(F.  W.  Plumpe)


* December 28, 1888 Bielefeld (Germany)
V March 11, 1931 Santa Barbara (USA)

Murnau had two brothers, Bernhard and Robert, and two stepsisters, Ida and Anna. Murnau's mother Otilie was the second wife of his father Heinrich Plumpe, the owner of a cloth-factory in the north-western part of Germany. Their comfortable villa was often turned into a stage for little plays, directed by the boyish Murnau, who already read books of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen at the age of 12. He was said to become a teacher and so he studied philology at the University in Berlin and later art-history and literature in Heidelberg. The famous director Max Reinhardt saw him at a students' performance and decided to invite him to his actor-school. Murnau's stage name refers to a small Bavarian town, where an important event of his life took place. He soon became friends with some outstanding people like Franz Marc, Else Lasker-Schüler and Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele - his best friend. But the first World War brake out and Murnau had to serve as a company commander at the eastern front. He joined the German air force in northern France two years later. Murnau survived eight crashes without severe injuries. He returned to his home country after an internment in Switzerland, where he won a price for the best production-concept, and founded the Murnau-Veidt-film company in 1919.

Murnau made his first appearance as a movie director with The Blue Boy (1919), a film after Oscar Wilde's story about a Gainsborough-painting. This movie is supposed to be missing, just like his second movie Satanas, where Robert Wiene, the director of Caligari, wrote the script. The expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu (1922) was his artistic breakthrough in Germany, while The last Laugh (1924) drew the attention of Hollywood-producers like William Fox. Tartuffe (1926) and Faust (1926) were Murnau's last films, that were shot in Germany. He finally went to America together with his screen writer Carl Mayer and directed Sunrise (1927), his first movie in the states and another big success. He had to make some compromises during the production of his next movies, that was one reason, why he got fed up with Hollywood pretty soon. Robert Flaherty's idea to make a film about the South Sea Islanders was therefore welcomed very much by Murnau. They sailed on his yacht to Tahiti and worked on the script, but an argument with Flaherty made him to finish the whole film on his own, which turned out to be a big financial burden. Murnau had some other projects in mind that would have been located in the South Sea, too, as he seemed to be fallen in love with this exotic world. It must have been very fascinating for a homosexual German like Murnau to be confronted with the infatuating beauty of the Polynesians. Paramount Pictures were pleased by Murnau's work and offered him a contract for 10 years. But he didn't live to see the premiere of Tabu (March 18, 1931): Murnau died in a traffic accident at the Californian coast (the car was driven by his 14 y/o Philippine servant). The body was brought back to Germany, where they buried him at the cemetery of Stahnsdorf near Potsdam. Erich Pommer, Emil Jannings, Fritz Lang, G. W. Pabst, Ludwig Berger, Fritz Arno Wagner, Walter Röhrig, Rochus Gliese, Carl Hoffmann, Robert Herlth, Robert Flaherty and Carl Mayer render the last honor to Murnau.

Murnau was called the German film-genius. The critics of this era considered him as the best director of Germany and his movie The Last Laugh, which caused a worldwide stir by its revolutionary photography, as the best film of all times. He was a rather quiet director, who made films with an remarkable visual insistence. The right illumination and an almost pedantic accuracy for psychological nuances were the two most important elements of his work. Murnau's associates praised his comprehensive education and cultivated way to deal with people. The mood inside our team was usually very good said the film-architect Robert Herlth, Jokes and banter filled the atmosphere. Uninitiated people were always amazed by this mixture of seriousness and fun. That must be the enthusiasm of those, who knew how extraordinary their work really was.

     other films:

1920:   Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin
Der Januskopf
Der Gang in die Nacht
1921:   Schloß Vogelöd - Die Enthüllung eines Geheimnisses
Marizza, genannt die Schmugglermadonna
1922:  Der brennende Acker
1923:  Die Austreibung
1924:  Die Finanzen des Großherzogs
1928:  Four Devils
1930:  City Girl

     Links to his best German movies:

   The Last Laugh

     other sites about F. W. Murnau:

Web of Murnau     Shepard's Murnau-Site
McNeil's Murnau-Site     Movie-research on Murnau
a Murnau-biography     the Murnau-forum  
another Murnau-Site     a French site
a Norwegian site     a Czech site  


- Eric Rohmer: Murnaus Faustfilm, Carl Hanser Verlag, München-Wien 1980
- F. W. Murnau: Nosferatu, Eine Publikation des Kulturreferats der Landeshauptstadt München, M. 1987
- Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau - 1888 - 1988, Eine Publikation zur Ausstellung. Bielefeld 1988. Redaktion: Klaus Kreimeier
- Alexandra Jacobson: F. W. Murnau: Ein Sohn der roten Erde In: Frank Bell, Alexandra Jacobson, Rosa Schumacher: Pioniere, Tüftler, Illusionen. Kino in Bielefeld, Bielefeld 1995
- Fred Gehler, Ulrich Kasten: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Berlin 1990
- Lotte H. Eisner: Murnau, Frankfurt 1979 (Mit Drehbuch zu NOSFERATU). Kommunales Kino Frankfurt/M. Hrsg.: Hilmar Hoffmann und Walter Schobert
- Lotte H. Eisner: Die dämonische Leinwand, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987
- Peter Jansen, Wolfram Schütte (Hrsg.): Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Mit Beiträgen von Fritz Göttler, Frieda Grafe, Wolfgang Jacobsen, Enno Patalas, Gerhard Ullman (Fotos). München 1990
- Luciano Berriatúa: Los proverbios Chinos de F. W. Murnau (2 Bände: Etapa Alemana, 1990; Etapa Americana, 1990-1992) Hrsg.: Filmoteca Españolo, Madrid 1990
- Frederick W. Ott: The great German films, Citadel Press, Secaucus, N. J. 1986
- Thomas Koebner (Hrsg.): Filmklassiker. Band 1: 1913 - 1946, Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1995
- Ilona Brennicke, Joe Hembus: Klassiker des Deutschen Stummfilms, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, München 1983