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June 16 – September 1, 2017

That Certain Feeling... The Touch of Ernst Lubitsch

Tales of exiled European filmmakers arriving in Hollywood to rattle the walls of the film industry abound throughout history, from the leftist dissidents who faced institutional scrutiny for critiquing American Dream mythology (Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer, William Dieterle) to the exotic visionaries waging their idiosyncratic temperaments within established and sometimes disreputable genres (Fritz Lang, Josef Von Sternberg, Max Ophüls). Far rarer were the émigrés who not only set the groundwork for entire genres, but also managed to command near-universal respect from peers, audiences and heads of industry in the process. If any figure can be said to have staked this position beyond Alfred Hitchcock, it is the German-born Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947).

Once deemed “the Griffith of Europe,” Lubitsch’s greatest achievements were in fact in the American cinema, where he effectively raised the bar for screen comedy, laid confident steps into the tenuous terrain of the “talkie,” and forged the movie musical from a toolshed of cumbersome equipment and unproven actor-singers. Having worked for each of the major Hollywood studios at various points in his career until his death in 1947, Lubitsch was a figure of supreme industry cachet and high mainstream visibility who nonetheless cultivated what a publicist famously referred to as “The Lubitsch Touch”—that is, a markedly singular brand in a mass-produced medium. In essence, the catchphrase forecasted the later emergence of auteurism as a foundational critical theory used to elevate otherwise unsung studio directors. That it was penned initially for marketing purposes speaks to Lubitsch’s peculiar case as a mainstream artist whose eccentricity was the very substance of his populism.

Born into a working-class family in Berlin in 1892 (a background better reflected in his cigar-chomping, fedora-wearing appearance than in the largely swanky settings of his films), the young Lubitsch waived a stable opportunity at his father’s tailoring business for the brighter prospects of the theatrical world. By his late teens, he had already obtained a position in the Max Reinhardt Company, which would lead to much-loved roles as stereotypical neurotic Jews in early German silent comedies. Understandably disillusioned by this thankless typecast, which was a popular vessel for broad humor at the time, Lubitsch shifted course to directing. His nascent one-reeler efforts, which have since been lost, evidently scored the attentions of financiers and permitted Lubitsch his first collaborations with actors Emil Jannings and Pola Negri, staples of his decade-long pre-American career. His two most popular triumphs from this era, Madame DuBarry and Anna Boleyn,were historical epics that projected an air of respectability that runs counter to the now-popular understanding of Lubitsch, but which nevertheless rocketed the director to international renown.

Ironically, the qualities that Lubitsch was hailed for in these early outings and which earned him his ticket to America—namely, his impressive facility with then-astronomical budgets and enormous casts—tapered off swiftly when the filmmaker migrated to Hollywood. As early as his first job in California, Mary Pickford proclaimed him “a director of doors, not people” after their combative experience on Rosita (1923). The star’s flummoxed characterization refers most specifically to the emphasis in Lubitsch’s mise-en-scene on closed doors concealing implied narrative action, but more generally to his preference for innuendo over direct displays of emotion, manifested by his famously canny sense of offscreen space. Though this style didn’t calcify until the early thirties, it was there in embryo when Lubitsch worked with Pickford, emerging as part of a conscious, ongoing effort on the part of the director to scale back on his productions—a paring-down that naturally led him to the drawing-room comedy as a recurring mode of address.

Crucial to this development was Lubitsch’s six-film deal with Paramount Pictures starting in 1928, which would eventually balloon into over a decade of steady work with the studio and even an unheard-of, albeit fleeting, position as their head of operations. Lubitsch’s early musicals at Paramount—many of which starred grinning Frenchman Maurice Chevalier and gutsy Broadway player Jeanette MacDonald—transcended the constraints of immature sound technology through the sheer comic invention and vitality of their featured performers, but they also shined on the basis of their sustained rebukes to the puritanical morality espoused in contemporaneous Hollywood fare. An avowed skeptic of monogamy and an inheritor of more liberal European understandings of amour, Lubitsch happily infused suggestions of infidelity and carnal passion into romantic tales, initiating a shockwave to a traditional mode of American storytelling and freeing up untold new comic opportunities.

Just as Lubitsch was beginning to push his cosmopolitan sensibilities into ever-riskier places with subversive farces like Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living (both of which humanize and even valorize characters who may have been mere scoundrels in safer productions), a groundswell of cultural conservatives, fueled by Depression anxiety and a fear of foreign influences, pressured Hollywood to enact the restrictive Production Code. However, in a twist of fate (or, as Wilder would call it, a “superjoke”) worthy of a Lubitschean plot, this systemic development ultimately proved a stimulus rather than a roadblock for the director, who thrived on stiff guidelines that would further encourage the uses of insinuation and double entendre. Lubitsch’s grand theme as a filmmaker was the tension between surface formalities and latent urges, and the masterpieces he directed under the Code—a series of seemingly fluffy entertainments that included Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be, and Heaven Can Wait—repeatedly tapped into the tremors that arise when desire contradicts manners.

