director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
alternative titles: Four Devils, Vier Teufel
Murnau’s second American film '4 Devils' is set in a circus. The film begins with a flashback to the childhood of the four protagonists. Two brothers, Chalres and Adolph (respectively renamed 'Fritz' and 'Adolf' for the German release), and two sisters, Marion (similarly renamed 'Aimée') and Louise, all orphans, are raised by an aged clown. As adults they form the group of trapeze artists known as the Four Devils. The group threatens to break up when a wealthy woman begins making advances on Charles. Charles now spends his nights outside the circus. During rehearsals, he is tired and unfocused. One day he falls into the security net. Marion, who is secretly in love with him, is distraught. Intending to win back Charles, she makes her way to the woman’s villa but her attempt fails.
In the final version of the screenplay, Marion decides to die with Charles. At a performance without a net, where she is supposed to throw only the trapeze to him, she swings to her loved one herself. Charles can then only hold on to Marion. Both fall to their deaths.
This version differs from Murnau’s original treatment, where Charles comes just in time for the performance after a night of partying. Tired and drunk, he falls to his death, or so it seems. Although there is no safety net, he miraculously survives the accident. In a third version that was filmed after a preview in early July 1928, Marion, driven by despair, throws herself to what she thinks will be her death. She survives the fall, however, and reconciles with the apologetic Charles.
Silent version (where different to details listed for sound version):
Screenplay: Carl Mayer.
Adaptation: Berthold Viertel.
Director of Photography: Ernest G. Palmer.
Set Design: Edgar G. Ullmer.
Editing: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.
Length: 12 reels, 9295 ft = 2833 m (USA); 10 acts, 2974 m (before censorship), 8 acts, 2532 m (after censorship) (Germany).
Censorship Details: 22 Dec 1929 © (USA); 9 Aug 1929, B.23111, ban for young people, 14 Nov 1929, B.24209, ban for young people (Germany).
Première: 3 Oct 1928, New York (Gaiety Theatre).
Assistant Directors: Hermann Bing, Frank Hansen.
Screenplay: Carl Mayer
Adaptation: Marion Orth, Berthold Viertel.
Dialogue: John Hunter Booth.
Director of Photography: Paul Ivano (2nd unit), William L. O´Connell, Ernest G. Palmer.
Still Photography: Max Munn Autrey.
Set Design: Willian Darling (art director), Robert Herlth, Walter Röhrig, Edgar G. Ulmer (assistant art director) [?].
Make up: Chas Dudley.
Editing: Harold Schuster.
Sound: Harold Hobson.
Music: Ernö Rapée (songs), S.L. 'Roxy' Rothafel.
Lyrics: Lew Pollack
Cast: André Chéron (old roué), George Davis (mean clown), Nancy Drexel (Louise), Mary Duncan (the lady), Anita Fremault [aka Anita Louise] (Louise, as a young girl), Janet Gaynor (Marion/Aimée) Philippe de Lacy (Adolph/Adolf as a young boy), Wesley Lake (old clown), J. Farrell MacDonald (the clown), Claire McDowell (the woman), Charles Morton (Charles/Fritz), Barry Norton [aka Alfredo de Biraben] (Adolph/Adolf), Dawn O´Day [aka Anne Shirley] (Marion/Aimée as a young girl), Jack Parker (Charles/Fritz as a young boy), Anders Randolf (Cecchi), Michael Visaroff (circus director).
Production Company: Fox Film Corp., Los Angeles.
Producer: William Fox, Winfield R. Sheehan.
Length: 106 min, 9496 ft = 2894 m (USA); 99 min, 2722 m (Germany).
Format: 35 mm, 1:1.20.
Picture/Sound: b/w, Movietone.
Censorship Details: 1 Oct 1928 © LP25737 (USA); 24 Aug 1929, B.23270, ban for young people (Germany).
Première: 15 Sept 1929, New York (Roxy) (USA); 21 Nov 1929, Berlin (Universum) (Germany).
Notes: Sound version with synchronised sound effects, music and dialogue sequences (Movietone), produced without the co-operation of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.
Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum für Film und Fernsehen
A print of this was last seen in the 1940s in the Fox warehouse in Los Angeles. According to the files on this title in the Fox papers at UCLA, the print was given to Mary Duncan, lead actress. Legend has it that she either burned it or drowned it in her swimming pool. We can still hope this is an urban legend. No one has traced Mary Duncan's things, she died only in the 1990s, and there may be heirs. Janet Bergstrom's video essay about this lost film is a fascinating story, presenting all the surviving stills and sketches and other evidence. This is a bonus on the SUNRISE DVD (or on some of them, anyway.)
Martin Koerber, Deutsche Kinemathek, 06.05.2008