Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 3

Surviving Prints and “Public Domain Version”

  • Casting light on the shadows of Nosferatu‘s greatest myth: that only one print of the film survived
  • There are lots of early copies but they’re all damaged and incomplete
  • Fittingly, the film’s unholy rebirth began in its country of origin
  • Amazingly, despite hundreds of variations, there is only ONE original “public domain version
  • Its constant screening and duplication led to the film’s present day popularity
  • In lesser quality, it also spawned every single bargain basement copy seen around the world today

This series of articles covers everything Graf Orlok and is designed to be read sequentially. They detail the film’s history, many different versions and home video releases, and I suggest you start reading from Part 1, unless you want to skip straight to the restored DVD and Blu-ray reviews.

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Chris Weston, 2013

Poster by Chris Weston, 2013; FacebookTwitter


Surviving prints

More often than not, you’ll find a lot of outdated or incorrect information regarding Nosferatu’s known extant original prints. In particular, the much-repeated myth that only one illicit copy survived, smuggled out from under Florence Stoker’s nose, following her succesful petition to have the film completely destroyed. It may make for a juicier story but the truth is far more mundane. This is the latest inventory of prints, correct as of November 2015.

B&W French print from the late 1930s/early 1940s and in very good condition overall. A copy of a Czechoslovakian export print from the 1920s that was seized by the Nazis and is now lost. The background of this print has only been unravelled in recent years (see below), hence many sources still refer to it as a 1926/27 “second French version” or similar. The Czech intertitles had already been replaced with German ones and it was shipped like this to the Cinémathèque Française. At the French archive the German intertitles were then replaced with French ones, after which the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) got a copy. This is the basis for the 1981 restoration negative and thus indirectly for the 1984 and 1987 restorations, since they improved on that. Also, via MoMA’s copy, the source of all “public domain versions. Preserved at the Cinémathèque Suisse.

B&W 1962 safety copy of the original 1922 German version. Incomplete and in poor shape but retains all the original German-language intertitles, except for those denoting the beginning and end of each act. Preserved at the former East German Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR, incorporated in 1990 into the Bundesarchiv (BArch or German Federal Archives).

B&W early 1940 safety copy of the previously mentioned Czech print, almost identical to the shorter French print held by the Cinémathèque Suisse. For the 2006 restoration Berriatúa used this German print rather than the Cinémathèque Suisse print to fill in missing scenes, as he found it to be of better quality. Also at the Bundesarchiv.

B&W 1930 German sound reissue, re-edited and retitled Die zwölfte Stunde (The Twelth Hour). Contains some newly shot footage and had sound-on-disc accompaniment of music and sound effects only: no dialogue. Contains some missing and better condition shots than the above prints. At the Cinémathèque Française.

Tinted original 1922 French release print (1,900m), identified by Luciano Berriatúa at the Cinémathèque Française on 8th October 1984. In generally good condition and used as the basis for the 1995 and 2006 restorations, with the other prints used to fill in missing scenes. Though much faded, it is the only surviving print with original tinting and allowed the restoration teams to ascertain exactly where each colour had been applied.

B&W Spanish print of Die zwölfte Stunde from 1930, with the Spanish title of Nosferatu. In poor condition and incomplete, it’s held by the Filmoteca Española.

Unidentified prints: the Cinémathèque Française has another print not mentioned above, as does the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. Their provenance is unconfirmed but it’s possible both are copies of the Cinémathèque Suisse print.

Max Schreck (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922) aka Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)

Max Schreck (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922) aka Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)

Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia begun in 1938, the Nazis confiscated a Czech print which then came into the possession of Reichsfilmarchiv, the Nazi era state film archive. In 1945 its stock was either destroyed or seized by the Soviet army, explaining why so many western films are now held in Russian archives. Prior to that at least two copies were made that are still extant. One is now at the Bundesarchiv (the longer of the German prints) and the other was sent to the Cinémathèque Française in 1942 or 1943. The latter print is the B&W, shorter French version from which MoMA got a copy in 1947. For some reason this French print eventually ended up in the Cinémathèque Suisse, where it still resides today.

To simplify, the mostly complete copy obtained by MoMA in 1947 is derived from the Cinémathèque Suisse print, which is in turn a copy of a Czech export print. On acquisition, MoMA replaced the then-new French intertitles with English ones in anachronistic Futura font and, as per Nosferatu’s first US release in 1929, all the character names were reverted to the ones in the original novel. Count Orlok becomes Count Dracula, Ellen and Hutter become Nina [sic] and Jonathon [sic] Harker, etc. These intertitles have been translated via each other – the immediately preceding set – from the original German into Czech, back into German, then into French and (almost) finally into English… Yet somehow they still make sense!

