Greatest Films of the 1920s
Greatest Films of the 1920s

Greatest Films of the 1920s
1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923 | 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description
Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922, Germ.)

Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922, Germ.) Parts 1 and 2, (aka Doktor Mabuse, Der Spieler), 242-297 minutes, D: Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang's silent, noir-like, expressionistic horror film with chiaroscuro lighting introduced the director's evil genius character. It was a two-part crime melodrama about an evil, criminal boss (posing as a respected psychoanalyst) in Berlin capable of disguise, conspiracy, and tremendous hypnotic powers, who was pursued by Police Chief Inspector Von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke). The title character was portrayed by Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Lang's mastermind character Mabuse was resurrected in his second sound feature, the crime thriller The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) (aka Das Testament das Dr. Mabuse). Lang completed the trilogy of terror with The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) (aka Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse).

Foolish Wives (1922), 85 minutes, D: Erich von Stroheim
Austrian-born writer/director Erich von Stroheim's silent erotic drama was the longest commercially-made American film to be released uncut at 6 hours and 24 minutes in Latin America, but it was severely edited to a 10-reel version for general release. Its tagline was: "The first real MILLION DOLLAR PICTURE." And it was the film that promoted the eccentric and demanding von Stroheim's monocle-wearing look. The melodrama of sexual intrigue was an epic about post-war European decadence. It centered on a bogus adventurer and egotistical aristocrat named Russian Count Sergius Karamzin (von Stroheim himself) - an exiled Captain in the Hussars of the Imperial Russian Army. He worked as a flirtatious, swindling scammer and a blackmailing 'Don Juan' sexual seducer of rich women in a leased villa in Monte Carlo. He also had two vain and selfish mistresses (called his "cousins") who served as his accomplices: Princess "Her Highness" Olga Petschnikoff (Maude George) and "Princess" Vera Petschnikoff (Mae Busch). Count Karamzin would use his romantic charms to extort money from his conquests, most notably Helen Hughes (Miss DuPont) - the foolish wife of Andrew J. Hughes (Rudolph Christians). Mr. Hughes was the wealthy, dull, newly-arrived US Special Envoy to Monaco, preoccupied with his official duties with the Prince of Monaco. Two other easy female victims to be seduced and then abandoned were the Count's gullible, infatuated villa maid Maruschka (Dale Fuller) and mentally-disabled Marietta (Malvina Polo) - the half-witted daughter of one of the Count's criminal associates - a counterfeiter named Cesare Ventucci (Cesare Gravina). In the film's conclusion, after the insanely-jealous Maruschka was jilted by the Count, she set fire to the villa (and then despairingly drowned herself), endangering Mrs. Hughes and the Count. Karamzin's true character was revealed to Mr. Hughes as a corrupt coward for saving himself and neglecting his wife. Hughes demanded an apology and ordered Karamzin and his cousins to get out of Monte Carlo. At Ventucci's house before leaving, the Count entered Marietta's room to seduce her. Her gangster father vengefully attacked and murdered Karamzin and discarded his corpse in the street's sewer. Karamzin's two con-artist "cousins" were arrested for being imposters. Hughes was reconciled with his wife Helen, who realized that she had been a "foolish wife" for being blind to her husband's nobility - and who surprisingly and prematurely gave birth to a child.

Haxan (1922, Denm./Swe.) (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages)

Haxan (1922, Denm./Swe.) (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages), 87 minutes, D: Benjamin Christensen
This 8-reel silent Danish production from director Benjamin Christensen (who portrayed the Devil) was essentially an historical, documentary-style, dramatized narrative. The sensationalistic film was banned in some countries and re-edited in others due to its controversial content about medieval witchery and superstition. It surveyed sexually-repressive, misogynistic witch-hunting (the torture and slaughter of innocent women) during the Middle Ages. The film contained occasional glimpses of semi-nudity to titillate audiences with erotically-tinged witch lore.

Nanook of the North (1922)

Nanook of the North (1922), 79 minutes, D: Robert J. Flaherty
The first official documentary or non-fiction narrative film - an ethnographic look at the harsh life of Canadian Inuit Eskimos living in the Arctic. Flaherty's film helped to usher in the documentary film movement, although it raised some controversy because it 're-created' or staged some of its hunting scenes, rather than being truly non-fictional.

Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror/Horror (1922, Germ.)

Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror/Horror (1922, Germ.), (aka Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens), 94 minutes, D: F.W. Murnau
German director Murnau's influential, expressionistic vampire film initiated a trend for Gothic tales of horror. It was considered the first genuine vampire picture. It starred Max Schreck as Count Orlok - a rat-faced vampire. Shot on location, it was an unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula with Max Schreck in the title role as the screen's first vampire - a mysterious aristocrat named Count Graf Orlok living in the late 1830s in the German town of Bremen. [Without authorized rights to the Bram Stoker 1897 novel, Murnau had to rename his vampire Nosferatu, while vampirish Count Dracula was named Count Orlock, and the action was changed from Transylvania to Bremen.] The emaciated, balding, undead vampire's image was unforgettable with a devil-rat face, pointy ears, elongated fingers, sunken cheeks, and long fangs, with plague rats following him wherever he went. In the film's conclusion, the grotesque, cadaverous creature was tricked by the heroine Nina (Greta Schroder) into remaining past daybreak, so Orlok met his fate by disintegrating into smoke in the sunlight.

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