Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst Lubitsch is an American director of German origin , also an actor at the beginning of his career, born onin Berlin , emigrated to the United States in 1922 , died onin Bel Air ( Los Angeles ).

A prolific director, he has shot more than fifty films in thirty years. He has marked the history of cinema through his comedies, including Ninotchka , Rendez-vous , To be or not to be (dangerous games) , and the film that is considered his masterpiece: The eighth woman of Beard -Blue .



Ernst Lubitsch is the son of a Berlin tailor, Simon Lubitsch, who owned a well-known men’s clothing store in Berlin. Simon Lubitsch came from a long line of Hofjuden (“court Jews”). Ernst, only son, is born onand receives a careful education, which includes dramatic arts. Weary of studies and fascinated by theater, he left school at sixteen. Simon hardly admits the vocation of his son and takes him to the store. Six months later, he must be disillusioned, as the son shows himself incapable: “My son is a Schlemihl . He is unable to hang a costume without dropping another five 1 , 2 . ”

He decides to place him as an accountant, which gives Ernst the opportunity to lead a double life: he works during the day and devotes himself to his theatrical passion at night. Through Victor Arnold , a well-known actor of the time, Lubitsch obtained various small engagements in cabarets. As he is doing very well, Arnold decides to present it to Max Reinhardt , director of the Deutsches Theater , who integrates him into his troupe, in which is already Emil Jannings . In this way, Lubitsch gets supporting roles in classical plays, notably playing the Famulus Wagner in Faust .

In 1912, one of the performances of Mirakel ( Miracle ) by Karl Gustav Vollmoeller (1887-1948) was filmed. The same year, Lubitsch became the handyman of the Berlin studio Bioscop , to round off his end of the month. The cinema is indeed booming in Germany. In 1913, he was hired as an actor, which Lubitsch accepts, not out of interest for the seventh emerging art, but because of a high salary: 20 marks a day, compared to the 100 marks a month he earned with Reinhardt . He plays comic roles in Shuhpalast Pinkus , and especially in the Meier 3 film series , mostly done by near-strangers, but produced byPaul Davidson , leader of the Union-Film, in which he creates the character of “Meier”, archetype of the German Jewish comic. “With these films, he became the most prominent German film comedy, as popular as Max Linder in France and Harold Lloyd otherwise Chaplin in America at the same time 4 . ”

In 1914, writers are short of ideas, but Lubitsch is not lacking. So he now takes the triple cap actor-director-author. This downsizing arrangement satisfies Davidson, who offers Lubitsch a salary increase. During the four years of the war, Lubitsch produced many films, quick to raise the morale of the German population, and abandoned more and more the leading roles: he contented himself with the latter.

German period

This success allows him to make his own films from 1916. He gives up his acting career.
In 1918 , he made his first film: The Eyes of the Mummy ( Die Augen der Mumie Ma ), a drama with Pola Negri and Emil Jannings . Lubitsch knows how to surround himself with quality collaborators, such as screenwriter Hans Kräly and decorator Kurt Richter. The same year, he directed Carmen . In 1919 , he triumphed with The Oyster Princess ( Die Austernprinzessin ), an astonishing satire whose characters are worthy of Erich von Stroheim(the king of oysters, the American millionaire, the penniless prince Nuki) 5 . There follow historical dramas ( The Du Barry , Ann Boleyn ) and comedies, which make him a director of international stature. He was even nicknamed “the German David Wark Griffith “, and in 1921 he was invited to the United States for the first time.

Hollywood period

After an unsuccessful first stay in the US in 1922, he left Germany in 1923, at the age of thirty, to join Hollywood at the invitation of Mary Pickford . She wants him to lead her in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall . He refuses the project, but directs it in Rosita in 1923 , his first American film, again a success. He is under contract with the Mary Pickford Company ; he is a hard worker and each film seems to surpass the previous one in quality and success (critical and commercial). We start talking about the Lubitsch touch : elegance and sophistication in satire, sense of rhythm and ellipse .

In 1926 , he joined the Paramount and directed his first sound film in 1929: Parade of Love ( The Love Parade ) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald who gets nominated for six Oscars including Best Film. With the appearance of sound, brilliant dialogues are added to the Lubitsch touch (even if he is never credited as scriptwriter or dialogist). In 1925, he finally obtained a residence permit: he avoided the Immigration Department until now thanks to the Warner 6 .

