The great Polish-German director Ernst Lubitsch was not an
absolute favorite of mine while I was keeping my card file of every movie I
saw, 1952-1970, so my ratings and comments would be a great deal higher and
more effusive today, because over the years he has evolved into one of my
all-time top picture artists. (Watch a selection of Lubitsch clips below.)
I think perhaps his sense of life and humanity was so much deeper than I could have possibly understood at ages 12 to 31. I have already written extensively about him, and a long piece I did for Peter Kaplan's The New York Observer can be found in the Links section of this blog. Titled "O Rare Ernst Lubitsch," you can go from that introduction to the original article, called "The Importance of Seeing Ernst" at the Observer's website. There's also a section on Lubitsch in the introduction to my Who the Devil Made It (1997), which is now available also as an e-book.
And here is a card from Part 2, this one for "Design for Living," starring threesome Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March and Gary Cooper:
TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942; d: Ernst Lubitsch).1961: Very good (An often uproariously funny satiric comedy set during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and what a Warsaw troupe of actors do to help in the fight; very well played by Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, with superb character support. Lubitsch's sure, easy direction places his personality on every foot of the film; a delightful picture.)
Added 2013: No, Exceptional would once more be the rating today: this is a wildly courageous masterwork, filled with hilarious takes on actors and on the Nazi personality, mercilessly etched by the Master.
DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933; d: Ernst Lubitsch).1962: Excellent* (Thoroughly delightful, sophisticated, and brilliantly subtle, stylish, tasteful sex-comedy about two artists and a young woman who take up residence, promising each other, of course, hands off. Finally, the lady gives in to love, saying, as she falls on the couch, "It was a gentleman's agreement; and I'm no gentleman." Witty, urbane, beautifully controlled, written, directed. The cast, all of them perfectly charming, is led by Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton.)Added 1965: (Even funnier the second time: a droll work, enlivened by Lubitsch's worldly, enchanting touch.)Added 2013: Much has been made of the fact that this is by no means like the original stage comedy written by Noel Coward; it is based on the Sir Noel's premise, but it's essentially a new script written by Ben Hecht to Lubitsch's specifications. The play could probably not have survived intact since it was basically a menage a trois story, so Lubitsch ran with the ball in a different direction and came up with a delight; though it isn't my favorite film of his, it's still pretty damn good.
Meanwhile, the American Cinematheque's wonderful series "A Touch of Laughter: The Films of Ernst Lubitsch" is underway at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, running through April 1. Full schedule here.