16 November 2007 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Wiene is good, but Veidt is brilliant.
I saw 'Furcht' in July 1996 at the Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna. They screened a print with the original German intertitles, loaned by the Deutsches Institut für Filmkunde.
One of my all-time favourite films is 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari', which is by far the most famous movie directed by Robert Wiene. However, that film was in pre-production with Fritz Lang intended as the director; Wiene stepped in only at the last moment, and much of the movie's appeal is due to the remarkable production design (by Hermann Warm) or other factors for which Wiene cannot take credit. 'Furcht' is a more accurate representation of Wiene's directorial talents: it's not nearly so good as 'Caligari' (few films are!), but Wiene proves himself able to create an eerie dream-like mood which suits this story admirably. Whereas the events in 'Caligari' are clearly a madman's nightmare, the nightmarish story of 'Furcht' seems to be more firmly rooted in reality and sanity, and only gradually do we begin to feel that the events on the screen may be the protagonist's nightmare rather than his reality ... or perhaps they are both, in which case he has no escape.
Bruno Decarli plays a European aristocrat in Java. He takes a fancy to a weird-looking statue of a local pagan god, which is protected by an even weirder-looking priest (played by Conrad Veidt, who is apparently portraying a Hindu). Decarli decides to steal the statue; in order to achieve this, he murders the priest. However, the priest's ghost haunts Decarli, warning him that he will die in seven days' time...
Conrad Veidt was one of the best actors in silent films. He seemed rather less successful in talkies, possibly down to having aged a few years and lost the knife-edge of his virility. In 'Furcht', Veidt is astonishingly thin and absolutely compelling as a wraith. I've seen hundreds of actors portray ghosts, but Veidt's performance here is one of the very few which convinced me that the character was actually speaking from the realm of the dead. Veidt's gaunt appearance and his expressive hands skilfully convey the incessant hunger of the dead and their resentment of the living. I'll rate this movie 9 out of 10, and I wish that Weine's films came up to this standard more often.