Silent Sunday: Schloß Vogelöd (1921)

What an effect a  mistranslated title can have. Originally released in English-speaking territories as The Haunted Castle, you might expect a film with that title to be a horror film of some sort, even one of the “old dark house” kind with no real supernatural events. You would, accordingly, probably be disappointed to find that the house seems neither especially old nor especially dark, and the only horror comes during a dream sequence. I suspect this may be at least partly why I was kind of let down by it when I first saw it; I was expecting something else. Anyway, I have the Masters of Cinema DVD now, so I could approach it again with the knowledge of what it really is, i.e. a murder mystery in which there may or may not be a murder victim… A group of aristocrats converge on the titular castle for a hunting expedition; among them is the unwelcome presence of the enigmatic Count Oetsch. When one of the other guests, a priest, goes missing, suspicion falls of Oetsch, who’s already long been suspected of killing his brother a few years earlier to gain his title. There’s no prize for guessing he didn’t actually do it, of course, and the situation in the film is at least partly contrived for him to prove his innocence. Unfortunately all of this is told in rather plodding fashion without much excitement; though this was his eighth film, Murnau was still only in the third year of his career, and it feels like an early work. Not actually bad but thin and difficult to actually like. Mind you, if it does plod it looks beautiful while it does so; anyone who still thinks of silent films as overly sped-up and barely watchable should be shown this as an example of how amazing a film of this vintage can look when newly struck from the original negative…

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