In 1935, the Nazi regime lost him of his German nationality. The same year, he became production director of Paramount, the only Hollywood director to run a large studio. On 27 July 1935, he married Vivian Gaye, actress and British theatrical agent, born in 1908 Sanya Bezencenet 7 . They have a single daughter, Nicola Lubitsch, born on October 27, 1938. In 1936, Paramount relieves him from his duties as director of productions, and he becomes a full-time director again. The same year, he is naturalized American citizen.

In this period, Lubitsch made his best-known films, all comedies. He works with the best screenwriters, including Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett , and works with all the big stars of the day: Claudette Colbert , Gary Cooper , Marlene Dietrich , James Stewart , Carole Lombard , Gene Tierney . He is the first to hear Greta Garbo’s laugh in Ninotchka . The films, despite their light and brilliant character, often address very serious and contemporary concerns: in 1939, Ninotchkais one of the first films to criticize the Stalin regime, in 1940, Rendez-vous (The Shop Around the Corner) addresses the issue of unemployment, and in 1942 Dangerous Games (To Be or Not to Be) has for main theme Nazism.

In 1947, Ernst Lubitsch received an Oscar of Honor (he was nominated three times and never won the Oscar), but he died soon after of a heart attack while filming La Dame au Mantle. ermine which is completed by Otto Preminger . He dies onin Bel Air ( Los Angeles ). He is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale , California . At his funeral, Billy Wilder would have grieved “More Lubitsch” , being answered by William Wyler “Worse than that: more films Lubitsch . ”

Lubitsch and France

There are many affinities and ties of mutual friendship between Ernst Lubitsch and France. Already in 1936, during the filming of The Eighth Woman of Bluebeard , Lubitsch had been awarded the Legion of Honor . Just under 60 years later, in 1992, when the magazine Film Positive , tried to approve the twenty most important films in the history of cinema, she put dangerous games in the 17 th place (making the second comedy, behind The Mechanic of the “General” of Buster Keaton ). More recently, Le Monde devoted a whole page to the resumption of a silent film a little forgotten by the German director.

If France loves Lubitsch, it is clear that in return, Lubitsch loves France. From 1930 ( Love Parade ) to 1939 ( Ninotchka ) almost all of his films take place in France (the only two exceptions being The smiling Lieutenant and If I had a million ). It should also be noted that Lubitsch speaks a lot of French (in Le ciel peut wait , and in Sérénade à trois , a whole scene is played in Molière’s language). Finally, it should be noted that Lubitsch used a lot of French interpreters ( Maurice Chevalier , Claudette Colbert , Charles Boyer …) and French authors (the argument ofLost Illusions is from a play by Victorian Sardou , Divorced ).

The Lubitschian aesthetic

The realization and the Lubitsch touch 

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The scenarios

Lubitsch only shot one film from an original screenplay ( Dangerous Games ), all the others being mainly adaptations, mostly free, of theatrical works. Lubitsch had a clear preference for Hungarian playwrights: Laszlo Aladar ( Trouble in paradise ), Melchior Lengyel ( Angel , Ninotchka ), Nikolaus László ( Rendezvous ) and László But-Feketé ( The sky can wait), such a repertoire having the advantage of being, because of the remoteness, modifiable thanks to the director, and Lubitsch will not deprive himself. Next are the German playwrights ( Hans Müller for Monte Carlo , Leopold Jacobson and Felix Dortmann after a novel by the same Müller in The Smiling Lieutenant , Lothar Schmidt in An Hour Near You and Victor Leo and Leo Stein in the Merry Widow ), and French ( Leo Xanrof and Jules Chancel in Love Parade , Maurice Rostandin The Man I Killed and Victorian Sardou in Lost Illusions ). Cluny Brown is a double exception, since his argument is taken from an English novel.

The music

Music plays a very important role in Lubitsch, as substitute for speech, by essence conventional surface. The greatest use of this function is in ” Angel ”. It is indeed the melodic theme improvised by a Gypsy violinist, the evening where Lady Barker and Anthony Halton meet, who will rush the action: Lady Barker plays it on his piano and passes it for a personal composition with his husband, but he hears via the phone Anthony Halton interpret it too.

