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Lubitsch: a German Who Conquered Hollywood
sky-rocket way from a stage performer to a sophisticated comedy director
Ernst Lubitsch (January 28, 1892 – November 30, 1947) was "a
man of pure cinema", as Alfred Hitchcock said. He was an actor, a
director, a producer. And a writer! All these jobs he did extraordinarily
successfully. Who else could boast of 75
wonderful films that gained him glory and reputation of a brilliant
and elegant comedy maker! He gave the film industry and made famous the
phrase, "The Lubitsch Touch" due to his sophisticated wit and style. All
his films bear this light touch which many of Lubitsch's successors tried
to imitate, but in vain.
There exists Ernst Lubitsch Award which was suggested by Billy
Wilder. This award is given to either a director or an actor or a film.
Already eleven awards have been given since its inauguration in 1958.
Ernst Lubitsch is best
known for his comedies made in Hollywood, but from 1911 to 1922 he was
a major figure in German filmmaking. Born on January 28, 1892 in Berlin
into a family of a prosperous tailor, he started participating in school
theater performances since he was 16 years old. Actually Lubitsch had
turned his back on his father's business to enter the theater, and by
1911 he was a member of Max Reinhardt's Deutches Theater. His first film
work came in 1912 as an actor. He became very successful as a comedian
and soon began writing and directing his own films - whimsical entertainments
like Die Austerprinzessin (The Oyster Princess), Rausch
(Intoxication), and Die Puppe (The Puppet) (all 1919), but he
made his international reputation with a series of large-scale spectacles
starring Pola Negri.
Carmen (1918, released in the U.S. in 1921 as Gypsy Blood),
Madame Dubarry (aka Deception 1919), which co-starred
Emil Jannings, and One Arabian Night (1920), in which Lubitsch
made his final acting appearance, attracted the attention of silent movie
star Mary Pickford,
who invited him to Hollywood in 1922 to work with her.
Thus began the new career
of Ernst Lubitsch. In 1923, he directed his first American film Rosita,
starring Pickford. Unimpressed by this debut, Lubitsch signed a contract
with Warner Bros. and made a series of films that established the famous
"Lubitsch touch." These were The Marriage Circle (1924),
Lady Windermere's Fan (1925), and So This Is Paris (1926).
Lubitsch's urbane style marked him as a sophisticated director, who could
cross drama, comedy, and musicals with equal zest. In 1928 Lubitsch joined
Paramount to reunite with Emil Jannings in The Patriot, which earned him his first Academy Award
nomination. Then, with the invention of sound film, Lubitsch shot his
first talkie, The Love Parade (1929). This movie brought him the
fame of a great maker of musical comedies, and another Oscar nomination.
Lubitsch also gained recognition for his significant innovations in the
use of sound. To get great close-ups and dynamic camera movement without
noise, Lubitsch simply filmed without recording any sound, and dubbed
entire scenes afterwards. This technique is still widely spread in studios
In 1935, Lubitsch was
made head of production for Paramount, but his directing overshadowed
his managerial skills and he gave up the job in 1936 and returned to directing
Angel (1937), starring Marlene Dietrich. After the disappointing
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), Lubitsch returned to MGM to make
two of his best films, Ninotchka (1939), starring Greta Garbo,
and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). That Uncertain Feeling
(1941), and the dark anti-Nazi comedy To Be or Not to Be (1942)
were shot independently.
The rest of his films
Lubitsch made at 20th Century-Fox, but the poor heart condition made his
activity difficult. After directing the delightful Heaven Can Wait
(1943), which got him his third Oscar nomination, Lubitsch had to let
Otto Preminger take
over A Royal Scandal (1945). He returned to direct Cluny Brown
(1946), but Preminger again stepped in on That Lady in Ermine
(1948) after Lubitsch's death on November 30, 1947 caused by his fifth
heart attack. In March 1947, Ernst Lubitsch was given a special Academy
Award for his "distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture."
Lubitsch has created
his own unique comedy style, his touch has remained the standard for all-time.
No other comedies have been imitated more, and no other comedies have
been so subtle, elegant, and yet so humorous!