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Ernst Lubitsch and his films


konway87
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Lubitsch is one of my 3 Favorite Directors. I just finished reading Scott Eyman's biography about him, Laughter in Paradise, which was yummy. The only sad thing you can say about Lubitsch films, is there simply aren't enough of them.

 

1. The Shop Around the Corner

2. Ninotchka

3. To Be or Not to Be

4. Cluny Brown

5. Trouble in Paradise

 

2beOrnot2be.jpg

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Some of us uninformed, ignorant types need to find out the reasons behind the liking of Lubitsch films. One's words may be the spark to a Lubitschian awakening. I'm asking for generalities over specifics, although both are warmly accepted.

 

What is it that makes you like EACH of the Lubitsch films on your list, Miss G? Why is your heart in it with those films? Why do they "touch" you so? It has to be the violence, right?

 

How about you Konway?

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"At least twice a day the most dignified human being is ridiculous." Ernst Lubitsch

 

lubitschautopic.gif

 

 

Oh brother! I have to give reasons?? Is that true, Konway, I have to give reasons?

 

The Shop Around the Corner - I love to watch all the characters, even Vadas and the

way they interact. It's just like any group of longtime employees anywhere, not just Budapest.

Almost a family, really, with Frank Morgan as the irrascible but kindly paterfamilias. And it's

through Morgan's character Lubitsch threads the serious plot point which climaxes most

unexpectedly. It's not an altogether "light hearted" comedy; Lubitsch's movies often contain that

unexpected waft of seriousness. Nor is it accomplished in any so obvious and heavy handed way

as mixing comedy with drama. It is not a "blend", it is a tapestry and a very textured one.

 

Ninotchka - Billy Wilder never forgot the lessons he learned working with Lubitsch,

especially on this film. And he managed to infuse something akin to Lubitsch's spirit in movies

like *Love in the Afternoon* and *Sabrina* --- but imperfectly. Billy was rather aggressively

sardonic where Lubitsch was wry and gentle. Here is one of Lubitsch's most interesting love

stories at the movie's center but the wildly different characters of Comrade Yakoshova Ninotchka

and her shamelessly pleasure-seeking lover, Leon, are a springboard for some sprightly satirical

commentary on socialism and capitalism, as well as the nebulous status of refugees in

Europe...not to mention the fever in the blood that is love and which won't be suppressed no

matter where you run or try to hide. There are few performances quite as satistying as seeing

Garbo's NInotchka surrendering to everything she fought against and knows is wrong. Lubitsch

doesn't disagree with her that it is wrong, with this film he declares: "How can you resist?"

 

To Be or Not to Be - A comedy about Nazi's and the obliteration of Poland? A comedy

about Nazi's?????????????? Well, yes. I would have to see this film several more times to

understand fully how really daring and forward it was for the time, but I've seen enough to know it's

one of the most relentlessly funny of all Lubitsch's films---in all comedy! Jack Benny is

GLORIOUS and deserved an Oscar. He and Lombard ought to be considered one of the

screen's "immortal couples". I would not be in the least surprised if Robert Stack claimed being

in this movie the highlight of his entire career.

 

Cluny Brown - I'm still getting acquainted with Cluny's mecurical nature; it's a comedy but

it's not. I do know that it is Charles Boyer best performance (that I've seen). It's quite possibly

one of the best performances by any actor in a comedic part, along with Benny's Joe Tura. What

Lubtisch is trying to say about life through the "Professor" and through Cluny, is what I will keep

coming back for. That this was the master's last complete film just goes to show you how right

Willie Wyler was. Billy Wilder: "No more Lubitsch!" Wyler: "What's worse, no more Lubitsch

films."

 

Trouble in Paradise - This movie always leaves me with impressionistic sketches of glitter,

champagne, moonlight, in a word, [/i]glamour[/i] in the subtle Gallic meaning of the word. In it's

day it was a "modern" movie in every conceivable sense, but at the same time it

embodies Lubitsch's somewhat old world ideas of romance and sexuality. Today, it is a time

capsule of an era that never existed outside of dreams. You don't watch *Trouble in Paradise* for

the plot anymore than you would with an Astaire/Rogers picture. You watch it to catch some of

its perfume and to indulge in exquisite longings to be quicker, wittier, more elusive and far more

cavalier than you'd ever dare.