There are in fact several dedicated Lubitsch composers: the first is Oscar Straus , a contemporary operetta writer by Franz Lehár . Lubitsch begins by making a cinematographic version of one of his operettas created in 1907 (“The Smiling Lieutenant”), then will call on him again to compose the original music of “An Hour near you”. The second one is Friedrich Hollaender (Frederick Hollander), Marlene Dietrich’s favorite German and then British composer, who will write the score of ” Desire ” and, especially, that of ” Angel ”. Finally, Werner R. HeymannA more obscure musician, but one who lent himself very well to the cinematographic language, was the composer most used by Lubitsch with four films to his credit: ” Ninotchka ”, ” The shop around the corner ”, ” That certain feelings ” and ” To be or not to be ”.


Ernst Lubitsch is considered the inventor of all the codes of modern comedy [ref. necessary] , his posterity is therefore impossible to measure.

  • Movies
    • 1983 : To Be or Not to Be by Alan Johnson , with Mel Brooks
    • 1998 : You have a mess @ ge ( You’ve got mail ) of Nora Ephron , after The Shop Around the Corner
  • An Ernst Lubitsch Prize was created in Germany in 1957, the Ernst-Lubitsch-Prize , a prize awarded to a film by the critics.
  • The directors’ building at Paramount Studios was named Ernst Lubitsch in 1987.


“My basic theory is that the most dignified being is ridiculous at least twice a day”

