15The Plot of Nosferatu
In 1922, film producer Albin Grau hired director F.W. Murnau-- a brilliant director who’d already adapted Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the screen-- to make Nosferatu. Nosferatu was to be Grau’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, Stoker’s widow wouldn’t grant him the rights, so he did what no
one should do: he made the film anyway.
The film is inarguably a masterpiece, but modern audiences are lucky that they can even see it now. Grau and Murnau made cosmetic changes to the film in order to try and avoid copyright issues, things like changing character names. They weren’t enough to stop a lawsuit, however, and the judge found in favor of Stoker’s widow.
Grau went bankrupt and closed the production company, and the judge decided every copy of the film should be destroyed. Luckily, a single copy was in American hands, which was the only surviving print and the one from which all other versions of the film in the modern age have derived.