Thieves Steal F.W. Murnau’s Skull, But His Greatest Films Still Remain Free Online

After the great direc­tor F.W. Mur­nau died in a car crash in Cal­i­for­nia at the young age of 42, his body was flown back to his native Ger­many to be buried, and that’s where he has rest­ed since 1931.

Until this week, that is, when some­body made off with the director’s skull.

Reports are sketchy and rely on this report from Ger­man news out­let BZ, but, accord­ing to police, some­body opened up Murnau’s met­al cof­fin and removed the head from the embalmed corpse. Wax and a can­dle were found at the scene, sug­gest­ing to some that the theft had occult ties.

It’s not the first time that Murnau’s grave has been dis­turbed. The cof­fin was van­dal­ized in the 1970s, but this time the theft has Olaf Ihle­feldt, the cemetery’s man­ag­er, call­ing it a scan­dal. (The ceme­tery also holds the bod­ies of com­pos­er Engel­bert Humperdinck and Bauhaus School mem­ber Wal­ter Gropius.)

It’s rare for an artist’s grave to be robbed–fans pre­fer to cov­er grave­stones with mean­ing­ful graffiti–while it is world lead­ers that usu­al­ly get their bits stolen, like Geronimo’s skull, Mussolini’s brain, and, for some rea­son, Napoleon’s penis.

Mur­nau is best known for the spook­i­est Drac­u­la tale ever told in cel­lu­loid, 1922’s Nos­fer­atu, which had coffins aplen­ty. It is also, by the way, free to view above. He also delved into the Satan­ic with his ver­sion of Faust (1926), which fea­tures a march­ing band of skele­tons, among oth­er appari­tions:

Murnau’s fil­mog­ra­phy con­tains a 1920 ver­sion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Hunch­back and the Dancer from the same year, though both films are lost. The direc­tor did tend towards hor­ror, but two of his finest films did not.

The Last Laugh (1924) is a poignant tale about a hotel door­man who can’t bear the shame of being fired, and con­tains one of cinema’s finest “direc­tor ex machi­na” with an improb­a­ble but hap­py end­ing. Once Mur­nau moved to Hol­ly­wood, he direct­ed Sun­rise (1927), which blend­ed the director’s expres­sion­is­tic style with a Tin­sel Town bud­get, a tale of a love near­ly lost then res­ur­rect­ed. Four years and anoth­er three films lat­er, Murnau’s career would be over. He died in a San­ta Bar­bara hos­pi­tal after a traf­fic acci­dent by the Rincon–now a famous surf­ing location–just a few miles from where I now write these words, 84 years lat­er.

You can find Mur­nau’s films added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: F. W. Murnau’s Sun­rise, the 1927 Mas­ter­piece Vot­ed the 5th Best Movie of All Time

Time Out Lon­don Presents The 100 Best Hor­ror Films: Start by Watch­ing Four Hor­ror Clas­sics Free Online

101 Free Silent Films: The Great Clas­sics

Watch Häx­an, the Clas­sic Cin­e­mat­ic Study of Witch­craft Nar­rat­ed by William S. Bur­roughs (1922)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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