The Student of Prague (1913 film)

Last updated
The Student of Prague
Paul Wegener als Student von Prag, Filmplakat 1913.jpg
Directed by Stellan Rye
Written by Hanns Heinz Ewers
Produced byPaul Wegener
Starring Paul Wegener
John Gottowt
Grete Berger
Cinematography Guido Seeber
Music byJosef Weiss
Distributed byDeutsche Bioscop
Release date
  • 22 August 1913 (1913-08-22)
Running time
85 minutes
Country German Empire
Languages Silent film
German intertitles
The Student of Prague

The Student of Prague (German : Der Student von Prag, also known as A Bargain with Satan) is a 1913 German silent horror film. It is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem The December Night by Alfred de Musset, [1] and Faust . [2] The film was remade in 1926, under the same title The Student of Prague . Other remakes were produced in 1935 and 2004. The film stars Paul Wegener in his film debut. It is generally deemed to be the first art film in history of German movies, but the french film The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (L'assassinat du duc de Guise), produced in 1908, is the first art film in history.


It was shot at the Babelsberg Studios and on location around Prague. The film's sets were designed by the art director Robert A. Dietrich.

Plot summary

In Prague in 1820, a poor university student named Balduin is the city's wildest carouser and greatest swordsman. Despondent over his lack of funds, he is approached by a diabolical old gentleman dressed in black named Scapinelli. A local young woman named Lyduschka is infatuated with Balduin and begins to follow most of the action from a distance. Balduin becomes smitten with Countess Margit Schwarzenberg after rescuing her from drowning, but — despite receiving a locket from her — knows he cannot pursue this love because of his poverty. Scapinelli, who is always in a gleeful mood, offers Balduin 100,000 pieces of gold in exchange for any item to be found in his student lodgings. Balduin agrees and signs a contract thinking he owns nothing, but is astonished when Scapinelli calls forth Balduin's reflection from the mirror and absconds with it. The baffled student realizes that he now produces no mirror image.

Recovering, Balduin — now flush with cash — attempts to woo Countess Margit. At the Hofburg Palace, the resplendently attired Balduin renews his acquaintanceship with the Countess, but both Lyduschka and his mirror double put in appearances before the Countess covertly gifts Balduin with her handkerchief. Balduin and the Countess meet secretly at an old Jewish graveyard, but the double appears again and terrorizes both lovers. Lyduschka tips off Baron Waldis-Schwarzenberg, the Countess's fiancé and cousin, about Balduin's amorous efforts (she has stolen the handkerchief as evidence). Incensed, the Baron challenges Balduin to a duel with sabres.

Privately, Count Schwarzenberg — the Countess's father and the Baron's uncle — begs Balduin not to kill the Baron, as he is the last surviving heir to the family. Balduin agrees but is thwarted when his double again appears at the duel in his place and kills the rival suitor. Distraught, Balduin sneaks into Margit’s room and continues to petition for her affections. She is accommodating, but becomes frightened by Balduin's lack of a mirror reflection followed quickly by the sudden appearance of the double. She collapses in a swoon.

Balduin's double appears Student of Prague double.jpg
Balduin's double appears

Utterly dejected, Balduin returns to his own now lavish lodgings and retrieves a pistol. When the double appears there he fires at it and it vanishes, but soon he becomes stricken himself and falls dead. Scapinelli arrives, takes the contract Balduin signed with him and tears it up, throws it like confetti and departs happily. In a coda, we see Balduin's double sitting atop his fresh grave, stroking a raven, and glowering menacingly at the viewer.


