There is much to recommend in the new DVD presentation of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 production “Phantom” – a brilliant digital restoration complete with impressive tinting effects, a marvelous orchestral score by composer Robert Israel, and the ability to connect with one of the more elusive titles in the Murnau canon (it was originally released the same year as his better-known “Nosferatu”). But there is one problem: “Phantom” is not a great film. It’s not even a good film. In fact, it’s a bit of a bore.
The focus of “Phantom” is Lorenz Lubota, a lowly city clerk from a poor family who aspires to wealth and success as a poet. Lorenz has supporters in the local bookbinder and his lovely daughter, but fate intervenes one morning when he is knocked down by a horse-drawn carriage driven by the madcap heiress Veronika. Lorenz is smitten by her beauty – or is he just having the after-effects of a concussion? Veronika is out of his league (at least financially), but he manages to get tangled up with a prostitue who bears a striking resemblance to Veronika. Alas, this unreasonable facsimile turns out to be a man-wrecking menace who drives Lorenz into financial and psychological ruin.
“Phantom” might have been a jolting drama (it was based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann), but this film is too slow to have any impact. Indeed, it is one of the most lethargic silent films I’ve ever seen. It also doesn’t help to have overaged Alfred Abel as Lorenz. Abel, who is best known as the evil industrialist in “Metropolis,” looks far too elderly to play the struggling young clerk. Likewise, actress Lya de Putti plays the women who bewitch and bother Lorenz with the same degree of monotony. How any self-respecting man could be enchanted by two of the dullest women in silent movies is a puzzle not worth solving.
It is a shame that so much effort went into putting “Phantom” back into pristine shape (the DVD comes with a fascinating booklet detailing the hard work involved in this project). Alas, there is no rediscovered classic to be found here. It’s strictly a digitally spruced-up dud.
Posted on November 29, 2006 in Reviews by Phil Hall
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