Picture of the Week #69: F.W. Murnau’s Four Devils

It is eighty years to the day since the great German director F.W. Murnau died from injuries sustained in a car crash at the age of 42, a week before the premiere of his final film, Tabu. As a small tribute, my Picture of the Week is a set of images related to Four Devils, his tale of a troupe of orphaned trapeze artists, which has the dubious honour of being one of the most famous lost films of all time. Premiered in 1928 (with a sound version released the following year), the film re-teamed Murnau with his Sunrise star Janet Gaynor (the first ever winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, who was herself near-fatally injured in a car crash in 1982), but has not been seen since (allegedly), her co-star Mary Duncan lost the only print, which she had borrowed from Fox Studios.

Perhaps the closest you can get to seeing Four Devils is Janet Bergstrom’s excellent documentary Traces of  Lost Film, which re-tells the story using the fragments it left behind in publicity photographs and design sketches:
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/x4w9ou?width=560&theme=eggplant&foreground=%23CFCFCF&highlight=%23834596&background=%23000000

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/x4wfu3?width=560&theme=eggplant&foreground=%23CFCFCF&highlight=%23834596&background=%23000000

5 thoughts on “Picture of the Week #69: F.W. Murnau’s Four Devils

  1. Fascinating piece, but can you please clarifying this sentence:
    “Premiered in 1928 (with a sound version released the following year), the film re-teamed Murnau with his Sunrise star Janet Gaynor (the first ever winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, who was herself near-fatally injured in a car crash in 1982), but has not been since (allegedly), her co-star Mary Duncan lost the only print, which she had borrowed from Fox Studios.” Has not been since…what? Seen? Now you’ve got me all curious!

    • Hi, Bug. That’s not one of the finest sentences I’ve ever written, is it. The film has not been seen since Mary Duncan lost the last known print of the film. I don’t know if she’s really to blame (surely the studio should have kept negatives or extra prints or something), but that’s how some historians have recorded it. I’ll adjust the post now to correct the typo. Sorry for the confusion.

      • Thank you! (and feel free to delete comments no longer relevant!) Janet Gaynor’s car accident happened here in San Francisco, as well as Fatty Arbuckle’s career-killing party, and Al Jolson’s death, so it feels like my city was a tough place for silent film stars…

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