Prudishness in the face of such tension is the reflex to be avoided in all Lubitsch films, but the director’s signature “touch” always sidestepped condescension in favor of good-humored ribbing. In Design for Living, for instance, a stick-in-the-mud American, played by Edward Everett Horton, remarks, “Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of one-hundred-percent virtue and three square meals a day”—the kind of hyperbolically priggish line delivery that Lubitsch and his longtime screenwriting partner Samson Raphaelson would often bequeath to similar romantic buffoons throughout their oeuvre. Of course, Lubitsch knew that immorality, as defined by Horton’s character, is not only fun but also healthy, and the quintessential Lubitschean protagonists, seen throughout his films sparring in erotically charged two-shots, recognize earthly indulgence as a necessary tonic to the exhaustion of conforming to the seemingly arbitrary conditions governing society. Exploring the canon of American screen comedy, one would be hard-pressed to come upon a great film in which this dilemma is not the structural basis. Lubitsch, the impure eccentric, is the culprit. – Carson Lund 

Co-presented with the Goethe-Institut Boston.

Special thanks: Elspeth Carroll, Bruce Goldstein—Film Forum New York; Elizabeth Lynn Wagner—Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Boston; Carmen Prokopiak, Marcel Steinlein—Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung; Mathias Bollinger, Markus Wessolowski—Deutsches Filminstitut; Todd Wiener, Steven Hill—UCLA Film & Television Archive; Daniel Bish—George Eastman Museum; Lynanne Schweighofer—Library of Congress; Alexander Horwath, Regina Schlagnitweit, Claudia Siefen—Austrian Film Museum; Marleen Labijt—EYE Filmmuseum; Susanne Rocca—Filmarchiv Austria.

Film descriptions by Carson Lund, Karin Kolb, Brittany Gravely and David Pendleton. 


Friday June 16 at 7pm
Saturday August 26 at 9pm

Trouble in Paradise

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 83 min

If the romantic triangle is the quintessential Lubitschean plot device, few films in the director’s career exercise it more rewardingly than Trouble in Paradise. Teaming Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis as high-society swindlers falling in and out of tentative romantic couplings amidst the opulent excesses of Venice and Paris, the film dances around the porous line between fakery and authenticity, exposing romance as an intricate charade rooted in an unspoken undercurrent of sex. Hopkins is the dashing, openhearted pickpocket, Francis is the heiress with enough money to fund her desires, and Marshall is the well-mannered jewel thief with eyes for both of them. Trouble in Paradise sets in motion a chain of trysts involving the members of this trio in which surface-level dramatic ironies—questions of who’s fooling whom with regards to stolen goods, for instance—stand in for the latent energies firing off between the characters, with the seeming plainness of Lubitsch’s shooting style just barely concealing the lustful heat simmering beneath the dialogue. Print courtesy Universal Pictures.

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Saturday June 17 at 7pm
Friday August 18 at 9:30pm

Ninotchka

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire
US 1939, 35mm, b/w, 110 min

A poignant comedy of sexual and political tensions, Ninotchka teamed Lubitsch with up-and-coming screenwriter Billy Wilder behind the camera and Greta Garbo in front, with MGM’s big selling point being the indoctrination of the famously sultry star into the realm of farce. Garbo plays the joyless Comrade “Ninotchka” Yakushova, a walking parody of Soviet rigidity dispatched to swinging Paris to facilitate a jewelry sale. There, she meets her comic and romantic foil, the suave, pleasure-seeking Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). While the film’s central dialectic of communism and capitalism manifests itself initially as broad satire in which Ninotchka is steadily educated on the spiritual benefits of loosening up (a thread that results in the greatest laughing fit in film history), Lubitsch gradually unveils richer shades in the scenario. The freethinking glamour of prewar Paris is shown to also be home to various displays of vanity and callousness, while a third act relocation to Ninotchka’s motherland illuminates the solidarity and companionship blossoming within gloomy Moscow flats. And as the film’s perspective expands, the humor darkens, touching on such extra-diegetic horrors as executions for civil disobedience, censorship and even the fast-encroaching stench of Nazism.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Sunday June 18 at 7pm

Shoe Palace Pinkus
(Schuhpalast Pinkus)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Guido Herzfeld, Else Kenter, Ernst Lubitsch
Germany 1916, 35mm, b/w, silent, 60 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

After only a few short films, Lubitsch quickly graduated to directing his first featurette and starring as young Sally Pinkus, a narcissistic prankster and terrible student whose mischievous—and often sexually motivated—antics finally pay off in the retail world. As a manipulative salesman and corporate ladder-climber, Lubitsch animates his shoe store adventures with a witty, renegade, slapstick exuberance that would eventually be drawn with much finer strokes in his later work. While many have criticized this cycle for its reliance on Jewish stereotypes to entertain, others have noted a more complicated, subversive take on the perception of Berlin’s Jewish population: on the one hand, as assimilated, successful merchants, and on the other, as deviant outsiders. Lubitsch synthesizes both in the film’s sly ending. Print courtesy Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung.

