Max Ophüls


Director, Screenwriter
Max Ophüls

About

Also Known As
Max Opuls, Max Oppenheimer
Birth Place
Germany
Born
May 06, 1902
Died
March 26, 1957
Cause of Death
Rheumatic Heart Condition

Biography

Much of Max Ophuls' life was spent dealing with a series of adverse experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany, forced eviction from two countries, unemployment in America, innumerable terminated projects, limited distribution of his pictures, and lack of critical appreciation in his lifetime. However, Ophuls persevered and drew strength from this adversity. In his 25 years of filmmaking h...

Family & Companions

Hilde Wall
Wife
Actor. Married in 1926.

Bibliography

"Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios"
Lutz Bacher, Rutgers University Press (1997)
"The Cinema of Max Ophuls"
Susan White

Biography

Much of Max Ophuls' life was spent dealing with a series of adverse experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany, forced eviction from two countries, unemployment in America, innumerable terminated projects, limited distribution of his pictures, and lack of critical appreciation in his lifetime. However, Ophuls persevered and drew strength from this adversity. In his 25 years of filmmaking he completed 22 films, at least a third of which are now considered masterpieces, and Ophuls has finally been recognized as one of the great directors.

Following an unsuccessful career as a stage actor, Ophuls began directing plays in 1923 and directed his first film in 1930. Four more films followed in the next two years, of which "Liebelei" (1932) is the most important, not least because it foreshadows so much of his later stylistic signature and thematic preoccupations. Ophuls left Nazi Germany for Paris in 1933 and became a French citizen five years later. Between 1933 and 1940 Ophuls directed 10 feature-length films in France, Italy and Holland. "La Signora di Tutti" (1934) is the most notable of these.

With the fall of France in 1940, Ophuls and his family fled to Switzerland. A dispute with the Swiss government over his status in France resulted in termination of a film project and his expulsion from Switzerland. Ophuls eventually arrived in Hollywood in 1941.

Ophuls was unemployed until 1946, when Preston Sturges, impressed by "Liebelei," arranged for him to direct "Vendetta" for RKO. However, disagreements with Sturges caused Ophuls' early removal. He then directed four more films in America for different studios: "The Exile" (1947) and his American masterpieces: the romantic drama "Letter from an Unknown Woman" (1948), and the two films noirs, "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment" (both 1949).

Ophuls then returned to France and maintained a remarkably high artistic standard with his last four films: "La Ronde" (1950), "Le Plaisir" (1951), "Madame de..." (1953), and his last film, and arguably his greatest, "Lola Montes" (1955). He died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in Hamburg.

Ophuls' reputation rests on both his choice of subject matter and its presentation. Many of his pictures take place in "fin-de-siecle" Vienna. Against this historical and cultural background, Ophuls focused on women in love. However, this love is neither sweet nor romantic but fraught with unhappiness, obsession, betrayal, male mistreatment and exploitation, misfortune and tragedy. All of this unfolds in an environment of opulent and luxurious decor: palatial buildings containing ornate furnishings, chandeliers, staircases and mirrors. (Even his three American films have the same feel as his European work: "Letter From an Unknown Woman" has the same setting, while "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment" are contemporary treatments of the same themes set in America.)

Technically, an Ophuls film is characterized by its extremely detailed mise-en-scene and complex, dramatic camerawork. Widely hailed as one of the greatest masters of camera movement in the history of cinema, Ophuls made films which emphasizes fluidity and motion, often thematically based on conceptions of the circle, accomplished by masterful use of framing, lighting, tilts, tracking shots, crane shots and pan shots. The effect of this inseparable fusion of content and style is to produce an intensely personal and emotional encounter which transports the viewer to a timeless world in which basic human experiences, feelings, emotions and states of mind are compellingly presented with an uncompromising sense of irony and a richly symbolic, self-reflexive insight.

