Hanns Heinz Ewers' novel has been adapted many times for the early horror movie genre, but The Student of Prague stands out as one of the better adaptations and a landmark of the German cinema
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Der Student von Prag (1926)


French pressbook cover for Der Student von Prag (1926)(1926/H.R. Sokal Film) 9 reels. BW. Silent. Germany.
Aka: THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE; THE MAN WHO CHEATED LIFE (US).
Credits: Dir: Henrik Galeen; Sc: Hanns Heinz Ewers & Henrik Galeen; Ph: Gunther Krampf & Erich Nitzschmann; Sets: Hermann Warm. From a novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers, derived from the tale "William Wilson" by Edgar Allan Poe.
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Elizza La Porte, Agnes Esterhazy, Ferdinand von Alten, Fritz Alberti, Sylvia Torf, Erich Kober, Max Maximilian, Marian Alma.

This famous tale has always proved a most popular source for both stage productions and the cinema. This second screen version, with Conrad Veidt essaying the role of Balduin, is generally regarded as the definitive rendition of the tale even though many feel Paul Wegener's version of 1913 may be slightly better. Even the third version produced in Austria starring Anton Wohlbruck has merit, but behind any production lies the compelling and captivating original tale.

Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss in Der Student von Prag (1926)Down on his luck, a young student named Balduin reluctantly joins his fellow classmates at the tavern even though he has no money. Out of nowhere appears Scapinelli, (Werner Krauss), a Mephistophelian character sporting a goatee beard, a stovepipe hat and an umbrella. Scapinelli arranges for Balduin to encounter the beautiful Countess Margit, but any further involvement by Balduin would be nigh on impossible as she, a lady of title, is currently engaged to the wealthy Baron Waldis.
Scapinelli arrives at Balduin's dwellings and presents him with a scroll that reads "I Balduin have received 600 Thousand Florins, in return Mr. Scapinelli may take anything he wishes from this room". Believing this to be a bargain too good to pass up, and the fact that there is nothing of value in his room, Balduin duly signs the parchment. The cunning Scapinelli promptly chooses to take Balduin's mirror image, his "second-self" that emerges from the mirror in a splendid split-screen vignette.
Scapinelli menaces Balduin in Der Student von Prag (1926)At a party held at Countess Margit Schwartenberg's home, Balduin, now dressed in fine clothes, meets the Countess on the terrace in a secret liaison, but all the while Scapinelli's menacing shadow looms below and Balduin briefly sees his doppelganger image, reminding him of his diabolical pact with the Devil. Aware of the couple's secret romance, a peasant girl who has designs on Balduin, informs Baron Waldis who promptly arranges a duel. Knowing that Balduin is one of the finest shots in Prague, Margit's father asks him to spare the Baron's life. However, on the way to the field of honour, Balduin's coach breaks down and in his absence his double image has fought the duel in his stead, killing the Baron.
Snubbed by the Countess for his bad form, Balduin becomes deliriously drunk at the tavern where his fellow students ignore him after his expulsion from college. Staggering home, Balduin is pursued by his other-self who appears at very corner. Once home Balduin shoots at his reflection only to find that he has killed himself. His tombstone bears the inscription "Here lies Balduin - He fought with the Devil and lost".

This adaptation of Hanns Heinz Ewers' novel is filled with a hallucinatory style of light and shadow, that makes full use of the technical mastery that the German cinema had gained since the previous  version of 1913.
Director and co-scriptwriter, Henrik Galeen (1881-1949) became a leading figure of the German cinema after his work with Paul Wegener on the first version of Der Student von Prag and their continued association with The Golem of 1914 and 1920. Galeen also wrote the script for Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) and Paul Leni's Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924).

Werner Krauss' skilful portrayal of the diabolical Mr. Scapinelli was praised by the critics upon the film's original release, but it was Conrad Veidt who took most of the honours with his extremely compelling performance of Balduin, one of many great portrayals of his remarkable film career.

Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst

On video (NTSC) in the US. click here