Emil Jannings, Lil Dagover, Werner Krauss, Rosa Valetti,
F. W. Murnau set the first of his theatrically based costume spectaculars for UFA (see also Faust, February 13) firmly within his own artistic medium, the cinema, by presenting Molière’s satire as a film-within-a-film, sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue with a contemporary setting. In Murnau’s Tartuffe, a devious housekeeper convinces her master to cut his worthy nephew out of his will and leave his riches to her instead; the nephew, disguised as the operator of a traveling cinema show, flatters his way into the home and proceeds to project Tartuffe in order to open his uncle’s eyes. Tour-de-force performances by Emil Jannings (Tartuffe), Lil Dagover (Elmire), and Werner Krauss (Orgon) are elegantly integrated into the concerns for set design and camera movement, Murnau’s chief preoccupations. The script developed by the team of Murnau, Carl Mayer, and Karl Freund, fresh from The Last Laugh, calls for an angular camera style, extreme naturalism in the prologue and epilogue, and a gauzy, artificial approach to the “fiction” that comprises the body.