Meyer From Berlin
(Meyer aus Berlin)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ernst Lubitsch, Ethel Orff, Heinz Landsmann
Germany 1919, 35mm, b/w, silent, 58 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

By this time a successful director in Germany, Lubitsch alternated between blunt comic farce and elegant drama, a manic output perhaps reflecting the deepening chaos and upheaval in Berlin. Another in the Lubitsch’s series of “Sally” films, Meyer From Berlin is a comic relative of sorts to von Stroheim’s Blind Husbands, released the same year in the US. Like von Stroheim, Lubitsch also stars as a wayward lothario at a mountain resort, but in his case using jokes and goofy antics to try to seduce a married woman before her husband or his wife catch on. Sally Meyer’s foolish charms are also unwittingly aided by his mistaking the Austrian Alps for the Bavarian, so he remains confidently mis-attired in Lederhosen and an absurdly tall feather in his Tyrolian hat throughout the chase. From the collection of EYE Filmmuseum.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Monday June 19 at 7pm

Madame DuBarry

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Harry Liedtke
Germany 1919, DCP, b/w, silent, 114 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Despite historian Siegfried Kracauer’s pithy critique of this film (“the story’s contempt for historic facts is matched only by its disregard for their meaning.”), Madame DuBarry was the film that ended the American embargo on German cinema following World War I and, as such, launched a “German invasion” that would radically transform American moviemaking. Retitled Passion to bolster its star’s appeal, the film focuses on the romantic and political intrigues that reverberated throughout the court of Louis XV and reimagines the origins of the French Revolution in the libidinous shifts of fortune of Madame DuBarry, mistress to the king. What Lubitsch sacrificed in authenticity, he readily made up for in spectacle—with his stunning sets, elaborate costumes and props, and leviathan crowd scenes replete with 5,000 extras. Print courtesy Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung.

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Friday June 23 at 9pm

That Uncertain Feeling

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Merle Oberon, Melvyn Douglas, Burgess Meredith
US 1941, 35mm, b/w, 84 min

Released between two of Lubitsch’s most politically loaded, arsenic-laced entertainments (Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be), That Uncertain Feeling is distinguished by its unapologetic silliness. As a modest rehash of the comedy of remarriage genre, the film’s ludicrous plot hijinks point not to troubling global realities but to the timeless perplexities of the heart. The subject of study is Jill Baker (Merle Oberon), a married woman who begins attending therapy sessions to address her sleeping problems but recoils when her shrink chalks it up to marital woes. When Jill falls for an eccentric fellow patient, the painter Alexander Sebastian (Burgess Meredith), she impulsively files for divorce from husband Larry (Melvyn Douglas), and the story then charts the pair’s inevitable reunion. Featuring several inspired uses of offscreen space, a sustained send-up of the modern art scene, and a knockout bit in which Larry swigs several glasses of brandy in order to execute a phony altercation with Jill for legal purposes, That Uncertain Feeling is a riotous late-career softball from Lubitsch, though its largely unfavorable reviews kept it from enjoying the same widespread exhibition as the filmmaker’s more ambitious productions in the early 40s. From the collection of Filmmuseum Austria.

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Saturday June 24 at 7pm

The Love Parade

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Lupino Lane
US 1929, 35mm, b/w, 110 min

Lubitsch’s first musical is a lively affair replete with singing aristocrats, extravagantly dressed dames and lavish scenery, a formula that would soon prove immensely popular for Paramount during the depression years. The Love Parade pairs then-up-and-coming Parisian oddball Maurice Chevalier and Philadelphia newcomer Jeanette MacDonald as the royal lovers of Sylvania, an imaginary kingdom of European decadence, and the actor-singers skillfully transcend the limitations of the technology recording them, capable as it was of only fixed setups during musical performances. Never one to let things go stale, Lubitsch pairs these stiffer presentations with bits of kinetic slapstick in a subplot featuring servants played by Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane, the latter of whom channels silent comedians in his terminal inability to stay upright. By turns crass and refined, acerbic and romantic, The Love Parade set the tempo and tone for years of Paramount talkies to come and made Lubitsch the studio’s prize quantity. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Sunday June 25 at 7pm

The Doll

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ossi Oswalda, Hermann Thimig, Victor Janson
Germany 1919, 35mm, b/w, silent, 58 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Already evincing elements of the “Lubitsch touch,” The Doll proved to be yet another enormous success in Germany. Unwilling to marry just to inherit his uncle’s estate, Prince Lancelot flees to a monastery where financially ailing monks devise a plan to make everyone happy. One trip to a dollmaker and an ersatz wedding later, Lancelot brings his mechanical bride—a playfully robotic Ossi Oswalda—back to the friary. Obviously enjoying working within a stylized fairytale world of cardboard backdrops, men in horse costumes and stop-motion animation, Lubitsch himself regarded The Doll as one of his most imaginative films. It will be screened here as a tinted and restored 35mm print from Filmarchiv Austria.

