Ufa’s Golden Age


Ufa’s Golden Age

When Decla founder and director Erich Pommer joined Ufa in the mid-1920s, the company (and with it the German silent film) entered its internationally celebrated Golden Age. Fritz Lang shot the two-part "Nibelungen" (1922-24) and, shortly afterward, the fantasy "Metropolis" (1925/26), which, though a financial flop, had a tremendous impact on the art and history of film. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau made "Der letzte Mann" (The Last Laugh, 1924), with Emil Jannings playing a proud old doorman who is relegated to the men's room and who loses his raison d'être along with his uniform. Murnau's movie was well-received in the USA, as was E. A. Dupont's "Varieté" (1925), also starring Jannings. Not long afterward, Murnau and Jannings were put under contract in Hollywood, where Jannings won the first Oscar in 1927. The two took leave of Ufa with the film "Faust" (1926), just as fine a piece of work as Murnau's previous effort, "Tartüff" (Tartuffe, 1925), co-starring Jannings, Werner Krauß and Lil Dagover.

Source: DIF, SDK
Emil Jannings and Yvette Gilbert in "Faust" (1926)

Ufa produced movies in its Tempelhof studio until the early 1920s. After acquiring Decla-Bioscop from Pommer in November 1921, it made its former competitor's Neubabelsberg studios the center of film production. In fall 1924, a professional visitor described the activity at Neubabelsberg as follows: "There is currently a large number of structures on the premises . . . for example, the sinister-looking Tower of Silence from the eponymous film ("Turm des Schweigens", directed by Dr. Guter), together with the interior of its topmost chamber, set up in Studio 1. Still standing from "Chronik von Grieshuus" (Chronicle of Grey House, directed by Arthur von Gerlach) is the castle courtyard with its enthralling romanticism and darkly gleaming moat, as well as the lonely heath house, overgrown with gorse, the village church and its decaying yard. From the distance - even from the entrance - one is greeted by the wall from "Nibelungen" (director: Fritz Lang), which was once scaled by the Huns. The (now dead) dragon looks out from behind a bush. Further down the way is the gigantic 60-meter wall of a second-row building, constructed as a freestanding structure, seen in "Der Letzte Mann" (The Last Laugh, directed by F. W. Murnau). With its numerous windows and infinite monotony, it was meant to symbolize the large city and provide a backdrop to Janning's art. Another remnant from the same film is the city square with its large hotel, which looks like a skyscraper in the film but in reality is just four stories tall (a production secret!). Sixty cars, both real ones and models, drove through the intersection, and the use of perspective in the design is quite impressive." (A. Kossowsky, Film-Kurier, Sept. 25, 1924). Neubabelsberg became the undisputed center of German (if not European) film production, which Ufa emphasized in 1926 by erecting the Große Halle (Grand Hall) - the "largest film studio in Europe."