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O RARE ERNST LUBITSCH

by Peter Bogdanovich
May 4, 2011 1:00 AM
11 Comments
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I feel sorry for people who have never seen an Ernst Lubitsch movie; they are missing such delights. There is no way to really describe what exactly it is that makes most of his pictures so charming, funny, human, stylized, unique. During the time of his world-wide popularity (ca. 1924 till after his death in 1947), people called it “The Lubitsch Touch,” which proved that everyone could feel it, but no one could adequately define it. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain why I love Lubitsch so much and what it is that makes him so ultra-special, in a place all by himself. There’s never been anyone like Ernst Lubitsch, though many filmmakers have tried, they never came close. In Esquire, back in the early '70s, I did a monthly column and devoted one entirely to Lubitsch, which was reprinted in my collection, Pieces of Time (1973/1985); and for my directors’ interview book, Who the Devil Made It (1997), I expanded this into a section of the Introduction called “The Director I Never Met”---but most wanted to! And finally, in 2008 I tried again in a long piece for Peter Kaplan’s The New York Observer, the title of which states the point succinctly: “The Importance of Seeing Ernst”. I still think it’s of the utmost importance; if more people were enjoying Lubitsch movies, they would be happier, more hopeful. Here’s the link to the article on their website if you want to read about why pictures like Trouble in Paradise, The Smiling Lieutenant, The Shop Around the Corner, The Love Parade, The Merry Widow, Cluny Brown, and Heaven Can Wait, among others, are among my favorites, and as good as the medium can offer: treasures waiting to be found.

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11 Comments

  • Robert MacLean | September 11, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    Peter, I'm quoting you in my new post, "The Lubitsch Touch" at
    http://robertmaclean.blogspot.gr/2012/09/the-lubitsch-touch.html

  • April Lane | September 28, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    My favorite director after Ford, and ahead of Hitch because of the "heart" in his laughter, which although incisive, did not draw blood. A true artist who's work could have delighted and inspired even Shakespeare himself.

    Mr. Ross...wish the Samuel Raphaelson exhibit had been in NYC, I'd have attended, and certainly answered affirmatively that I do, indeed, know Lubitsch.

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  • AndrewS | December 13, 2011 9:34 PM

    Apparently, Lubitsch was into women's boots. Not all that surprising. I'm sure he handled them lightly, with a touch of irony, plenty of wit, and supreme style.

  • Jorge Tejerina | July 11, 2011 2:20 AMReply

    There is nobody like Lubitsch comedy, sophistication, tenderness, and conlusión, humanism. Every time I see one of his films, as you say, I feel strong enough to live. Thanks for writing about something as special as the cinema, and especially these directors. Hope you do not stop writing. An admirer of yours, Jorge Tejerina, from Spain. Thanks.

  • Jorge Tejerina | July 11, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    I just saw Clunny Brown for the third time and I can not feel an infinite tenderness for how lubitsch treats Belinsky (Charles Boyer) and Cluny (Jennifer Jones).
    There is a communication in the film as any. For how Belinsky treat people and how, especially, being content and patient gets unclog Cluny her love for him.

  • Michael F. Blake | June 8, 2011 7:01 AMReply

    FYI - the photo you posted shows Lubitsch being made up by Wally Westmore, who was Makeup Dept. Head of Paramount.

  • Bob MacLean (http://robertmaclean.blogspot.com/) | May 24, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    Peter, I love your association of innocence with sophistication; it goes to the heart of Lubitsch.

    Have just re-watched your At Long Last Love, and for sheer joy and frivolity it’s one of my favorites. It’s not just the music, it’s the ethos: “Is that your car?” she says about his Rolls; “I like you more and more.” And the “Friendship” number is laugh-out-loud hilarious. It does the master proud—by whom I mean Cole Porter.

    The dancing dolls, the silent scenes, doing a musical with actors who are not all trained singers but are having a palpably good time, all that would have delighted the master—by whom I mean Lubtsch. “If you ever need a friend, click on Send.”

  • MAK | May 7, 2011 8:31 AMReply

    You can probably go back a few years from 1924 on Lubitsch's international appeal since his late German historicals (among them PASSION, CARMEN & ANNE BOLEYN) were successful enough to have Mary Pickford bring him over to direct her in ROSITA/'23. She later claimed to hate the film, but not at the time. It was a considerable success & got excellent reviews. And, even in the rotten prints that survive, it remains a delightful film.

    In fact, we're so fortunate with DVD restorations that films once written off, like SUMURUN/'20, THE OYSTER PRINCESS/'19 and EYES OF THE PHAROAH/'22, can take their proper place in the Lubitsch canon. SUMURUN is a special treat since Lubitsch also has the lead role.

  • Kim | May 4, 2011 7:06 AMReply

    I love Lubitsch and I am happy to report I got a few of my friends interested in his films as well (and usually I have to twist their arms to get them to watch anything that wasn't made in the last 10 years).

    My favorite of his films is Trouble in Paradise (will we ever see something so sophisticated and funny today? I doubt it). But I also have a big soft spot for The Smiling Lieutenant, one of my favorites from the silent era.

    I also really like Design for Living and think it is a bit underrated because Coward's script is changed so much but it's still such a fun film. Plus it's not like Hecht was a slack in the writing department.

  • Ryan Ross | May 4, 2011 3:35 AMReply

    Well put, Mr. Bogdanovich. I have been a fan of Lubitsch ever since I saw The Shop Around the Corner when I was 15. In the years since I have seen nearly all of his sound films. Recently I have started to work my way through the silents, including The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, which was absolutely wonderful. Like you said, there is something about Lubitsch's movies that makes you feel terrific (and sort of wistful at the same time), but you can't really put your finger on it.

    Last spring I had the opportunity to curate an exhibit on the screenwriter and playwright Sampson Raphaelson, much of which focused on his working relationship with (and the death of) Lubistch. As I prepared the exhibit, one day I decided to conduct an informal experiment in which I walked around the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, campus and asked people if they had ever heard of Ernst Lubitsch. Virtually none of the students had heard of him, nor had they heard of his movies. And only a small fraction of the over 40 crowd recognized the name, though many more had heard of The Shop Around the Corner and/or Ninotchka.

    I can't say that I was surprised at my findings that day, but I was disappointed -- disappointed for my study participants who were missing out on some truly wondrous viewing experiences, for film history, which is obviously not on the radar of much of our general public, and for myself, because it became clear to me that day that the audience for my Raphaelson exhibit was going to be even more limited than I had anticipated.

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