Life Events

1930

Directed first film, "I'd Rather Have Cod Liver Oil"

1932

First breakthrough film, "Liebelei"

1934

Directed his one Italian film, "La Signora di Tutti/Everybody's Woman"

1941

Moved to the USA

1947

Directed first US film, "The Exile"

1949

Directed last of four US films, "The Reckless Moment"

1950

Established his home base in France; achieved new levels of prestige and clout beginning with the first of his last four films made there, "La Ronde"

1955

Last film, "Lola Montes"

Photo Collections

Caught - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Caught (1949), starring James Mason and Barbara Bel Geddes. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Lola Montes (1955) - Femme Fatale Wild spectacle with Peter Ustinov (as "Circus Master") in perfect French, introducing the central motif and the title character (Martine Carol), opening Max Ophuls' Lola Montes, 1955.
Le Plaisir (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) - A Kind Of Aristocracy From the beginning of the second and longest segment of the film, introducing Rosa (Danielle Darrieux) and colleagues at the brothel, in Marcel Ophuls' Le Plaisir, (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) 1952.
Le Plaisir (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) - Youth And Sardines From the narrating voice of the original author Guy de Maupassant, the introduction of the painter Jean (Daniel Gelin) and model Josephine (Simone Simon), in the third segment of director Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir, (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) 1952.
Le Plaisir (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) - And Above All, Girls After the prologue, the opening in the voice of author Guy de Maupassant, in the first segment, with incredible shots, from director Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir, (a.k.a. House Of Pleasure) 1952.
La Ronde (1950) - Lads Like You Streetwalker Leocadie (Simone Signoret) waylays soldier Franz (Serge Reggiani), in the first dramatic scene from director Max Ophuls' La Ronde, 1950, from a play by Arthur Schnitzler.
La Ronde (1950) - Anyone Among You Opening scene, in one shot, from director Max Ophuls' celebrated La Ronde, 1950, in which Anton Walbrook (as "the raconteur") introduces himself, the carousel, and briefly Simone Signoret as "Leocadie."
La Ronde (1950) - But Behave Yourself! Soldier Franz (Serge Reggiani) has made it to the dance where we meet Marie, the housemaid (Simone Simon), unsure how to treat his advances, in two remarkable shots, in director Max Ophuls' La Ronde, 1950.
Earrings of Madame De..., The (1954) - Opening, Prologue Opening credit sequence and prologue from director Max Ophuls' acclaimed The Earrings of Madame De..., 1954, starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica.
Earrings of Madame De..., The (1954) - I'd Rather Die! In the opening scene, elegance as a signature of director Max Ophuls, the heroine (Danielle Darrieux) talks to herself and the audience in The Earrings of Madame De..., 1954.
Earrings Of Madame De... (1954) - Send Me Your Address In Constantinople Casually terrific scene by director Max Ophuls, nobelman-general Andre (Charles Boyer) scrambles to a Paris station to see off his mistress (Lia De Leo), leaving for unstated reasons, presenting the earrings he bought back from the jeweler to whom his wife secretly sold them, in The Earrings Of Madame De…, 1954.
Earrings of Madame De..., The (1954) - Ask Me If I Have Any Cigars The first two meetings, the first not altogether accidental but unsuccessful, between Baron Donati (Vittorio de Sica), en route to Paris, and Louise (a.k.a. "Madame De...," Danielle Darrieux,) in director Max Ophuls' The Earrings of Madame De..., 1954.
Exile, The (1947) - Are You An Englishman? Exiled English king Charles Stuart (writer and producer Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) at a Dutch market, charmed by flower-girl Katie (Paule Croset, a.k.a Rita Corday), then evading spies from England, early in Max Ophuls' The Exile, 1947.

Family

Marcel Ophuls
Son
Director. Mother Hilde Wall.

Companions

Hilde Wall
Wife
Actor. Married in 1926.

Bibliography

"Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios"
Lutz Bacher, Rutgers University Press (1997)
"The Cinema of Max Ophuls"
Susan White