Complete filmography

German period

Ernst Lubitsch is first actor then director.
  • 1912 : The Miracle (Das Mirakel) by Max Reinhardt and Michel Carré , with Maria Carmi , Douglas Payne , Florence Winston , EL
  • 1913 : Meyer auf der Alm of Max Bahr , EL, Sophie Pagay (lost)
  • 1913: Die ideale Gattin (director unknown), with Lyda Salmonova , Grete Berger , EL, Paul Biensfeldt (lost)
  • 1914 : Die Firma heiratet of Carl Wilhelm , with EL, Victor Arnold (lost)
  • 1914: Bedingung: keine Familie! of Stellan Rye , with Hans Wassmann , Albert Paulig , Emil Albes , EL (lost)
  • 1914: The Pride of the Firm (Der Stolz der Firma) by Carl Wilhelm , with EL, Martha Kriwitz , Victor Arnold , Hans Wassmann , Albert Paulig , Emil Albes
  • 1914: Mademoiselle Piccolo (Fräulein Piccolo) by Franz Hofer , with Dorrit Weixler , Franz Schweiger , Alice Hechy , EL, Max Lehmann
  • 1914: Fräulein Seifenschaum from and with EL (lost)
  • 1914: Meyer als Soldier with EL (questionable participation, lost)
  • 1915 : Aufs Eis geführt of EL, with EL, Albert Paulig (lost)
  • 1915 Weapon Mary of Max Mack , with Hanni Weisse , EL, Frederic Zelnik , Felix Basch (lost)
  • 1915: Zucker und Zimt of Ernst Matray and EL, with Ernst Matray, EL, Helene Voss , Felix Basch (lost)
  • 1915: EL Blindekuh , with EL, Resl Orla (lost)
  • 1915: Ein verliebter Racker by Franz Hofer , with Dorrit Weixler , EL (lost)
  • 1915: Robert and Bertram or The Merry Wanderers (Robert und Bertram or Die Lustigen Vagabunden) by Max Mack , with Ferdinand Bonn , Eugen Burg , Wilhelm Diegelmann , EL
  • 1915: Breast einziger Patient or Der erste Patient of EL, with EL, Johanna Ewald (lost)
  • 1915: Der Kraftmeyer (or Der Kraftmeier ) from and with EL (lost)
  • 1915: Der letzte Anzug of and with EL (lost)
  • 1915: Der schwarze Moritz by Georg Jacoby , with EL, Erna Alberty , Margarete Kupfer (lost)
  • 1916 : Wie ich ermordet wurde of Louis Ralph , with EL (doubtful participation, lost)
  • 1916: When I was dead (Als ich tot war or Wo ist mein Schatz? ) And with EL, Louise Schenrich , Lanchen Voss , Julius Falkenstein
  • 1916: Doktor Satansohn of Edmund Edel , with EL, Hans Felix , Yo Larte , Marga Köhler
From there, EL is director of all the films, except special mention )
  • 1916 : The Pinkus Shoe Palace (Schuhpalast Pinkus) with Guido Herzfeld , EL, Else Kenter , Hans Kräly
  • 1916: Der gemischte Frauenchor with EL (lost)
  • 1916: Das schönste Geschenk with EL (lost)
  • 1916: Der GmbH-Tenor with EL, Ossi Oswalda , Victor Janson (lost)
  • 1916: Leutnant auf Befehl with Harry Liedtke ], EL, Ossi Oswalda , Victor Janson (lost)
  • 1916: Keiner von beiden (lost)
  • 1917 : Die neue Nase (or Seine neue Nase ), with EL (lost)
  • 1917: Käsekönig Holländer , with EL (lost)
  • 1917: The King of the bodice (Der Blusenkönig) , with EL, Käthe Dorsch , Guido Herzfeld (lost)
  • 1917: Ossis Tagebuch , with Ossi Oswalda , Hermann Thimmig (lost)
  • 1917: When four do the same thing (Wenn vier dasselbe tun) , with Emil Jannings , Ossi Oswalda , Margarete Kupfer , Fritz Schulz , Victor Janson
  • 1917: Hans Trutz in the Land of Cocktail (Hans Trutz im Schlaraffenland) by Paul Wegener , with Paul Wegener , Lyda Salmonova , Wilhelm Diegelmann , EL (lost)
  • 1917 The Merry Jail ( Das fidele Gefängnis or Ein fideles Gefängnis ), with Harry Liedtke , Kitty Dewall , Agda Nilsson , Emil Jannings , Erich Schönfelder , from the operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss
  • 1918 : Prinz Sami , with EL, Ossi Oswalda , Wilhelm Diegelmann , Margarete Kupfer (lost)
  • 1918: Der Fall Rosentopf , with Ferry Sikla , Margarete Kupfer , EL (lost)
  • 1918: Das Mädel vom Ballett , with Ossi Oswalda , Sikla Ferry , Harry Liedtke , Julietta Brandt , Victor Janson , Reinhold Schünzel (lost)
  • 1918: I would not want to be a man (Ich möchte kein Mann breast) , with Sikla Ferry , Ossi Oswalda , Margarete Kupfer , Victor Janson
  • 1918: The Eyes of the Mummy (Die Augen der Mumie Ma) , with Pola Negri , Emil Jannings , Harry Liedtke
  • 1918: Carmen , with Pola Negri , Harry Liedtke , Leopold von Ledebour (after Merimee and Bizet )
  • 1918: Mania , with Pola Negri (lost)
  • 1918: Meyer aus Berlin , with EL, Ethel Orff , Heinz Lanzmann
  • 1919 : Meine Frau die Filmschauspielerin , with Ossi Oswalda , Victor Janson (lost)
  • 1919: The Oyster Princess (Die Austernprinzessin) with Victor Janson , Ossi Oswalda , Harry Liedtke
  • 1919: Rausch , with Asta Nielsen , Alfred Abel , Carl Meinhard (lost)
  • 1919: The Du Barry (Madame Du Barry) , with Pola Negri , Emil Jannings , Harry Liedtke
  • 1919: Der Lustige Ehemann with Victor Janson (lost)
  • 1919: The Doll (Die Puppe) with Josefine Dora , Victor Janson , Marga Köhler
  • 1920 : Die Wohnungsnot with Ossi Oswalda , Marga Köhler , Victor Janson (doubtful participation, lost)
  • 1920: The Kohlhiesel Girls ( Kohlhiesels Töchter ) with Emil Jannings , Henny Porten , Jakob Tiedtke , Gustav von Wangenheim
  • 1920: Romeo and Juliet in the snow (Romeo und Julia im Schnee) with Jacob Tiedtke , Marga Köhler , Lotte Neuman , Ernst Rückert
  • 1920: Sumurun with EL, Pola Negri , Paul Wegener
  • 1920: Anna Boleyn with Henny Porten , Emil Jannings , Paul Hartmann
  • 1921 : The Pussy of the Mountains (Die Bergkatze) with Pola Negri , Victor Janson , Paul Heidemann , Wilhelm Diegelmann
  • 1922 : The Pharaoh’s Wife ( Das Weib of the Pharaohs ) with Emil Jannings , Harry Liedtke , Dagny Servaes , Paul Wegener
  • 1923 : Montmartre (Die Flamme) with Pola Negri , Hilde Wörner , Alfred Abel , Hermann Thimig (partly lost)

American silent period

  • 1923 : Rosita , co-director: Raoul Walsh
  • 1924 : Actresses ( The Marriage Circle )
  • 1924: Three women ( Three Women )
  • 1925 : Paradise forbidden ( Forbidden Paradise )
  • 1925: My wife and her flirt or Kiss Me ( Kiss Me Again )
  • 1925: Lady Windermere Fan ( Lady Windermere’s Fan )
  • 1926 : Surprises of the TSF ( So This Is Paris ), remake of the Joyeuse prison
  • 1926: Honeymoon Express , co-director: James Flood
  • 1927 : The Student Prince ( The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg ), co-director: John M. Stahl
  • 1928 : The Patriot (The Patriot)
  • 1929 : The Abyss ( Eternal Love )

