The best foreign film ever made in the United States. German director F.W. Murnau was given a free hand by William Fox for his first Hollywood production; it’s breathtaking to see the full range of American technology and American budgets in the service of a great artist’s personal vision. The story is essentially An American Tragedy with a happy ending—it would be hard to imagine anything more elemental and more potentially pompous. Yet the miracle of Murnau’s mise-en-scene is to fill the simple plot and characters with complex, piercing emotions, all evoked visually through a dense style that embraces not only spectacular expressionism but a subtle and delicate naturalism. Released in 1927, the last year of silent film, it’s a pinnacle of that lost art.