 

ninotchka_wallpaper1024.jpg

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I believe Alfred Hitchcock called Ernst Lubitsch "the man of pure cinema." Billy Wilder considers Lubitsch as his favorite director. I like Ernst Lubitsch, because he puts brilliant subjects in a simple plot. Let me take "The Shop around the Corner" as an example.

 

Mr. Matuschek's shop is more like a true family. Somebody wrote a beautiful comment about The shop around the corner long time ago. I think the comment was like this. "The shop is the place where everyone can feel he is part of a family, a family sometimes truer than the real one (see the boss's wife)."

 

Lubitsch makes this happen by making the real family more like unreal. For Example, we don't see Hugo Matuschek's wife or Pirovitch's family. We only see Pirovitch talking to his Mama through phone and Pirovitch talking about his family. But we don't actually see them.

 

This film also shows Greed, Selfishness, and Jealousy are the major things that leads to the corruption of a family. Greed and Selfishness of Vadas is a great example. At hospital, Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) says like this to Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) "Its impossible that I ever distrusted you. I hated you. I couldn't stand your presence. That's how far Jealousy can drive a man."

 

We see a happy family in the end. And Rudy also becomes a part of the family.

 

And there are also personal things. The Shop around the corner in Budapest reminded Lubitsch of his father's clothing store in Berlin. Lubitsch worked as a helper in his father's shop. Lubitsch found the atmosphere of the shop in Budapest very similar to his father's clothing store in Berlin.

 

Samson Raphaelson (Screenwriter of The Shop around the Corner) worked in Chicago as a salesman.

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MissG -- Nicely played. You'll probably get me completely devoted to Lubitsch before Ford.

 

FrankG -- Reading between the lines and assuming you're serious ("What? Me serious? Get serious."), I take it that Lubitsch is not your cup of tea for two, or one. I have s-l-o-w-l-y force fed myself a few films and have come to enjoy them. *Ninotchka* I love (how did Wilder write that stuff, in his second language yet?). It took a couple of viewings for To Be or Not to Be. And Trouble in Paradise -- ahhh, so well put by MissG. I think of it as a proto-Screwball Comedy film noir -- and probably the only one. But I'm funny that way.

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Mr. Matuschek's shop is more like a true family.

 

shoparoundthecorner2.jpg

 

Hey, Ford Lover -- Reading between the lines and assuming you're serious

("What? Me serious? Get serious."), I take it that Lubitsch is not your cup of tea for

two, or one.

 

Ohhh, I don't know about that. I actually think that he is. But let's keep that one

between you and I, okay? Sssshhhhhh!

 

Per usual, I was being both playful and serious... with a heavy dose of serious.

 

Miss G -- I'll get to you later. Do you think there is any way I'm gonna bring a

film, like, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey into this conversation? I wonder. I also

wonder if I'm gonna get pushed down an analytical road, too. Naaaaaaaahhhhh. That's

too much to ask.

 

shoparoundthecorner3.jpg

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I like those photos from The Shop around the Corner especially the photo with Ernst Lubitsch and Frank Morgan.

 

By the way, I don't know if you noticed this. Lubitsch puts a joke about The Wizard of Oz. As you know, Frank Morgan is famous for his role as Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Pepi says to Mrs. Matuschek on the phone "Oh you want to speak to Mr. Matuschek. That's too bad. Just at the moment, he is up on "a balloon" with 2 blondes." This happens in the middle of the film.

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Hi, Konway -- Mr. Matuschek's shop is more like a true family. Somebody

wrote a beautiful comment about The shop around the corner long time ago. I think

the comment was like this. "The shop is the place where everyone can feel he is

part of a family, a family sometimes truer than the real one (see the boss's wife)."

 

That's a dead-on comment, Konway. One of the main themes in The Shop Around

the Corner is how one's workplace becomes a "family" away from home. There are

motivations and consequences attached to this fact, too.

 

This film also shows Greed, Selfishness, and Jealousy are the major things that leads

to the corruption of a family. Greed and Selfishness of Vadas is a great example. At

hospital, Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) says like this to Alfred Kralik (James Stewart)

"Its impossible that I ever distrusted you. I hated you. I couldn't stand your presence.

That's how far Jealousy can drive a man."

