An oft-remembered scene from an old, old film

It was sometime in the last decade of the 1900s when I stayed up late night for half a week to see a special screening of four cinematic classics – three of which I had heard of for years but never  had a chance to see. Naturally, I lapped up the chance and for four days…nights, sat entranced through the Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1921),  Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent German expressionism science fiction film Metropolis, and the 1920 Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ) – which is the most influential of German expressionist films. The fare of the fourth day was Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, and I initially thought this was a repeat of the first and I looked forward to see it again, specially that scene that I liked, but it turned out to be a 1979 remake, starring the lovely Isabelle Adjani (however, I will fight the temptation to go off at a wholly unrelated tangent here), with the unforgettable scene where…. No, I will deal with that later save with the remark I still get a sudden chill when I remember it.

Out of these, the one that remains in my memory till today is the first one I saw and some unforgettable scenes which I will recount after giving free rein to my procilivity for supplying a torrent of background information.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (or Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror/Terror or simply Nosferatu)  is a German Expressionist vampire horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was in essence an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (thus, “vampire” becoming “Nosferatu” and “Count Dracula” became “Count Orlok”. At least one English language print features title cards with the actual names from Stoker’s novel including “Count Dracula”).

At this point, I must remind that the the three 1920 films were black and white and silent, which creates its own effect – the absence of sound hastening the suspense and the stark images and shadows in the absence of colour helping in creating an eerie atmosphere – it has to be seen and appreciated – but what will those of these dishonourable times and used to slick images and vibrant colours know of it? However….

As I said earlier, the makers of Nosferatu ( the word presented by Bram Stoker as a purported Romanian word, synonymous with vampire) had to make quite many changes in their adaption to avoid any similarity to Dracula.    

The plot is : Thomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker of Stoker’s novel) lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock (based on Renfield), sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Orlok in this scene. The sittuation and dialogue were displayed on a title card…

At the Estate Office of Agent Knock

Knock reads a letter

The agent Knock was a strange man, and there were unpleasant
rumors about him.

Enter Hutter

Knock:  Here is an important letter from Transylvania. Count
Dracula wishes to buy a house in our city.  It’s a good
opportunity for you, Harker.  The Count is rich, and free with
his money.  You will have a marvelous journey.  And, young as
you are, what matter if it costs you some pain–or even a little
blood?  The house facing yours…that should suit him.  Leave at
once, my young friend.  And don’t be frightened if people speak
of Transylvania as the land of phantoms.

Both men laugh as the scene fades to black.

Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding’s sister Ruth, before embarking on his long journey…..

(To be continued)


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