Ernst Lubitsch – Broken Lullaby (1932)


From the AFI Catalog:

After World War I, Frenchman Paul Renard is haunted by the memory of Walter Holderlin, a German soldier he killed in the heat of battle. Having read and signed Walter’s last letter and memorized his home address, Paul goes to Germany to confess his deed to the soldier’s family. Anti-French sentiment is strong in Germany and Dr. Holderlin will not suffer Paul’s presence in his home until Walter’s fiancée Elsa recognizes Paul as the man who has been leaving flowers on Walter’s grave. Paul reveals that he knew Walter, but is unable to confess his past, and tells the grateful family he and Walter were friends during the war. Paul and Elsa fall in love and a close bond grows between Paul and the Holderlins, despite the entire town’s disapproval. When Elsa shows Paul Walter’s former bedroom, he is unable to contain himself any longer and confesses the truth to her. Paul also reveals his plans to tell Dr. and Mrs. Holderlin his secret and then leave, but Elsa intervenes and advises him that his confession and departure would deprive the Holderlins of their second “son.” Eventually, Elsa convinces Paul to sacrifice his conscience and stay to make the Holderlins happy. After Paul consents, Dr. Holderlin gives him Walter’s violin to play to Elsa’s accompaniment. Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – The Shop Around the Corner (1940)


The Budapest department store run by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is a happy little society of salesclerks, where assistant manager Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and salesgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) don’t at all see eye to eye. But in secret pen-pal letters they’re madly in love with one another, each hardly guessing who their mysterious secret admirer might be.

The Shop Around the Corner
Ernst Lubitsch is offering some attractive screen merchandise in “The Shop Around the Corner” which opened at the Music Hall yesterday. “Ninotchka” appears to have used up his supply of hearty comedy for the time at least, but his sense of humor is inexhaustible. He has employed it to brighten the shelves where his tidy Continental romance is stored and, among the bric-à-brac, there are several fragile scenes which he is handling with his usual delicacy and charm, assisted by a friendly staff of sales-people who are going under resoundingly Hungarian names, but remind us strangely of Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut. All told, they make “The Shop Around the Corner” a pleasant place to browse in. Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – Als Ich Tot War (1916)



“The most dangerous threat to the happiness of any young married couple, besides matrimony itself, are the mothers-in-law; this terrible feminine lobby, since the dawn of time , has always meddled and tried to disturb the tranquillity of newlyweds and sometimes their evil schemes succeeded in making a contented life impossible for the youngsters.

The great German director, Herr Ernst Lubitsch, captured pretty well these universal mother-in-law treacherous manoeuvres in “Als Ich Tot War” ( When I Was Dead ) (1916) a two-reel silent comedy shown recently at the Schloss theatre.

The film depicts the story of a young married couple ( Herr Ernst Lubitsch himself and Frau Louise Schenrich ) who live in the same apartment with their mother-in-law ( Frau Lanchen Voss ), a terrible mistake. At least if the mother-in-law lives far away, her dangerous intentions require more exertion to work. Herr Ernst likes very much to play chess with his pals at the club, a thrilling sport that will bring him a lot of problems ( that’s what happens when you play such weird games ). One night Herr Ernst arrives home late due to one of those exciting and lengthy chess matches and finds the door to his home locked, forcing him to sleep on the stairs. It is not necessary to say that the party responsible for such an evil act is his mother-in-law who continually uses the long chess matches to poison her daughter’s mind against her husband. She finally succeeds and Frau Luise divorces her mate. Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – Kohlhiesels Töchter AKA Kohlhiesel’s Daughters (1920)


Somewhere in Southern Bavaria Xaver wants to marry Gretel, but her father Kohlhiesel wants his elder daughter Liesel to marry first. The problem is, nobody wants to marry her, because she’s too brutal. Seppel suggests, that he should marry Liesel first, get rid of her and then he can marry Gretel… Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – To Be or Not to Be (1942) (DVD)

Just as Roberto Benigni found himself on the receiving end of some finger-wagging for making a comedy set during the Holocaust, so the great Ernst Lubitsch caught some heat for this extraordinary 1942 satire set behind enemy lines during World War II. In his best performance on film, Jack Benny stars as Joseph Tura, the lead actor and head of a Polish theater troupe that is suddenly enlisted as a Resistance organization when an American pilot (Robert Stack) requires protection. The twist is that the pilot has been having a series of trysts with Tura’s wife (Carole Lombard), the hilarious evidence being the disruptive departure of Stack’s character from a theater audience each night as the hammy Tura unknowingly cues the lovers by launching into Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. The remarkable script by Edwin Justus Mayer ingeniously folds the tensions of a betrayed marriage into the comic suspense surrounding Tura and company’s efforts to pull off a Mission: Impossible-like sting on the local Nazi command. Many unforgettable moments and lines of dialogue adorn this black comedy, and the performances–most memorably Sig Ruman’s crisp volleys with Benny–are a dream. Above it all, however, is Lubitsch’s unmistakable Continentalism, his accent on Old World manners especially in a dangerous situation, suggesting the Nazis’ very vulgarity was a reflection of their profound evil. –Tom Keogh Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – Madame DuBarry aka Passion (1919)


In 1919, before Ernst Lubitsch was known for his famous “touch,” the master director made something like nine films–a perfect opportunity for an artist to really practice his craft. Even he had to start somewhere.

Madame du Barry was retitled Passion to avoid the anti-German sentiment after World War I. Even though it was a French title and a French story, in Europe the movie was connected to the German director Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch’s name appeared nowhere in the American posters or movie titles so the movie wouldn’t bomb in America.

The great German actress Pola Negri plays the title character, a poor seamstress who becomes the courtesan of King Louis XV (Emil Jannings), and forces him to promote her secret lover to lieutenant in the royal guard so that he will be close to her. The story ends in tragedy for the lovers, but also a Bastille Day triumph. Continue reading