Cultural significance

The Student of Prague is considered to be the first German art film, and it helped lift cinema from its low-class, fairground origins to a viable art form. [3] [4] It was a critical and commercial success. Audiences flocked to see the film, in part because it tapped into a very real sense of dissociation and alienation inherent in a society that was struggling with the burgeoning collapse of the German Empire. [5]

The film's star, Paul Wegener, was an avowed champion of the medium after realizing the potential of cinema to transcend the limits of conventional theater. [6] Cinematographer Guido Seeber utilized groundbreaking camera tricks to create the effect of the Doppelgänger (mirror double), producing a seamless double exposure. Hanns Heinz Ewers was a noted writer of horror and fantasy stories whose involvement with the screenplay lent a much needed air of respectability to the fledgling art form. [7]

The film also stimulated interest in the still very new field of psychoanalysis. Otto Rank published an extensive plot summary of the film in his article “Der Doppelgänger,” which ran in Sigmund Freud's academic journal Imago in 1914. Examples of the Doppelgänger are most prevalent in literature as a narcissistic defense against sexual love, according to Rank, who described how the mirror image of the student shows up in erotic situations to deny Balduin any progress in his attempts to woo the countess. [8]

The fantastic themes of the film went on to become a major influence on Weimar cinema, continuing the exploration of social change and insecurity in the aftermath of World War I. [9] Expressionism grew out of the tormented psyches of artists and writers coming to terms with their individual experiences. The use of chiaroscuro (sharp contrasts between light and shadow) was already established on the set of The Student of Prague, but was then carried further by Weimar productions like Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari . [10]

The film is referenced in the 1933 detective story "The Image in the Mirror" by Dorothy Sayers, in which Lord Peter Wimsey helps clear Mr. Duckworthy, a man wrongly suspected of murder. Among other things Duckworthy tells:

"When I was seven or eight, my mother took me with her to see a film called "The Student of Prague".(...) It was a costume piece about a young man at the university who sold himself to the devil, and one day his reflection came stalking out of the mirror on its own, and went about committing dreadful crimes, so that everybody thought it was him."

(In the story, Mr. Duckworthy had what seemed a similar experience - but Wimsey eventually proves that it had a rational explanation involving no supernatural agency).

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza</span>

Hans Heinrich August Gábor, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, an industrialist and art collector, was a Dutch-born Swiss citizen with a Hungarian title and heir to a German fortune, a long-time resident of Spain, and son of a German father and a Hungarian and English American mother. His fifth and last wife, Carmen "Tita" Cervera, is a former Miss Spain.

Czech nobility consists of the noble families from historical Czech lands, especially in their narrow sense, i.e. nobility of Bohemia proper, Moravia and Austrian Silesia – whether these families originated from those countries or moved into them through the centuries. These are connected with the history of Great Moravia, Duchy of Bohemia, later Kingdom of Bohemia, Margraviate of Moravia, the Duchies of Silesia and the Crown of Bohemia, the constitutional predecessor state of the modern-day Czech Republic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Wegener</span> German actor, writer, and film director

Paul Wegener was a German actor, writer, and film director known for his pioneering role in German expressionist cinema.

Stellan Rye was a Danish-born film director, active in the early 20th century. Rye was born in Randers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guido Seeber</span> German cinematographer

Guido Seeber was a German cinematographer and pioneer of early cinema.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">House of Schwarzenberg</span>

The House of Schwarzenberg is a German (Franconian) and Czech (Bohemian) aristocratic family, and it was one of the most prominent European noble houses. The Schwarzenbergs are members of the German nobility and Czech nobility and they held the rank of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The family belongs to the high nobility and traces its roots to the Lords of Seinsheim during the Middle Ages.

<i>The Student of Prague</i> (1926 film) 1926 film

The Student of Prague is a 1926 German Expressionist silent film by actor and filmmaker Henrik Galeen

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grete Berger</span> Austrian-German actress (1883–1944)

Grete Berger was an Austrian-German stage and film actress whose career came to an end following the rise of the Nazi Party in 1933. Berger was murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 shortly after her arrival.

<i>The Burning Secret</i> 1933 film

The Burning Secret is a 1933 Austrian-German drama film directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Alfred Abel, Hilde Wagener and Hans Joachim Schaufuß. It was based on the novella of the same title by Stefan Zweig. It was released by the German branch of Universal Pictures. It was shot at the EFA Studios in Berlin with sets designed by the art director.

<i>The Blue Fox</i> (1938 film) 1938 film

The Blue Fox is a 1938 German comedy film directed by Viktor Tourjansky and starring Zarah Leander, Willy Birgel and Paul Hörbiger. It was based on a play by the Hungarian writer Ferenc Herczeg. It includes the song Kann denn Liebe Sünde sein.