I Don’t Want to Be a Man
(Ich möchte kein Mann sein)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ossi Oswalda, Kurt Götz, Margarete Kupfer
Germany 1918, 35mm, b/w, silent, 44 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

An eye-opening early comedy of sexual identity showcases Lubitsch’s witty direction of actors. “The German Mary Pickford,” Ossi Oswalda, plays a teenage tomboy in one of her first major Lubitsch roles. Her unladylike indulgence in drinking, smoking and playing poker results in the appointment of a legal guardian, the attractive Dr. Kersten. Rather than submit to new rules, she simply dons convincing drag, and soon the two “men” are smoking cigars, drinking and getting a little too cozy in the back seat of a cab. I Don’t Want to be a Man is an unjustly neglected short film Lubitsch made right before directing his first feature, The Eyes of the Mummy. Print courtesy Deutsches Filminstitut.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Monday June 26 at 7pm

Kohlhiesel’s Daughters (Kohlhiesels Töchter)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Henny Porten, Emil Jannings, Gustav von Wangenheim
Germany 1920, 35mm, b/w, silent, 64 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Lubitsch’s successes in 1919 with The Oyster Princess, Madame DuBarry and The Doll earned him carte blanche with the studio, so he made two comedies in a row—his so-called “winter films”—supposedly in order to combine skiing with work. Both based on Shakespearean plays, the first relocates The Taming of the Shrew from Italy to Southern Germany. Mathias Kohlhiesel must marry off his cloddish daughter Liesel before he can allow his beautiful and popular daughter Gretel to wed. Peter and Paul, Gretel’s admirers, are equally interested in a speedy marriage for Liesel, and therefore attempt to convince each other of her charms. While Lubitsch’s iconic finesse is missing, this slapstick film was nevertheless an audience favorite. One of Germany’s superstars at the time, Henny Porten, playing the dual role of Liesel and Gretel, may help explain that. Print courtesy Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Friday June 30 at 7pm

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ronald Colman, Irene Rich, May McAvoy
US 1925, 35mm, b/w, silent, 90 min

Among the finest of Lubitsch’s American films of the silent era, Lady Windermere’s Fan is a sophisticated adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play that injects the Lubitsch touch into the classic comedy of manners. Set in the upper-crust world of London’s Mayfair, the story revolves around the pampered wife of a British lord who faces “a grave problem”: finalizing the seating chart for the guests at her dinner party. The world manages to intrude upon Lady Windermere in the form of a would-be suitor (a young, dashing Ronald Colman), a déclassé widow, and the gossip that such society seems to heap upon its own. In a pre-Academy Award era, Lubitsch had to content himself with the film’s emergence on the list of the “Top Ten Films of 1925.” It is also, notably, the first film to have screened at the HFA, in 1979. 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Saturday July 1 at 9:30pm

If I Had a Million

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, et al. With Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 83 min

The whole production overseen by Lubitsch, this omnibus film features an array of talent both behind and before the camera. Using the framing device of a dying millionaire who selects random people from the phone book to benefit from his fortune, the film presents each of their stories—many of which take on social and economic inequality either in comic or dramatic terms. In Lubitsch’s segment, “The Clerk” with Charles Laughton, the director covers these concerns precisely and succinctly. Attacking several systematic social ills in only two minutes, Lubitsch’s nearly silent response cuts to the chase with visual eloquence to deliver its point. Other highlights include the  “Road Hog” episode—directed by Norman Taurog and written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz—featuring rising star W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as good-natured menaces of the road, and Stephen Roberts’ unexpectedly poignant “Violet”—also penned by Mankiewicz—in which a prostitute is one of the millionaire’s beneficiaries.

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Sunday July 2 at 5pm

Broken Lullaby
AKA The Man I Killed

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Lionel Barrymore, Nancy Carroll, Phillips Holmes
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 77 min

Broken Lullaby is a remarkable film in Lubitsch’s oeuvre. Not only is it his only drama from the sound era, but it came at a time when he had become the leading director in Hollywood due to his costume romances and titillating musicals. Far from all that, Broken Lullaby is a moving antiwar melodrama made at the end of the studios’ cycle of World War I films. It tells the story of a young Frenchman so haunted by the thought of a German soldier he killed in combat that, after the war, he seeks out the dead man’s parents and searches for the courage to tell them his secret. The film failed at the box office and remains underappreciated by those who see Lubitsch only as a glittering sophisticate, but it remains eloquent testimony to the filmmaker’s complete vision of both filmmaking and the human condition.