 

That's very interesting. I thought Matuschek's jealousy was of the reactionary kind more

so than of the slow festering kind. His highly emotional state led to his irrational thinking

and behavior, hence his suicide attempt.

 

If I can get my lazy tail in motion, I'll post my thoughts on what themes I sensed and felt

in the film. I'm still processing the film since I saw it for the very first time on December

3rd. I've since watched it again, but I'm going to need a third viewing if I'm to piece together

any kind of opinion.

 

And there are also personal things. The Shop around the corner in Budapest reminded

Lubitsch of his father's clothing store in Berlin. Lubitsch worked as a helper in his father's

shop. Lubitsch found the atmosphere of the shop in Budapest very similar to his father's

clothing store in Berlin.

 

I didn't know this. You can feel real-to-life human warmth in the shop, and now I know why.

 

By the way, I don't know if you noticed this. Lubitsch puts a joke about The Wizard of Oz.

As you know, Frank Morgan is famous for his role as Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Pepi

says to Mrs. Matuschek on the phone "Oh you want to speak to Mr. Matuschek. That's

too bad. Just at the moment, he is up on "a balloon" with 2 blondes." This happens in the

middle of the film.

 

shoparoundthecorner4.jpg

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Hola, Missy G -- Lubitsch's movies often contain that unexpected waft of

seriousness. Nor is it accomplished in any so obvious and heavy handed way as

mixing comedy with drama. It is not a "blend", it is a tapestry and a very textured one.

 

I like it! There's a multitude of emotional strands running throughout The Shop

Around the Corner. I believe one has to see the film more than once to start to

piece them all together.

 

not to mention the fever in the blood that is love and which won't be suppressed

no matter where you run or try to hide. There are few performances quite as satistying

as seeing Garbo's NInotchka surrendering to everything she fought against and knows

is wrong. Lubitsch doesn't disagree with her that it is wrong, with this film he declares:

"How can you resist?"

 

You are on fire! Your words above have definitely piqued my interest in the film. The

most difficult thing to fight is one's heart.

 

In it's day it was a "modern" movie in every conceivable sense, but at the same time

it embodies Lubitsch's somewhat old world ideas of romance and sexuality. Today, it is

a time capsule of an era that never existed outside of dreams.

 

"Old world ideas of romance and sexuality" and "never existed outside of dreams" -- wow!

Damn you and your vile temptress ways! Trouble in Paradise surely sounds like the

kind of film my emotions want to experience.

 

You don't watch Trouble in Paradise for the plot anymore than you would with an

Astaire/Rogers picture.

 

Hmmmm. I could say the same of a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some films

look to provide sensual experiences above all else. If one's senses cannot be reached,

the film will turn cold. Ice cold.

 

Thanks for sharing your reasons as to why you appreciate your favorite Lubitsch films.

It was exceptionally enlightening and quite helpful to this ignorant and unromantic

American guy.

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Another thing I really liked are the characters Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and Alfred Kralik (James Stewart).

 

Klara was looking for her future husband. But she didn't realize that Kralik (James Stewart) was her future husband. She didn't realize that she lived in a family (The Shop) until the very end when Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) reveals himself. And she found her family (Shop).

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Everyone always forgets Felix Bressart. Felix Bressart played Pirovitch in The Shop around the Corner. His other famous roles were Buljanoff in Ninotchka, and Greenberg in To be or not to be.

 

Felix Bressart was also a friend of Ernst Lubitsch.

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Hi Ignorant Unromantic American Guy! I'd be interested to see if you respond emotionally to Trouble in Paradise, I only do so to the romance, particularly in the seductive dinner Gaston plans with such elaborate care. But it's not a very emotional movie in any obvious sense.

 

There are two non-Lubistsch films made prior to Trouble which are also about outsiders/risktakers falling in love: Jewel Robbery and [/b]One-Way Passage[/b]. Both star William Powell and Kay Francis. I prefer them both to Trouble, though they are perhaps inferior but they give me more to chew on emotionally.

 

Not much has ever been said in favor of a *William Powell* box set---one that does not include his partner-in-crime, Myrna, but I would rush to the front line to get it if they ever produce one. I regret DEEPLY that he never did a film for Lubitsch, that would have been HEAVEN. In fact, I like the idea as much as if Cary Grant could have worked with him.

