Review: Joseph McBride’s “How Did Lubitsch Do It?”

/ Leave a comment
Ernst Lubitsch, James Stewart, and Margaret Sullivan (1940)

Director, screenwriter, producer, and actor Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) was considered by film luminaries such as Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, and Billy Wilder to be among the greatest of directors. Over the course of 36 years and 69 films, Lubitsch’s career survived two major transitions: the industry-wide shift from silent film to sound and the director’s own migration from Europe to the United States. He worked with some of the most brilliant screen performers of his time—including Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Maurice Chevalier, James Stewart, Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins, among many others—in films such as Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Along the way, he perfected the romantic comedy, infusing it with sophistication and wit, and with a sexual humor that seems both cutting edge for its time and a breath of fresh air in our present film culture.

Why then … Read the rest

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

/ Leave a comment
Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise (1932). 83 minutes. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Herbert Marshall (as Gaston Monescu/Gaston Lavalle), Miriam Hopkins (as Lily Vautier), Kay Francis (as Madame Mariette Colet), Edward Everett Horton (as François Filiba), Charles Ruggles (as the Major), and C. Aubrey Smith (as Adolph J. Giron).

Roger Ebert begins his wonderful review of Trouble in Paradise by observing that this movie is a comedy about adults, not the typically juvenile characters that masquerade as adults in modern-day Hollywood films. I would go so far as to say that Trouble in Paradise’s characters are the ultimate adults of the Golden Age of Hollywood: witty, wry, sophisticated, infinitely engaging, amusing, and immaculately dressed and groomed. In particular, the movie not only creates a mature atmosphere laced with champagne, erudite talk, and subtle scheming but also offers us grown-up sexuality, which its characters allude to frequently in word and action, and practice with refinement and enthusiasm. Even more than other daring Lubitsch … Read the rest

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

/ Leave a comment
"To Be or Not To Be" (1942)

To Be or Not to Be (1942). 99 minutes. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Carole Lombard (as Maria Tura), Jack Benny (as Joseph Tura), Robert Stack (as Lt. Stanislav Sobinski), Felix Bressart (as Greenberg), Lionel Atwill (as Rawich), Stanley Ridges (as Professor Alexander Siletsky), Sig Ruman (as Col. Erhardt), Tom Dugan (as Bronski), Charles Halton (as Dubosh), and Henry Victor (as Capt. Schultz).

In To Be or Not to Be, Jack Benny plays Joseph Tura, a Polish actor in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who thinks highly of himself even though few others do. At one point, disguised as a Gestapo agent to further the Polish cause, he asks the German Col. Erhardt if he has heard of this actor Joseph Tura, apparently fishing for compliments even while conducting dangerous espionage. Col. Erhardt, to Tura’s surprise, has heard of the actor. “Oh yes,”the Nazi says, “I saw him in Hamlet once. What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to Poland.”… Read the rest

Ninotchka (1939)

/ Leave a comment
Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka (1939).  110 minutes.  Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  Starring Greta Garbo (as Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushova), Melvyn Douglas (as Count Leon d’Algout), and Ina Claire (as Grand Duchess Swana).  Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Melchior Lengyel.

Ninotchka is a sparkling comedy about the collision between the Soviet East and frothy 1930s Paris.  It was released in October 1939, just one month after World War Two began, and it gleefully depicts pre-war life with barely a reference to the ordeal unfolding on the continent.  The closest we come to a note of the German conflict comes early in the movie when three Soviet envoys await the arrival of their Russian supervisor at a Paris train station.  They assume this supervisor will be a man, and they scan the crowd for him, not knowing what he looks like.  One of them arrives at a possible candidate: a man with a round, bearded face — perhaps it is him?  … Read the rest