seems to remain obscure. I actually thought for some time that it had been lost until relatively recently but Lotte Eisner was able to complain about it being in “bad taste” in The Haunted Screen in the 1950s, so. However, even the restored print is substantially shorter than the original, although it still hangs together quite well so I don’t know what difference the missing footage would make. Story comes from a series of Swedish novels about an Arsene Lupin-type gentleman thief who gets mixed up in a political debacle in a somewhat fantastic Mediterranean duchy that’s going bankrupt, and facing a revolution fomented by a crooked businessman who wants the island’s resources. David Kalat’s commentary speculates that the film was perhaps designed to be split into six chapters and shown as a serial, which he admits is without evidence (and I can’t help but feel Murnau would’ve made a four-hour two-part extravaganza if he’d meant it serially), but which does kind of give a sense of what the film’s like. It is quite light and fluffy, and I don’t think its renewed availability on DVD will lead to its appraisal as a forgotten masterpiece, because, well, it’s not really… and yet it’s still fun, there’s some really excellent visuals, and it’s interesting to see Murnau having a bash at comedy (even if he apparently was as dismissive of his comic abilities as some folks still are…)

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