The Doorman (Emil Jannings) has been working in the big hotel for a very long time and he takes a lot of pride in his job. But he is also getting old. After carrying a particularly heavy suitcase, he has to take a break – which the Hotel Manager (Hans Unterkircher) sees. He decides that the Doorman isn’t up to the task anymore and that he should do something less strenuous, so he makes him washroom clerk. But the Doorman can’t handle the demotion this means and starts to unravel.
The last F.W. Murnau/Emil Jannings cooperation I saw (Faust) already blew me away, but this film blew me even further (I should make a project or something of watching all their stuff). Both the story and Jannings’ acting had me completely in their grip and I could still cry when I think about it.
This is not only a silent film, but Murnau decided to forego title cards as well (almost completely), removing any kind of meta structure to the film. If you needed to read something, it had to be included in the scene, but it wasn’t actually necessary to the film anyway. It was easily possible to follow the story without spoken/written language. In fact, it only increased the immediacy of the story.
And when you have Emil Jannings and Emil Jannings’ face, you don’t need anything else. Despite the fact that his acting style seems a little antiquated, he is so good that you understand why people acted the way they did at the time. When the Doorman’s heart is broken, yours is just as shattered as his.
I also rather liked the idea of the ending: Murnau stops the story completely, informs you that what follows is pure fantasy and would never happen in real life but since he wants to give the Doorman a happy end, he’s going to proceed anyway. And then you get vindication and goodness.
That the film also employs very creative special effects that are very in tune with the German expressionist movement is only the icing on the cake of an absolutely excellent film.