Both the Bundesarchiv prints were only used for the 2006 restoration, even though its supervisor, Enno Patalas, was familiar with the shorter version and used it to recreate the original intertitles in 1995. Where possible, Luciano Berriatúa chose to use the original intertitles directly in 2006.

Here and in succesive articles I’ve included examples of every set of intertitles pertaining to all restored releases. This is a worldwide first. If anyone has any images of intertitles from pre-1947 prints, do get in touch – I’d love to hear from you! Brenton Film email address

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Phantom City Creative, 2014

Poster by Phantom City Creative, 2014

“Public domain version”

Television première of 1965 Atlas Film version: Germany 23.6.69, broadcast on ARD. New classical/synth score by Peter Schirmann.

First off, Nosferatu is not in the public domain and is fully copyrighted worldwide. It was public domain in the US only, between 1922–1995, but since the 1st January 1996 has been copyrighted there too. There’s more info on how and way this came to be, here and here. Henceforth, I’ll refer to the “public domain version” or “PDV”, only to distinguish a particular, unrestored B&W copy long known by that monicker from the various restored versions. Its nickname does not refer in any way to its legal status.

The 1947 MoMA print described above had a leading role to play in Nosferatu‘s resurrection. Believe it or not, it’s the source of every single one of the unrestored PDVs and their proliferation over the past six decades has played the largest part in perpetuating the film’s mainstream popularity. In 1991, with new tinting and intertitles, it was also the source of the first high quality home video release. You can read a script of the MoMA version, including intertitles, here and here.

There are a vast number – likely in excess of a thousand – of cheap home video editions of the PDV and many have unique ersatz intertitles, all created on standard definition (SD) video. It would be impossible, not to mention pointless, to discuss those in any depth. Though it’s occasionally been further edited or sped up on some budget home video releases, the MoMA print usually runs for around 63min at a way-too-fast 24 fps (sound speed) and 84min at the correct 18 fps. It’s most frequently accompanied by a classical/synth score from prolific German composer Peter Schirmann, added by German distributors Atlas Film in 1965. Atlas legitimately aquired their own copy of the MoMA print and as well as retaining its English intertitles, translated them yet again, back into both German and French. In case you’ve lost track, that means at minimum, they went from original German-Czech-German-French-English-German or French, with each step being a translation of the one before. Incroyable.

Max Schreck (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922)

Max Schreck (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922)

Atlas Film’s German version was first broadcast on national television in 1969 and released on VHS video in 1981. Subsequently, it was heavily bootlegged, including via its English and French broadcasts and VHS releases. It still has by far the best score and image appearing on any mass-produced PDV home video release, but it is synched to a transfer running at sound speed, 24fps, equalling 63min. Some copies do slow it down to the correct 18fps/84min, but the score is then commensurately slow and for some reason, unsynchronised by 30sec to boot. The first and still-best quality transfer of the English Atlas version was on the 2000 Elite Entertainment DVD. Elite’s disc was later copied for the 2003 Hollywood Classics [sic] DVD from opportunistic public domain company Madacy, who recycled it again on their four film (!) Cult Classics Collection DVD. Of course, Schirmann’s score, and probably the Atlas French and German intertitles, are also anything but public domain. It’s likely they’ve long since decided against exploiting their version further by reissuing it officially, due to its general proliferation and in the face of so many superior restored versions. You can see Atlas Film’s English version on YouTube.

As you’d expect, wherever – and however – it’s to be found, the PDV is in much poorer visual quality than any of the restored versions and almost invariably only in improper, untinted B&W. It’s also severely cropped on all sides, but especially so on the left edge of the Atlas version, where they added the optical soundtrack. Heads are constantly cut off in all its zoomed-in prints, most notably that of Orlok when he rises from his coffin.

To represent the intertitles for every version, I’ve chosen perhaps the single most memorable one – and my favourite: the first page of the unknown narrator’s journal, which appears just after the opening credits. Note that the corresponding intertitle from MoMA’s 1947 print, and the translations it spawned, uniquely conflate the first two original German titles, and he is identfied as “Johann Cavallius”.

Nosferatu (1922), 1947 MoMA print English opening intertitle, public domain version

1947 MoMA print English intertitle created on film. 2000 Elite Entertainment DVD

I’m missing the 1965 German intertitle created on film by Atlas Film, which presumably looks similar to their French one below. Can anyone help?

Nosferatu (1922) French intertitle by Atlas Film, 1969

1965 French intertitle created on film by Atlas Film

Grateful thanks to Aitam Bar-SagiDavid ShepardLokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen, and Patrick Stanbury for help with this series of articles.

If you like this, you’ll love:

Facebook: The Nosferatu Society | in-depth BD/DVD details: DVDCompare

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see the About page.


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