Before Gary Oldman, before Christopher Lee, before even Bela Lugosi, there was Max Schreck, whose repellant rat-like appearance in the original Nosferatu turned a barely disguised rip-off of Bram Stoker’s most famous creation into the stuff of cinematic legend. Stoker’s widow successfully sued the producers for plagiarism — and let’s be honest, she had a case — and killed the production company as a result. The court ordered all copies burned, but some survived, helping fuel the Expressionist film’s cult following and turning it into one of the most influential horror movies of all time. It premiered in its native Germany on this day in 1922.
American film noir was one of the many children of the German Expressionism that foster Nosferatu, so it’s only fitting that one of the better examples of that movement should share a release date with Schreck’s iconic vampire. The Naked City, a low-budget production following the investigation of an unseemly murder by two New York police detectives, became an embodiment of the beauty of noir, with Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography from William H. Daniels and a lean, gritty story that informed countless police movies to follow. Add to that an immortal catch phrase, and you have a movie for the books, It opened today in 1948.