Highly influential figure of German film whose list of credits--ranging from the seminal, expressionistic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1919) to the sophisticated early talkie, "Ariane" (1931)--reads like a history of Weimar cinema. Mayer's work stands out from that of his contemporaries thanks to his concern with social issues; working in a film culture which was more concerned with form than content, he managed to inject a grainy realism into the Expressionist visual style, notably in films such as "Sylvester" (1923) and F.W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh" (1924).
Though he turned down the opportunity to go to Hollywood with Murnau (his most consistent collaborator) Mayer provided the screenplays for two of the director's American classics, including "Sunrise--A Song of Two Humans" (1927). "Sunrise" was one of the few silent features to tell its story almost entirely through images, resorting to intertitles only for occasional dialogue.
With the coming of Nazism Mayer moved first to France and then Great Britain, where he wrote several Paul Czinner films and worked uncredited on "Pygmalion" (1937) and "Major Barbara" (1941) before dying of cancer.