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I don't know if anyone noticed this. Billy Wilder learned lots of brilliant ideas from Ernst Lubitsch. Here is an example. Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Walter Reisch wrote the screenplay for Ninotchka. Like Hitchcock, Lubitsch was always involved in the scripting process.

 

In Ninotchka, there are scenes where Ninotchka looks at the hat she hates. Later she buys the hat she hated.

 

In later films, we see Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett reuse this idea in a different way. This can be seen in Henry Koster's The Bishop's Wife and Billy Wilder's Witness for Prosecution.

 

In the beginning of The Bishop's Wife, you see Loretta Young looking at a hat that she likes. Later, Cary Grant buys the hat for her.

 

In Witness for Prosecution, we see this similar scene when Tyrone Power (Leonard) talks about the time when he meets Emily French.

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I don't know if anyone noticed this in The Shop around the Corner. Some of the actors in The Shop arond the Corner are also in Its A Wonderful Life.

 

James Stewart - in both films

 

Charles Halton - played the detective who followed the Mr. Matuschek's wife in The Shop around the Corner. Charles Halton played Bank Examiner in Its A Wonderful Life (1946).

 

Sarah Edwards - In the Shop around the Corner, The woman who asks Jimmy Stewart "How much is the belt in the window that says $2.98"? She played the part of Mary's (Donna Reed's) mother in "It's A Wonderful Life".

 

William Edmunds - the waiter in the cafe where Margaret Sullavan waits. William Edmunds played Giuseppe Martini, the bar owner in Wonderful Life.

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This is a delightful thread, but I was a bit surprised that Bluebeard's Eighth Wife has not been mentioned. Is it possible that this charming confection is being neglected due to the fact that, as far as I know, it is only available on vhs? Even if one needs to revert to that technology, I'd recommend it for it contains delicious, poised and occasionally odd performances by Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert. The two of them keep the soap bubble of effervescent comedy aloft throughout this Lubitsch movie, which also has an early Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder script to recommend it.

 

Though many critics don't care for it, (often citing the alleged lack of sophistication by Gary Cooper in the role of a much-married millionaire driven mad) and the clockwork nature of the film's construction, I guess I saw it on a day when I was ready to abandon my assumptions about logic, plot and moralistic conclusions. To me, it was great screwball fun, especially since the movie overflows with some of Lubitsch's best bits of casting, (Edward Everett Horton, Elizabeth Patterson and Franklin Pangborn, among others), and, as always, the director created his own universe within the confines of the movie, a feat that others have only occasionally achieved.

 

Do you think it's possible that one of the reasons that Lubitsch movies continue to enchant viewers is that they pay the audience member that highest of compliments by not spelling everything out: it makes you feel worldly and sophisticated, (even if you know better)?

 

To see the ultimate "meet-cute" sequence, you might enjoy this portion of the movie found here.

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Hi, Moira -- Nice to see you. Happy New Year!

 

I guess I saw it on a day when I was ready to abandon my assumptions about logic, plot and moralistic conclusions.

 

Those days can be quite lovely.

 

Do you think it's possible that one of the reasons that Lubitsch movies continue to enchant viewers is that they pay the audience member that highest of compliments by not spelling everything out: it makes you feel worldly and sophisticated, (even if you know better)?

 

That's the biggest draw to Lubitsch for me. I'm interested in experiencing free-range comedies that possess both a heart and soul.

 

I've only seen one Lubitsch film thus far, so I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on his films. What are your favorite Lubitsch films and could you provide a reason or two as to why?

 

Hey, Konway -- You keep on digging up some interesting factoids. I love 'em!

 

Guten Tag, Miss Goddess -- Hi Ignorant Unromantic American Guy!

 

:)

 

I'd be interested to see if you respond emotionally to Trouble in Paradise, I only do so to the romance, particularly in the seductive dinner Gaston plans with such elaborate care. But it's not a very emotional movie in any obvious sense.

 

That's interesting. It makes me wonder what the draw to the film is even more now.

 

There are two non-Lubistsch films made prior to Trouble which are also about outsiders/risktakers falling in love: Jewel Robbery and One-Way Passage. Both star William Powell and Kay Francis. I prefer them both to Trouble, though they are perhaps inferior but they give me more to chew on emotionally.

 

I have filed both titles away. Jewel Robbery is directed by William Dieterle, who I like.

