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27 January 2016

Der Kaufmann von Venedig (1923)

Henny Porten and Harry Liedtke are two of the three stars of the German silent film Der Kaufmann von Venedig (Peter Paul Felner, 1923). It was based on the classic stage play The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. But where is Shylock?

Henny Porten, Der Kaufmann von Venedig
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 659/1, 1923-1924. Photo: Rembrandt / Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant Of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923).

Harry Liedtke
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 659/2. Photo: Rembrandt / Peter Paul Felner Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant Of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923).

Henny Porten in Der Kaufmann von Venedig
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 661/2. Photo: Rembrandt / Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923).

Where is Shylock?


Sturdy and blond Henny Porten (1890-1960) was one of Germany's most important and popular film actresses of the silent cinema. Harry Liedtke (1882-1945) was the charming ladykiller of many early silent classics. Detective serials like Joe Deebs made him one of the first male stars of the German cinema.

The two met in Der Kaufmann von Venedig (Peter Paul Felner, 1923), a free silent film adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. It was released in the United States in 1926 as The Jew of Mestri. The film was made on location in Venice, with scenes and characters added which were not in the original play. Directors of photography were Axel Graatkjær and the future Hollywood director Rudolph Maté. The only surviving copy of the film is an English one which is two reels shorter than the German version.

Porten plays the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia of Belmont and Liedtke her noble but poor admirer Bassanio. Carl Ebert plays Basasanio's friend Antonio, the merchant of Venice, who wants to help his friend. Other roles were for Max Schreck (Nosferatu!) as The Doge of Venice, Ferdinand von Alten as the Prince of Arragonand, Lia Eibenschütz as Portia's friend Jessica.

But where is Shylock? Where is the Jewish moneylender who offers Antonio the money for his friend, but wants a pound of his flesh if he can't repay the loan? Shylock is played by Werner Krauss, but we could not find any postcards of him (yet).

Der Kaufmann von Venedig was written, produced and directed by Peter Paul Felner. Did he good job? At IMDb, Ferdinand Von Galitzien writes: "It is an elegant and expensive German film production that was shot on location in beautiful and decadent Venice". However, he adds: "In spite of such important literary material (...) and reputable actors, Felner's direction is ordinary and even boring. He does little more than illustrate some passages of the manuscript and then counts on the beauty of Venice to do the rest. Alas, it's not enough."

Henny Porten in Der Kaufmann von Venedig
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 658/1. Photo: Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923) with Henny Porten  and Lia Eibenschütz.

Henny Porten in Der Kaufmann von Venedig
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 658/4. Photo: Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923).

Henny Porten in Der Kaufmann von Venedig
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 658/6. Photo: Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923) with Henny Porten, Carl Ebert and Harry Liedtke.

Henny Porten in Der Kaufmann von Venedig (1923)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 658/7. Photo: Rembrandt / Peter Paul Felner-Film Co. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Venedig/The Merchant of Venice (Peter Paul Felner, 1923).

Sources: Ferdinand Von Galitzien (IMDb), Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.

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