Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ernest Lubitsch

New discoveries are often unexpected.  Bored with some library selections stumbled on "Trouble in Paradise" which typically had all sorts of praise written on it.  Such praise is not always deserved, however  when I went to check it out, the computer screen said it could not be checked out.  Taking it to a clerk I learned that it was in special collections and wasn't supposed to be on the shelf  About to walk away the clerk said he would put it on my card, but asked me to return it to his desk.

I thought the DVD quality would be risky, but there were no problems.  The movie was in black and white (no surprise), but it grabbed my attention.  Watched the special features and became fascinated.  Reserved as many of his other films as I could find and watched more special features.

Ernst Lubitsch was nominated for an Oscar 3 times without winning, but in 1947 he was given an Honorary Award.  The presenter, Mervyn LeRoy commented that Lubitsch was "a master of innuendo."  He left his mark.

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1892 he developed an interest in theatre from high school and at age 16 left school to try his luck on stage.  His father would support him only if he kept accounts at the family tailor shop.  All through his cinematic career he put a lot of attention to costumes preferring luxurious fabrics.

Ernst performed at cabarets and musical halls in the evening.  By 1911 he worked under Max Reinhardt quickly rising to leading roles and by 1914 was involved in writing and directing plays.

He soon performed in silent films such as  "Shoe Palace Pinkus," (1916) but gradually dropped acting to concentrate on directing and writing.

By 1918 he wrote and directed "The Eyes of the Mummy," a silent films starring Pola Negri who eventually became a major star in Hollywood.   He directed her in a number of other films.   It was filmed in Germany, but very easily adapted for English audiences with inter-titles, then prevalent.

By 1923 he crossed the Atlantic and directed Mary Pickford in "Rosita."  As a German Jew he had decided there was more safety and wealth in Hollywood.  As Hitler came to power in 1933, Ernst made his exit permanent.  He became a U.S. citizen in 1936.

Ernest liked to collaborate with writers especially early on with Hans Kraly who unfortunately ended the relationship when he  ran away with Ernst's first wife.  Samson Raphaelson later commented that they each inspired one another often starting with one or two bad ideas that led to something good.

"Love Parade" (1929) is considered the first musical movie with the songs integrated to the story.  Also the first to have soundtrack produced after production.  Ernst Lubitsch persuaded Maurice Chevalier to play the leading male as a royal courtier, although he felt was too humble for such a role.  He also went with Jeannette McDonald after others had rejected her screen tests.

Back to the film that caught my attention, "Trouble in Paradise" (1931).  It was considered pretty sophisticated with a triangle love affair as the focus and dialogue that would not be accepted four years later when Hollywood adopted a Production Code that amounted to censorship.  The film was taken out of circulation.   It was re-released in 1968.  It was never put in cassette form, but was released as a DVD in 2003

Research uncovered an interesting set of events.  Lubitsch had married an English woman, Vivian Gaye and had one child.  His wife and daughter were in Europe as war declared.  They boarded a ship for America that was sunk by a German submarine in September of 1939 with 118 passenger deaths.  His wife, daughter and maid did survive.   The same year "Ninochka" was released with Greta Garbo  "laughing."

"The Shop Around the Corner "(1940) was supposedly Ernst's favorite film.  He had bought the rights to the original Hungarian play in 1938, but had to wait to line up stars James Stewart and  Margaret Sullavan.  The plot was considered pretty good and has been redone a number of times, most recently as "You Got Mail"

"To Be Or Not To Be" was one I had seen and enjoyed many years previous , but watched with new eyes.   Started in 1941, but released after American entered war.  It was not not well received at first.  As a satire it portrayed Nazis as bumblers. Jack Benny thought it was his best film and Carole Lombard, whose husband Clark Gable had not wanted her to take the film declared it was her most enjoyable film.  Carole died after completing the film and before it was planned for release.   Lubitsch wanted to satirize the Germans, but also the acting profession.  He loved Shakespeare.

Heaven Can Wait (1943) with Don Ameche and Gene Tierney marked a turning point.  He had heart attacks in 1943 and1945 setting him back each time.   Another heart attack at age 55 in 1947 caused his death.

He can credited with developing musicals and pushing censorship limits.  He definitely knew how to get attention.

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