Die elf Teufel / The Eleven Devils was made in Berlin in the summer of 1927, in the last throes of the silent movie era. But Die elf Teufel strikes one today as a prophetic film. One of its early captions is "Football,...展开the sport of the century ". We are shown a ball bathed in light like some sacred relic, and observe how, even in those early days, fans on the terraces wouldn't shy away from using their fists.
Finally, after the odd kickabout and plenty of commercial and erotic intrigue, we come to the showdown, the match that decides which team fields the better men. The film's structure is like a long overture followed by a rip-roaring finale. Even in those days Zoltán Korda knew that, for credibility's sake, he could only show the match in fragments. The credits reveal that the two teams filmed in long shot were made up of the best players from the top German clubs. But as none of them are identifiable on screen, the shots and close-ups of the main characters could be woven seamlessly into the whole. As the game proceeds, the cuts happen more and more quickly until the fictitious match develops a momentum of its own. Korda proves himself here - only three years after Murnau's groundbreaking The Last Laugh - to be a model pupil in the use of the "unchained camera", and anticipates with breathtaking virtuosity today's rapid tracking shots along the touchline. Such camerawork in a silent movie must literally have taken the spectators' breath away. At the end the film offers a hymn to the "unifying idea of sport". But the subtext, the secret doubts and questions that partly undermine that conclusion, are unmistakable.