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Friday July 7 at 7pm

Design For Living

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper
US 1933, 35mm, b/w, 90 min

Completed a year prior to the implementation of the Production Code but later banned by the Legion of Decency, Design for Living is at once a testament to the subversive ingenuity of Lubitsch’s thirties output and a good indicator of the limits of what was considered acceptable during the period. The film stars Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins as participants in a ménage à trois in Paris, albeit one predicated upon a sexless “gentlemen’s agreement”—at least at first. As Hopkins’ witty ad-girl shacks up with her beloved American artists (the former a painter, the latter a playwright) to the disturbance of her priggish suitor (Edward Everett Horton), passions flare up in multiple, competing directions, but the film ultimately builds towards an endorsement of this adult arrangement rather than a moralistic depiction of its unraveling. Doused in innuendo-laden dialogue courtesy of Ben Hecht and Noël Coward, unfolding in erotically charged group framings, and culminating in a hilarious slow-burn set piece at a high-society party, Design for Living skewers sacrosanct ideas of love and monogamy with precisely the sort of devilish delicacy for which Lubitsch was renowned.

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Saturday July 8 at 9:30pm

One Hour With You

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Roland Young
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 80 min

“Nobody can be held responsible for his actions,” says one character towards the end of One Hour With You, summarizing the subversive moral compass of this joyous ode to promiscuity. Originally helmed by a fledgling George Cukor but then taken over by Lubitsch with the endorsement of Paramount, the film casts a jaundiced eye on the sacraments of marriage and fidelity by setting in motion an exuberant love quadrangle and delighting in the resulting crisscrosses of affection and libido. Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald play happily wedded lovers first seen necking in a moonlit public park, a rude police flashlight doing little to daunt their passion. As each embarks on their own extramarital affair, however, questions are raised about their commitment—that is, until one remembers that this is a Lubitsch film, where an air of friskiness permeates polite society and characters are seldom resigned to an inflexible code of ethics. Lubitsch was recovering from a divorce at the time, making it tempting to read the film’s ecstatic celebration of polygamy, expressed through Chevalier’s flamboyant direct-to-camera addresses, as a therapeutic act on the director’s part.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Sunday July 9 at 7pm

So This is Paris

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Monte Blue, Patsy Ruth Miller, Lilyan Tashman
US 1926, 35mm, b/w, silent, 80 min

From the very opening scenes, Lubitsch cleverly toys with visual representation and audience expectation as reality and fantasy crisscross in a comic, primal love quadrangle among the cultivated and wealthy. Filled with early indicators of the infamous Lubitsch touch—deceptive guises, traded identities, delicate suggestion and innuendo—that assumes a sophisticated audience who want to participate as much as consume. Here, the director adds to the mental and physical kinetics with surreal animations and a phenomenally kaleidoscopic, avant-garde dance sequence. Preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Monday July 10 at 7pm

When I Was Dead
(Als ich tot war)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ernst Lubitsch, Helene Voß, Louise Schenrich
Germany 1916, 35mm, b/w, silent, 40 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Starring Lubitsch himself in the lead role, this marital farce unfolds at a breathtaking pace. He plays a young husband who, after a long night out playing chess, is kicked out by his wife and her unpleasant mother. Assumed dead after the discovery of a suicide note, he reappears in disguise when his mother-in-law and “widow” hire a new butler. Though rudimentary compared to the marriage comedies he would make in even just a few years, When I Was Dead is now treasured as one of Lubitsch’s earliest extant works. It was believed to be a lost film until, in 1994, a print was found at the Slovenian Cinematheque in Ljubljana.

The Pride of the Firm
(Der Stolz der Firma)

Directed by Carl Wilhelm. With Ernst Lubitsch, Martha Kriwitz, Victor Arnold
Germany 1914, 35mm, b/w, 47 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

While Lubitsch’s first screen appearance in the hit comedy The Perfect Sixty-Six (1914) is unfortunately lost, his second collaboration with director Carl Wilhelm survived. The quickly made sequel—subtitled The Story of an Apprentice—develops a screen persona that made Lubitsch as popular in Germany as Max Linder in France or Harold Lloyd in the US: his presumably Jewish antihero, a country boy, rises to success in the big city—usually by marrying the daughter of the clothing store owner. Notable in The Pride of the Firm is the before-and-after shot wherein the old and the new Siegmund Lachmann—the country boy and the suave businessman—are both greeting and talking to the audience.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Saturday July 15 at 7pm

Carmen AKA Gypsy Blood

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke, Leopold von Ledebur
Germany 1918, 35mm, b/w, silent, 80 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Lubitsch's straightforward—if risqué—adaptation of the nineteenth-century Prosper Mérimée story was his second Grossfilm, this one meant as a vehicle for Pola Negri. Starring as the spectacularly wanton Carmen, Negri ignites what remains an extraordinary role for a woman on the silent screen. Luring Don José Navarro—played by Lubitsch regular Harry Liedtke—into dishonor and finally bringing about her own death, Carmen did succeed in launching the bewitching Negri into stardom. A wildly popular, unprecedented hit in Germany, the film was finally released in the US in 1921 under the title Gypsy Blood, whereupon it became Lubitsch’s first worldwide success.

