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Ernst Lubitsch - Spotlight of the Month
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Ernst Lubitsch Profile
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Dubbed "a man of pure Cinema" by Alfred Hitchcock, "a prince" by Francois Truffaut and "a giant" by Orson Welles, Ernst Lubitsch is a preeminent figure in the history of cinema. More than a great director of actors and action, Lubitsch added his own personal signature, "the Lubitsch touch," to all his work, a sense of style and grace that has rarely been matched on the screen.

Born the son of a draper, Lubitsch gained prominence at the age of 19 as a member of Max Reinhardt's troupe; by 21, he had begun to create the comic screen persona "Meyer," a slapstick Jewish archetype who became a favorite of German audiences.

The following year, Lubitsch got his first chance to display his filmmaking skills, writing and directing a one-reeler called Fraulein Seifenschaum/Miss Soapsuds (1915). Eager to test his own range and gain acceptance as a dramatic actor, Lubitsch wrote and directed Als Ich Tot War/When I Was Dead (1916), but the film failed to stir the interest of an audience who loved "Meyer." Stereotyped as an actor, Lubitsch turned his full attention to directing and scored his first major success with Schuhpalast Pinkus/Shoe Salon Pinkus (1916).

The first Lubitsch picture to be shown in America was Die Augen der Mummie Ma/The Eyes of the Mummy (1918), his first teaming of Pola Negri and Emil Jannings. It was their second film, however, with Lubitsch, Madame Du Barry/Passion (1919) which proved to be his first masterwork, as well as a crucial film for the German film industry, as it was the first success of the film's co-producers, the newly formed UFA. With Madame Du Barry, Lubitsch became known for an unerring ability to "humanize" sumptuous screen spectacles and costume dramas, to give them the warmth that would endear them to the public. In 1923, Lubitsch's career would enter a new phase when Mary Pickford invited him to Hollywood to direct Rosita.

It was with his next film, The Marriage Circle (1924), inspired by Chaplin's A Woman of Paris, that Lubitsch began to hone his famed "touch." Except for the rare venture into drama (The Patriot 1928, The Man I Killed 1932), Lubitsch came to specialize in the artfully risque sex farce, where raised eyebrows and closed doors meant everything. After the arrival of sound, Lubitsch's ear for shimmering dialogue and exhilarating musical numbers only enhanced his talent. The director's greatest achievements would begin in 1932 with what is probably his masterpiece, the Art Deco wonder Trouble in Paradise, and continue with such delights as Design For Living (1933), The Merry Widow (1934), Angel (1937), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), To Be or Not to Be (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943) and Cluny Brown (1946).

In 1935, Lubitsch was named head of production at Paramount, but his real talent lay in producing and directing motion pictures, not studio administration, and he was relieved of his duties after a year. During production on That Lady in Ermine (1948), he died of a heart attack, and the film was completed by Otto Preminger.

Information provided by TCMdb

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