<i>Just Once a Great Lady</i> (1934 film) 1934 film

Just Once a Great Lady is a 1934 German comedy film directed by Gerhard Lamprecht and starring Käthe von Nagy, Wolf Albach-Retty and Gretl Theimer. Nagy plays a car saleswoman. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Otto Erdmann and Hans Sohnle. A separate French-language version A Day Will Come (1934) was also released, with Nagy reprising her role alongside Jean-Pierre Aumont.

<i>The Mad Bomberg</i> (1957 film) 1957 film

The Mad Bomberg is a 1957 West Germany comedy film directed by Rolf Thiele and starring Hans Albers, Marion Michael and Harald Juhnke. It was shot at the Göttingen Studios with sets designed by the art directors Gabriel Pellon and Peter Röhrig. The film is an adaptation of the 1923 novel of the same title by Josef Winckler which was based on a real historical Westphalian aristocrat of the nineteenth century. The film was conceived partly as an attempt to replicate the success of Albers' hit film Münchhausen (1943).

<i>The Private Life of Louis XIV</i> 1935 film

The Private Life of Louis XIV or Liselotte of the Palatinate is a 1935 German historical film directed by Carl Froelich and starring Renate Müller, Eugen Klöpfer and Maria Krahn. It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin and premiered at the city's UFA-Palast am Zoo. The sets were designed by the art directors Walter Haag and Franz Schroedter. The film's English language release title is a reference to the hit British film The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

<i>The Young Baron Neuhaus</i> 1934 film

The Young Baron Neuhaus is a 1934 German historical drama film directed by Gustav Ucicky and starring Viktor de Kowa, Käthe von Nagy and Christl Mardayn. Produced and distributed by UFA, it was shot at the company's Babelsberg Studios in Berlin and on location around Vienna. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Robert Herlth and Walter Röhrig.

<i>Heart Without Mercy</i> 1958 film

Heart Without Mercy is a 1958 West German crime film directed by Viktor Tourjansky and starring Barbara Rütting, Hansjörg Felmy and Werner Hinz.

<i>The Student of Prague</i> (1935 film) 1935 film

The Student of Prague is a 1935 German horror film directed by Arthur Robison and starring Anton Walbrook, Theodor Loos and Dorothea Wieck. It is based on the eponymous novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers which had previously been adapted into celebrated silent films on two occasions. It was shot at the Johannisthal and EFA Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Karl Haacker.

<i>Love Must Be Understood</i> 1933 film

Love Must Be Understood is a 1933 German musical comedy film directed by Hans Steinhoff and starring Rosy Barsony, Georg Alexander, and Wolf Albach-Retty. It was shot at the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Benno von Arent.

The Beautiful Girl is a 1923 German silent film directed by Max Mack and starring Hella Moja, Fritz Richard and Ilka Grüning.

<i>The Witch</i> (1954 film) 1954 film

The Witch is a 1954 West German drama film directed by Gustav Ucicky and starring Anita Björk, Karlheinz Böhm and Attila Hörbiger. It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin and on location in Vienna, Rome, Venice, Capri and Styria. The film's sets were designed by the art director Emil Hasler and Walter Kutz.

The Love Nest is a 1922 German silent film directed by Rudolf Walther-Fein and starring Paul Wegener, Reinhold Schünzel, and Lyda Salmonova. It was released in two parts.


  1. Der Student Von Prag - Film (Movie) Plot and Review
  2. Hedges, Ines (2009). Framing Faust: Twentieth-Century Cultural Struggles. SIU Press. pp. 27–29. ISBN   9780809386536 . Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  3. Schlüpmann, Heide “The first German art film: Rye’s The Student of Prague (1913),” German Film & Literature, ed. Eric Rentschler, Methuen Inc., NY, NY, 1986, p. 9
  4. Brockman, Stephen. A Critical History of German Film, Camden House, 2016, p. 29
  5. Hake, Sabine, German National Cinema 2nd ed., Routledge, NY, NY, 2008 p. 22
  6. Hake, page 26
  7. Schlüpmann, p. 10
  8. Schlüpmann, p. 12-15
  9. Brockman, p. 45
  10. Brockman, p. 50