January 2018, arsenal cinema

Ernst Lubitsch Retrospective (2)


"Earnest? My first name is earnest enough!" Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947) was a master of wittily directed comedies, which still bear his unmistakable hallmark. A playful sense of levity, subtle innuendo, eloquent ellipses, dialogue accentuated via sarcasm, irony, concision, and exact timing are characteristic of the proverbial "Lubitsch Touch". Lubitsch’s sophisticated comedies shaped the style of the social comedy, which connected the discriminating with the popular. The recurring themes of the films were the illusion and the reality of high society, love triangles, and the conventions of bourgeois partnership models. Due to the virtuosity of his directing, the subtle art of leaving things out, and the many ideas communicated indirectly, Lubitsch's sexual allusions were passed by the censors without comment, even after the Hays Code came into force in 1934. Arsenal is continuing its retrospective in January and showing 14 films made between 1918 and 1948, focussing largely on the comedies that he made in Hollywood.

MONTE CARLO (USA 1930, 2.1.) Free-spirited countess Vera von Conti (Jeanette MacDonald) jilts her bridegroom Prince Otto at the alter and flees from the marriage on a train to Monte Carlo, where she gambles away the last of her money in the casino and arouses the attention of the attractive, well-situated Count Rudolph Fallière (Jack Buchanan). As Vera is not to be impressed by wealth and nobility, Rudolph gets close to her as her hairdresser. Ernst Lubitsch’s second sound film, a romantic comedy with musical passages, is a variation on the successful THE LOVE PARADE. As Maurice Chevalier had other film commitments at the time, Lubitsch cast Jack Buchanan as the partner of Jeanette MacDonald.

BROKEN LULLABY / THE MAN I KILLED (USA 1932, 3. & 10.1.) During the First World War, the young Frenchman Paul Renard (Phillips Holmes) kills Walter Hölderlin, a German soldier of the same age, who is unable to finish a love letter to his fiancee Elsa (Nancy Caroll). Overwhelmed by guilt, a year after the Armistice, he goes to Germany to beg forgiveness from Walter’s loved ones. But Paul encounters only distrust and hostility in the village and the house of Walter’s embittered father, Dr. Hölderlin (Lionel Barrymore). It was in 1932 - between four operetta and musical films - that Ernst Lubitsch made one of his most unusual works, a pacifist anti-war drama, which urgently advocated for Franco-German reconciliation and the healing powers of tolerance and love. The narrow-mindedness and resentment in the small German town anticipated the political developments. BROKEN LULLABY was Lubitsch’s last film to be released in German cinemas, two months before the Nazis took power. It was banned in 1933 and the Jewish director had his German citizenship revoked in 1935.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (USA 1942, 4.1., Introduction: Peter Nau & 20.1.) German-occupied Warsaw, 1939: A theater ensemble with two rival stars - the couple Maria and Joseph Tura (Carole Lombard & Jack Benny) - dress up in the costumes intended for an anti-Nazi play called “Gestapo” that they were rehearsing before the war, to lend their support to the Polish resistance and eliminate a double agent. Joseph Tura played the role of his life as “Concentration Camp Erhardt”. The contemporary audience and critics rejected Lubitsch’s lesson about the authoritarian character and criticized the film for its inappropriate approach to the Nazi threat. Today, it is justifiably considered Lubitsch’s masterpiece and one of the best films ever with regard to sheer acting talent.

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (USA 1943, 1. & 5.1.) The bon vivant Henry van Cleve (Don Ameche) is about to turn 70 when he presents himself voluntarily in the reception of Hell, “the place where so many people have sent him.” Satan, a friendly porter, asks him to narrate his life to determine whether he is actually eligible to enter the Underworld. Van Cleve, born into a wealthy family in Manhattan in 1872, tells the story in 11 episodes of a life shaped by his obsession to be successful with women. HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a fairy-tale in warm Technicolor hues with an off-camera narration that Lubitsch later counted among his main works. Cheerful and wistful at once, Lubitsch (working on his penultimate directorial work) looks upon life and his protagonist forgivingly. “It is Lubitsch's "divine comedy," and no one has ever been more gentle or bemused by the weak­nesses of humanity. When the hero of the picture dies be­hind (of course) a closed door, Lubitsch's camera slowly retreats to take in a ballroom, and an old waltz the man loved begins to play, and death has no dominion. No other image I can think of more aptly or more movingly conveys Lubitsch's generosity or tolerance: the man has died – long live man.” (Peter Bogdanovich)