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Hi Moira! I have only seen *Bluebeard's Eighth Wife* twice and I did like it better the second time. I think I have to see it a few more times to get in synch with the off-beat rythm, just as I'm doing with Cluny Brown. I do find it has several truly charming moments.

 

BluebeardsEighthWife.jpg

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Okay, Frank, here goes a partial list of favorite Lubitsch movies, though I haven't seen as many as I'd like. Sometimes I think that the Lubitsch world is one that I'd like to live in, other times it is too artificial, but the fact that he creates his own universe in each film--spurning reality as too mundane, yet commenting on real emotions we each experience, enchants me.

 

How can I explain it, and is it a good idea to even try? Well, I think there's something about Lubitsch films that is deeply funny and his characters have a graceful bravery: It's the way that his characters try to create themselves as they'd like to be, as they see themselves in their mind's eye, only to have the realities of circumstance and palpable emotion overwhelm their pretensions. Even after this happens, and they acknowledge how they really feel, his characters don't change necessarily, they carry on, only more human, funny and touching. People tend to dismiss Lubitsch as a lightweight. I disagree, because he's usually portraying human behavior and experience at a level others can only aspire to in their films. Here's a start on my idiosyncratic list, though I haven't seen enough of the silents, except one...:

 

1. The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927): this late silent has Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer before time and sound tampered with their seeming perfection. The details of why this movie touched me can be seen in a long form here

 

2. If I Had a Million (1932): "The Clerk" segment directed by Lubitsch with Charles Laughton is largely silent, and a masterpiece of economical humor with a nice barb of truth in it. Explaining more would spoil it for others. Take my word for it, it's very nicely done, though the whole episodic movie(directed by and starring various people) is very funny and too rarely seen.

 

3. Trouble in Paradise (1932): While I find suave Herbert Marshall at his most appealing here, the real treats for me are the secondary characters such as Robert Greig (born to play a butler), Edward Everett Horton (born to play a fussbudget, sublimely), and Charlie Ruggles (who's an adorable eunuch here, but Charlie can be the most endearing and drollest of actors as well). I also like the high style art deco touches in the decor, with the most memorable objet d'arte being Miss Kay Francis!

 

4. Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938): As mentioned earlier, a youthful Gary Cooper Claudette Colbert an early Brackett-Wilder script time lavished on character actors in small parts Paris as another character=something approaching a wonderfully odd and yes, screwball, movie.

 

5. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931): well, it's probably one of the most sophisticated sex comedies made in America, and it's only 79 years old. It didn't work just because of the laxity of pre-Code standards either, it drew greatly from the cast, Chevalier and Colbert at their best, and for me, the problematical Hopkins--who usually irks me, has a role and a director who can funnel her talent perfectly into the shape needed for the script, as he did with Trouble in Paradise as well. It's interesting that William Wyler and Rouben Mamoulian were the only other two directors who seemed to get what was needed from the actress. Interesting that this occurred early in her film career. The lady apparently became more insufferable in time.

 

6. Heaven Can Wait (1943): Seemingly a delicious technicolor confection, the director caught something funny and touching about the often stiff Don Ameche in this one, about a man trying to explain to the devil (a nicely toned-down Satan played by Laird Cregar), why he belongs in hell. Spectacular beauty Gene Tierney is his understanding beloved, who finds that despite--or is it because of?--her awareness of her husband's limitations, she loves him. He doesn't deserve it, but then do any of us? There's always a vein of truth in Lubitsch. In this movie, it is filled with gold.

 

Btw, I don't like Ninotchka (1940) much, (too mechanical), and love the sparkling Carole Lombard's rationalizations for her dubious behavior in To Be or Not to Be (1942), but the real pull of this movie is the tragi-comic take on the Nazis and the playing of the alleged "lesser" players, Felix Bressart, Sig Ruman, Charles Halton and company--at least for me. Haven't seen Cluny Brown (1946) in ages, though I loved the Margery Sharp novel it's based on, and always enjoy Charles Boyer when he is able to relax a bit on screen.

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Frank Grimes, I highly recommend Lubitsch's films like Ninotchka, To be or not to be, and Design for Living.

 

If you like Musicals with Comedy in it, I also recommend Lubitsch's The Merry Widow (1934).

 

As for Trouble in Paradise, I liked it. But its been a long time since I saw this film. So I won't be able to explain much about Trouble in Paradise.

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