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Sunday July 16 at 7pm

Heaven Can Wait

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn
US 1943, 35mm, color, 112 min

Lubitsch’s one foray into Technicolor was this wistful picaresque about the life of Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), a charming rake from the New York aristocracy. Playfully framed by Henry’s trip to a purgatorial waiting room, where a dapper Satan allows his potential tenant a chance to be redeemed, Heaven Can Wait unfolds as one sustained after-death remembrance. In doing so, it approximates the texture of memory, with Lubitsch lingering on momentous events, like young Henry’s impromptu marriage to Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney), and delicately eliding the more painful memories, as in a late ellipsis implying a major character’s death that counts among the director’s most poignant sleights of hand. Pensive as the film may be in its totality, however, it is wonderfully light and bawdy in the moment, with terrific supporting turns by Charles Coburn and Eugene Pallette as temperamental patriarchs, a teasing script that nods to Henry’s never-waning desire without needing to depict his erotic escapades, and a formidable show of the new color technology, which puts a festive shimmer on Lubitsch’s characteristically extravagant sets.

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Monday July 17 at 7pm

The Smiling Lieutenant

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins
US 1931, 35mm, b/w, 88 min

In an alternate prewar universe where marrying Americans is unthinkable sacrilege and fellow soldiers sing to one another of their carnal desires, a libidinous lieutenant from Austria (Maurice Chevalier) casually winks at the prudish princess (Miriam Hopkins) of neighboring country Flausenthurm and unwittingly seals the deal on a marriage. Rather than scold him for unfaithfulness, however, the lieutenant’s charismatic violinist girlfriend (Claudette Colbert) befriends her competition and offers an education on sexual desirability, which includes the instruction to “jazz up your lingerie.” This is the mischievous world of The Smiling Lieutenant, among the most startling of Lubitsch’s pre-Code farces. Though grieving from his mother’s death during the shoot, Chevalier turns in one of his sprightliest performances as the Vienna ladies’ man with a preternatural knack for nonverbal flirtation, but the film’s real appeal is the contrasting energies of Colbert and Hopkins, which collide in a third-act piano duet that features such evocative Lubitschian imagery as a shot of stuffy undergarments going up in flames to signify the extinguishing of puritanism.

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Friday July 21 at 7pm

Monte Carlo

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Jack Buchanan, Jeanette MacDonald, Claud Allister
US 1930, 35mm, b/w, 90 min

Absent the charms of Chevalier for his second Paramount feature (the rapidly blossoming star was busy with other projects at the time), Lubitsch turned to Broadway veteran Jack Buchanan for a coveted place alongside Jeanette MacDonald in Monte Carlo. The resulting chemistry is less immediate than in The Love Parade, but Lubitsch compensates for this deficit with a surfeit of musical numbers, each a gleaming showcase for MacDonald’s impeccable soprano and unrepressed body language. Juxtaposing stuffy operettas with bustling gambling halls and glittering boudoirs with the rolling hills of the French countryside, Monte Carlo spins a yarn about the simultaneous imprisonment and seduction of prosperity, centered on MacDonald as a sought-after countess who would rather feel the thrill of a craps table than resign to a life alongside the decadent Duke Otto (Claude Allister). Buchanan plays the shrewd and attractive count who tricks her into thinking he’s a mere hairdresser, a scenario that Lubitsch, playing up the fabricated class friction, mines for urbane romantic comedy.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Sunday July 23 at 7pm

The Eyes of the Mummy
(Die Augen der Mumie Ma)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Harry Liedtke
Germany 1918, 35mm, b/w, silent, 64 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

After the success of Lubitsch’s comedies, UFA allotted bigger budgets to the director in order to compete with Hollywood. In his first feature, Lubitsch mixes a little horror, exoticism, violence and suspense in with his melodramatic romantic triangle. He reunited The Merry Jail’s Liedtke and Jannings, and employed, for the first time, the successful stage actress Pola Negri—who would make eight films with the director and who provides one of the film’s highlights, a marvelous dance sequence. A popular and critical success, The Eyes of the Mummy—along with Carmen—were the films that ultimately paved the director’s path to Hollywood.

The Flame (Die Flamme) – fragment

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Pola Negri, Hermann Thimig, Alfred Abel
Germany 1923, 35mm, b/w, silent, 43 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Only fragments survive of The Flame (aka Monmartre), Lubitsch’s last German film, in which Pola Negri’s shady Yvette marries André, a naïve young composer, against his mother’s will. André’s friend tries to help his mother break up the marriage and secure a new mistress as part of the bargain. Detouring from the epic historical dramas with what Lubitsch called a “small, intimate Kammerspiel,” The Flame exhibits some of his first elegantly edited sequences, using the subtle, wordless details and symbolism that he would tenderly hone in his later films. By the time The Flame premiered in 1923, Lubitsch and Negri had already arrived in Hollywood.

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Friday July 28 at 9pm

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton
US 1938, 35mm, b/w, 80 min

Lubitsch’s last film for Paramount came on the heels of the failure of Angel and the realization, by both filmmaker and studio, that the wilder screwball comedy was supplanting the sophisticated and subtle “Lubitsch touch.” Lubitsch turned from stalwart screenwriter Samson Raphaelson to the emerging team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett for a script about a pair of oddball millionaires who “meet cute” and eventually realize they’ve fallen for each other. By the standards of all but Lubitsch’s own previous sublime achievements and the very best screwball comedies, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a fine and funny film, but its failure to find an audience forced Lubitsch to retool his approach, preparing the way for the innovative comedic melodramas of his final years.