CLUNY BROWN (USA 1946, 6. & 31.1.) “The last (and perhaps most clever, but at the same time most unknown) of Ernst Lubitsch’s great comedies depicts Britain’s moribund class society shortly before the outbreak of war, in the summer of ‘39: Everything and everyone have their place, as determined by birth. Both aristocrats and domestics agree on this. Politics has no place here! Lord (Reginald Owen) and Lady Carmel consider Adolf Hitler a man who has written a book about life in nature - My Camp. The Czech refugee Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer) and the imaginative plumber Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) appear on the scene, to unblock this social milieu, with cheek, freedom and a great love.” (Christoph Huber)

THAT LADY IN ERMINE (USA 1948, 5. & 6.1.) In 1861, in a castle in the mini-state of Bergamo, the wedding night of Countess Angelina (Betty Grable) and Baron Mario  (Cesar Romero) is interrupted by news that hostile Hungarian Hussars are approaching. Mario goes off to get help from his troops. So when the Hungarian colonel (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) arrives, he only finds the beguiling countess and the staff. Inspired by the Austrian operetta “Die Frau im Hermelin” and in the planning since 1942, the film was supposed to be Lubitsch’s first Technicolor musical. But it had only been half shot when he died of a heart attack on 30th November 1947. Otto Preminger finished the film but refused to be named in the credits.

MADAME DUBARRY (G 1919, 17.1., on piano: Eunice Martins) depicts the rise and fall of a milliner’s assistant against the backdrop of the French Revolution: Jeanne (Pola Negri) leaves her lover, the student Armand (Harry Liedtke), to become the mistress of Louis XV (Emil Jannings) and one of the most important women in the country. After the Revolution, Armand as the chairman of the popular court, has to judge her. Although the production was extremely lavish, the monumental film is not operatic and dominated by grand gestures and colossal buildings, but instead defined by individually depicted characters with their human weaknesses. MADAME DUBARRY was the most expensive German production to date and the first to be screened in the US after the First World War. Lubitsch’s first global success opened a door for him to Hollywood and to German cinema to the US market. The film also launched the international careers of Pola Negri and Emil Jannings.

DIE AUSTERNPRINZESSIN (The Oyster Princess, G 1919, 30.1., Introduction: Erica Carter, on piano: Eunice Martins) Ossi (Ossi Oswalda), the bad-tempered daughter of the American billionaire and oyster king Mr. Quaker (Victor Janson) has a tantrum and ransacks the room when she finds out that the daughter of shoe cream king Mr Blackpott is to marry a count. To calm her down, Mr Quaker orders the matchmaker Seligsohn to find a prince who is willing to marry her as soon as possible, so that the shoe cream king’s daughter can be out-trumped. Seligsohn chooses the poor and indebted Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke). “Lubitsch’s Dada film” (Herbert Spaich) is a wild and unfettered grotesque film, in which the couple travels to the wedding ceremony in a carriage drawn by 10 horses and employs 300 waiters to attend to the wedding meal. There is one waiter per person per course. The scorching highlight is a scene, in which all the wedding guests, and the kitchen domestics laden with trays, are befallen with a fever for foxtrot, played furiously by a large orchestra. The film was an early highlight and in retrospect, Lubitsch viewed it as his first attempt to expand comedy through satirical excess, considering it one of his three best German comedies.

DER FALL ROSENTOPF (G 1918, 30.1.) Before the screening, we will show a fragment from a film that until recently had been considered lost. It was digitalized in 2017 by the German Federal Archive Film Archive. In scenes from the first and second acts, Ernst Lubitsch himself appears as the detective’s assistant Sally. The pensioner Klingelmann charges him with finding out who threw a flower pot at him in the Kaiserstraße. The investigation leads to the dancer Bella Spaketti (Trude Hesterberg), who raises suspicion because of some particularly lush flowers on the balcony.

