F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) and Typee
Director F. W. Murnau, known for Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1926), Faust (1926), and Sunrise (1927), among others, had exhibited some interest in adapting Herman Melville’s Typee after filming Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931).
A ten-year contract was waiting for Murnau at Paramount: they liked Tabu. (Though at the first private showing, without sound, everyone had got up and gone out at the end without a word of encouragement to the director.) So he would be able to make more films among the islands! Murnau was overflowing with ideas: Melville’s Typee was one of them.
But fate struck. The New York premiere of Tabu was fixed for 18 March 1931. Murnau died on 11 March.
Eisner, Lotte H. Murnau. U California P, 1973. 220.
After more than three weeks at sea, the “Bali” reached the island Nuku Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands belonging to French Polynesia. “When the ship pulled into port, I shouted jubilantly to my people: ‘We’re really here! – We made it!’ – In that small boat – more than 4000 miles … I see these gorgeous people for the first time – slim and sinewy in figure – their manner noble and friendly. – I hear my first Polynesian, soft and melodious – the ancient language of the natives on most of the islands in the South Seas.” [Loose-leaf collection, p. 16, F. W. Murnau estate, Deutsche Kinemathek]
On Nuku Hiva, Murnau and David Flaherty visited the Taipivai valley, described in Herman Melville’s novel Typee, where the natives had held the writer prisoner for some weeks in 1842 after he was deserted by a whaler. A copy of this book was in the ship’s library on the “Bali.” “We had a good selection of books about the South Seas with us: Conrad, Stevenson, Pierre Loti, Melville, Frederick O’Brien, Hall and Nordhoff – Works, which were suited to strengthening our longing for the bright islands.” [“Meine Fahrt zu den Glücklichen Inseln” (“Meine Fahrt zu den Inseln der Glücklichen”), undated manuscript, p. 1, Cinémathèque française]
“The Making of F. W. Murnau’s TABU: The Outtakes Edition Trip to the South Seas.” Deutsche Kinemathek Museum für Film und Fernsehen. https://www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/en/publications/online/murnau/overview-2