Talking Films

  • 1929 : Parade of Love (The Love Parade)
  • 1930 : Paramount on Parade co-directors: Frank Tuttle , Edmund Goulding , A. Edward Sutherland etc.
  • 1930: Monte Carlo
  • 1931 : The Smiling Lieutenant (The Smiling Lieutenant)
  • 1932 : The Man I Killed (Broken Lullaby)
  • 1932: One Hour Near You (One Hour with You) co-director: George Cukor
  • 1932: High underworld (Trouble in Paradise)
  • 1932: If I had a million (If I Had a Million) (sketch: The Clerk (the usher))
  • 1933 : Serenade for three (Design for Living)
  • 1934 : The Merry Widow (The Merry Widow)
  • 1937 : Angel (Angel)
  • 1938 : The Eighth Blue Beard’s Wife (Blue Beard’s Eighth Wife)
  • 1939 : Ninotchka
  • 1940 : Rendez-vous (The Shop Around the Corner)
  • 1941 : Lost Illusions (That Uncertain Feeling)
  • 1942 : Dangerous Games (To Be or Not to Be)
  • 1943 : The sky can wait (Heaven Can Wait)
  • 1945 : Court scandal (A Royal Scandal) co-director: Otto Preminger
  • 1946 : The Crazy Madonna (Cluny Brown)
  • 1948 : The Lady with the ermine mantle (That Lady in Ermine) co-director: Otto Preminger

Also producer for the Twentieth Century Fox in 1946 the Castle of the Dragon ( Dragonwyck ) of Joseph L. Mankiewicz . He shot some scenes of Desire (Desire) in 1936 Director: Frank Borzage , with Marlene Dietrich , Gary Cooper

Projects aborted

  • Deburau , 1923 : Lubitsch was thinking of an adaptation of Sacha Guitry’s play for his first American film.
  • The Knight with the Rose , 1937

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Hermann C. Weinberg, The Lubitsch Touch , Editions Ramsay, 1994
  2. ↑ This story already told by Curt Riess in 1956, might be a little too good to be true if one believes the biography of Hans Helmut Prinzler Prinzler published on the occasion of the retrospective Lubitsch’s Berlin Festival 1984
  3. ↑ Jean-Loup Bourget, Hollywood, European Dream , p.53, collection “Armand Colin Cinema”
  4. ↑ Theodore Huff, An index to the movies of Ernst Lubitsch , Britsh Film Institute, 1947 quoted by Hermann C. Weinberg ( ibid )
  5. ↑ Passek ( eds. ), Cement , Cluny and Frouard , Film Dictionary , Paris, Larousse,, 888 p. ( ISBN  2035123038 ) , p.  Lubitsch
  6. ↑ Article Lubitsch darf bleiben in Amerika , Film-Kurier # 306 (30/09/1925)
  7. ↑ Ernst Lubitsch, Laughter in Paradise [ archive ]

See also


  • Herman G. Weinberg, Ernst Lubitsch, The Lubitsch Touch , Ramsay Publishing, 1994 (original edition, New York, Dutton, 1968)
  • Bernard Eisenschitz and Jean Narboni (directed by), Ernst Lubitsch , Cahiers du Cinéma / Cinémathèque française, 1985, 142 pages, ( ISBN  2-86642-035-7 ) ; Reissue 2006, Small Library of the Cahiers du cinéma, ( ISBN 2-86642-451-4 )
  • Eithne Bourget and Jean-Loup Bourget, Lubitsch, or the Romantic Satire , Stock, 1987 ( ISBN  2234020506 )
  • Jacqueline Nacache , Lubitsch , Paris, Edilig, coll. “Cégraphiques”, 1987 ( ISBN  2856011691 and 978-2856011690 )
  • NT Binh and Christian Viviani, Lubitsch , Rivages / Cinema, 1991, ( ISBN  2869304226 ) , ( ISSN  0298-0088 )
  • Jacqueline Nacache , Ernst Lubitsch – To Be or Not to Be , Paris, CNDP, coll. “Arts in the Singular- Cinema”, 2013 ( ISBN  2240031816 and 978-2240031815 ) – Bachelor’s degree Cinema 2013

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