FORBIDDEN PARADISE (USA 1924, 9.1., on piano: Eunice Martins) In an imaginary Russia, Czarina Catherine (Pola Negri) neglects her official duties in favor of her many lovers and leaves governing to the chancellor (Adolphe Menjou). When Lieutenant Alexei Czerny (Rod La Rocque), who is engaged to her chambermaid, warns her of an officers’ rebellion (and one of former lovers), he is promoted to be captain of her bodyguards. He turns out to be extremely naive, awkward and scrupulous with regard to her sexual advances. The only cooperation with Pola Negri after Lubitsch started working in the US is a comedy of astounding visuals and subtle humor that makes fun of the military, revolution and certain forms of masculinity. In 1945, Lubitsch produced a remake of the film A ROYAL SCANDAL.

A ROYAL SCANDAL (Otto Preminger, USA 1945, 7. & 24.1.) While Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead) promotes her new lover Alexei from lieutenant to captain, major and general, her chancellor (Charles Coburn) attempts to keep in check rebelling officers so as not to endanger peace with France. Lubitsch wanted to direct the remake of FORBIDDEN PARADISE himself but had to let Preminger do so for health reasons. The two worked together on the final version of the screenplay and the production. The credits talk of “Ernst Lubitsch’s A ROYAL SCANDAL“. The first image shows one of the famous Lubitsch doors, under which a list of participants is passed; it features an illustrious flock of supporting actors, including Mischa Auer, Anne Baxter, Vincent Price, Sig Rumann.

SO THIS IS PARIS (USA 1926, 11.1., on piano: Eunice Martins) The last of five social satires that Lubitsch made for Warner Bros. between 1924 and 1926 was one of his most frivolous films: A turbulent comedy about love affairs and the tension between passion and “home sweet home”. The highlight is a fast-paced Charleston competition that imparts a graphic impression of the Roaring Twenties. “In a long sequence of wild long shots and details of women’s legs, champagne bottles, faces of black musicians and sparkling instruments, Lubitsch does the Charleston with pictures.” (Claudia Lenssen)

DESIRE (Frank Borzage, USA 1936, 27.1.) In Paris, the elegant jewel thief Madeleine de Beaupré (Marlene Dietrich) steals a two-million franc pearl necklace worth that she intends to bring to her accomplice in San Sebastián. To smuggle it across the Franco-Spanish border, she slides it into the jacket pocket of the ingenuous vacationer Tom Bradley (Gary Cooper), after he helps her to fix her car. They of course get closer when she tries to retrieve it… DESIRE was Marlene Dietrich’s first film after separating from Josef von Sternberg and Lubitsch’s last involvement in a romantic gangster comedy. He worked on the screenplay and also as producer and artistic director.

BLUEBEARD’S EIGHTH WIFE (USA 1938, 27.1.) A foray into the screwball genre: Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper), a principled millionaire on the French Riviera doesn’t understand why he also has to also buy a pair of pajama trouser bottoms since he only ever wears pajama jackets. When an argument about this predicament threatens to escalate, a young woman (Claudette Colbert) turns up and she only wants the trousers. Brandon immediately falls in love. So much so that he wants to marry her, even if this means entering an eighth marriage and having to put up with the bankrupt Marquis de Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton) who has many times tried to enlist him as a business partner, as his father-in-law. (hjf)

arsenal cinema: Ernst Lubitsch Retrospective (2)

07:00 pm Cinema 1

That Lady in Ermine

That Lady in Ermine Ernst Lubitsch USA 1948
With Betty Grable, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
35 mm OV 89 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
Improvisation in Film

08:00 pm Cinema 2

Opening Night

*Opening Night John Cassavetes USA 1977
With Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara
35 mm OV/GeS 144 min

arsenal cinema: Ernst Lubitsch Retrospective (2)

09:00 pm Cinema 1

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait USA 1943
With Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn
35 mm OV with Spanish ST 112 min