The Student of Prague (1913)    1 Stars


The Student of Prague (1913)
The Student of Prague (1913)

Director: Stellan Rye

Cast: Paul Wegener, John Gottowt, Grete Berger

Synopsis: A poor student obsessed with a beautiful Countess makes a pact with the Devil.







Young Balduin (Paul Wegener) is a typical student inasmuch as he never seems to study, is a bit of a party animal, and doesn’t have any money. However, he’s unique in that he is the city of Prague’s finest swordsman, a talent which plays a pivotal role in The Student of Prague, a play on the Faust legend. Too poor to even buy himself a drink, Balduin falls into conversation with a perpetually smiling, but decidedly menacing old man called Scapinelli (John Gottowt, presumably heavily made up as he was only 32 when he played the part) who later comes to his lodgings and offers him a fortune in return for just one thing from his room. Balduin has just met a Countess (Grete Berger – Dr Mabuse, the Gambler, Die Nibelungen – Siegfried) whom he’d like to get to know better, even though she’s unhappily betrothed to her cousin, and needs finance to fund his pursuit of her – he’s also a student, remember, and therefore gullible, and after a quick glance around his sparsely furnished room quickly concludes that the old man’s offer is too good to be true. Of course, we all know that anything that looks too good to be true invariably is, and no sooner has Balduin agreed to the deal than Scapinelli is walking out of his room with the young student’s reflection from the mirror. Even worse, the newly-wealthy but increasingly disturbed Balduin keeps bumping into his sinister doppelganger as he sets about wooing the Countess.

Stellan Rye’s 1913 version of The Student of Prague is largely forgotten today, although it has a place in history as cinema’s first feature-length horror movie, and is in fact a feature-length movie made two years before Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which is often mistakenly cited as cinema’s first feature. Although both Wegener and Berger were both a good ten years too old for the parts they were playing, and there’s a poorly defined character (a girl played by Lyda Salmonova – whom you could believe was invisible, the way she lurks behind other characters without them noticing), the film is quite effective considering its age. It makes good use of its authentic Prague locations and, thanks to some superlative double-exposure shots, the moments when the wretched Balduin encounters his double are undeniably creepy. He’s not the most sympathetic of characters, however – after all, he’s muscling in on another man’s woman – and his idea of a first date is a moonlit stroll around a graveyard. A good early horror, though, with an influence that belies its relative obscurity.

(Reviewed 18th April 2015)

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