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Sunday July 30 at 5pm

Eternal Love

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With John Barrymore, Camilla Horn, Victor Varconi
US 1929, 35mm, b/w, silent with music track, 71 min

Though now an illuminating and rare artifact of both early Lubitsch and Hollywood’s transition to sound, the director’s last silent feature was more of a contract obligation than a project anywhere near his heart. After films like The Marriage Circle and So This is Paris, Eternal Love seems like a retreat to the earlier, more melodramatic historical dramas. Taking place in the Alps during the Napoleonic Wars, the deep love between John Barrymore’s handsome Marcus and his angelic fiancée—played by Camilla Horn—is threatened by the dangerous manipulations of Mona Rico’s witchlike temptress. Now that Lubitsch was in the US, his Alps were actually Canada’s Banff National Park, which proved rather treacherous for its stars–particularly Horn, who used no double in the mountain-climbing scenes. With an unusually roving camera following the soaring passions that run as high as the peaks, Lubitsch’s tragedy was ultimately released in two versions: one silent and the other with a music-and-effects track. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funding provided by The Film Foundation and the AFI Challenge Grant for Film Preservation.

Preceded by

The Patriot - trailer

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Emil Jannings, Lewis Stone
US 1928, 35mm, b/w, silent, 3 min

Fragments and the trailer are all that survive of Lubitsch’s The Patriot. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Monday July 31 at 7pm

Three Women

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With May McAvoy, Pauline Frederick, Marie Prevostg
US 1924, 35mm, b/w, silent, 83 min

After introducing sexual satire to American silent comedy, Lubitsch radically renews American screen melodrama by emphasizing female desire, as he had done in his German star vehicles for Pola Negri. In Three Women, a widow and her grown daughter both fall for the same rake, and then all is further overturned by the arrival of a third woman, played by Marie Prevost, whom Lubitsch cast after noticing her skill at playing a worldly young woman in The Marriage Circle. The film deftly balances comedy and pathos, with the mother’s ache at her descent into middle age given real weight. 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Friday August 4 at 7pm

Anna Boleyn

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Henny Porten, Emil Jannings, Hedwig Pauly-Winterstein
Germany 1920, 35mm, b/w, silent, 118 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Resurrecting 16th century England on a grand scale, Anna Boleyn is an early example of the Monumentalfilme, a German sibling to the American prestige picture. Prior to his departure to Hollywood, Lubitsch was contracted for a handful of such productions, though the films, which emphasized spectacle over subtlety, are a far cry from the work the director would come to be known for. Anna Boleyn concerns the elopement of the titular heroine (Henny Porten) to King Henry VIII (Emil Jannings), an arrangement doomed from the start by the King’s erratic temperament, which is juxtaposed against Anna’s frailty. Though Henry’s unapologetic indulgence in carnal pleasure marks him as an early iteration of the classic Lubitschean male, it’s the doomed Anna who receives the director’s sympathetic treatment as the story marches toward tragedy. In detailing the disastrous repercussions of unchecked masculinity, the film lacks the spark and wit of Lubitsch’s later films, but it is as good an indicator as any of his sterling command of resources, as evidenced in particular by an extraordinary wedding sequence filmed in an open-air recreation of the Westminster Cathedral.

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Saturday August 5 at 9pm

The Shop Around the Corner

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan
US 1940, 35mm, b/w, 100 min

Though enshrined as Lubitsch’s most enduring crowd-pleaser, The Shop Around the Corner contains a few prominent qualities that make it an uncharacteristic work for the director. The film’s focus on the working class, though rooted in Lubitsch’s own biography, diverged from his usual affluent subjects, while its confinement largely to one location—an independently owned leather-goods store in Budapest in the weeks leading up to Christmas—stands out after the globetrotting of Ninotchka. And yet, these very deviations proved equally tailored to Lubitsch’s talents. The down-to-earth cast of characters, orbiting around shopkeeper Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan), his trusty clerk, Mr. Kralik (James Stewart), and newcomer employee Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), emanate the same wit and warmth that drives the director’s best comic creations, and the titular store serves as a perfect vehicle for ensemble interplay, as well as snappy changeovers between public and private identities. As the workplace adversaries who belatedly learn they are actually pen pal lovers, Stewart and Sullavan are superbly likable, commanding a series of lengthy two-shots that swerve between animosity and blossoming affection. It’s their chemistry that makes The Shop Around the Corner such a charming yuletide classic, even as Lubitsch simultaneously critiques the materialistic mentality of the season.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Sunday August 6 at 4pm

Sumurun

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Jenny Hasselqvist, Pola Negri, Paul Wegener
Germany 1919/20, 35mm, b/w, silent, 103 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

In his last appearance in front of the camera and his only surviving serious role, Lubitsch plays a hunchback who falls hopelessly in love with an alluring traveling dancer: the inevitable Pola Negri, who had already played the part on stage in Warsaw and in Max Reinhardt’s Berlin production. Drawing inspiration from both The Arabian Nights and Reinhardt’s play, matters in this exotic pantomime spectacle get beautifully complicated when Lubitsch interweaves several stories: Sumurun, a rebellious member of the harem, rejects the old, tyrannical sheik, while Negri’s dancer falls for the sheik’s handsome son. A tinted and restored film print from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Stiftung will be shown.

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Friday August 11 at 7pm
Sunday August 20 at 4:30pm

To Be or Not To Be

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack
US 1942, 35mm, color, 99 min

“I was tired of the two established, recognized recipes, drama with comedy relief and comedy with dramatic relief,” Lubitsch declared. “I made up my mind to make a picture with no attempt to relieve anybody from anything at any time...” A black comedy before there was black comedy, the political satire of To Be or Not To Be shocked audiences for whom World War II was a current reality. Lubitsch’s Nazis were portrayed as not only evil, but absurd and bumbling—or as human and laughable as the theater troupe attempting to subvert them. With the neurotic antics of Jack Benny and the surprising, scintillating delivery of Carole Lombard leading the way, the egotistical actors confront their greatest roles when Germany invades Poland. Lubitsch’s send-up of both the artifice of theater and the theater of politics hilariously and brilliantly challenges the audience with the question of “To Be or Not To Be” in all of its various guises. Lubitsch pulls the curtain back and forth on art and life so ingeniously that when these bumbling Shakespearean players must face actual death, bravery and dignity, they—and we—discover that pain and laughter, tragedy and comedy are not at war, but disturbingly close.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Saturday August 12 at 7pm

The Oyster Princess (Die Austernprinzessin)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Victor Janson, Ossi Oswalda, Curt Bois
Germany 1919, 35mm, b/w, silent, 60 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Made during the most prolific year of Lubitsch’s career while still in Germany, The Oyster Princess marked a new direction for the director’s work in comedy—away from slapstick and toward a more sophisticated form of satire. The target of his humor is the American bourgeoisie, personified by a wealthy businessman, the “oyster king,” who is ensconced in a European villa filled with servants and assistants. Material wealth, however, is insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of these Americans, and the businessman’s daughter, having read of the marriage of the “shoe-polish princess” to a nobleman, begs her father to buy her a prince. The ensuing tale manages to wring humor from both the boundless hubris of the Americans and the haughty attitudes of a European aristocracy now fallen on hard times.

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Sunday August 13 at 7pm

The Merry Widow

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, George Barbier
US 1934, 35mm, b/w, 99 min

The new film version of Franz Lehár’s operetta reunited Lubitsch one last time with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald for what would also be his final musical. The director was somewhat influenced by the grand scale of Busby Berkeley, though Lubitsch uses his dance sequences—as he does the sharp tonal changes throughout the film—to express characters’ otherwise uncommunicated feelings. Squeezed in right before the Production Code went into full effect, not everything in the film is so veiled. The carefree promiscuity of playboy Danilo provides a scandalous wealth of blatant transgression until it is challenged by the beautiful widow Sonia, who happens to be the wealthiest woman in Marshovia. With the fate of the small, nearly bankrupt country suddenly dependent on their unlikely union, the private and the public become entirely entangled, until their relationship is virtually on trial. Lubitsch’s comic rendering may be worlds away from von Stroheim’s darker, more eccentric take, but the startling symbolism within the “happy” ending remains outrageously ominous. Happily-ever-after has been sacrificed for a greater good, as well as the increasingly conservative morality of Hollywood.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis
Monday August 14 at 7pm

The Wildcat AKA The Mountain Cat (Die Bergkatze)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Pola Negri, Paul Heidemann, Victor Janson
Germany 1921, 35mm, b/w, silent, 86 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Peace comes to an end in Lubitsch’s hilarious anti-militaristic satire when ladies’ man Lieutenant Alexis gets transferred to sleepy Fort Tossenstein. Instead of capturing the local bandit, he falls for the bandit’s daughter, “Mountain Cat.” Lubitsch took a short break with The Wildcat before making his next spectacle, The Love of the Pharaoh. Nonetheless, the film is spectacle enough with its bizarre sets and costumes, a fascinating blend of Expressionism and late Jugendstil, designed by Max Gronert and Ernst Stern, Max Reinhardt’s set designer. A financial failure in Germany, Lubitsch’s extravagant film was never distributed in the US.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Friday August 18 at 7pm

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer, Jean Hersholt
US 1928, 35mm, b/w, silent, 106 min

After his five silent masterpieces for Warner Brothers, Lubitsch moved to MGM for this adaptation of a popular 1901 German play, not the 1924 Sigmund Romberg operetta also based on the play. A lonely prince from a tiny European country finds love with a commoner when he goes off to college at Heidelberg, only to be called home to assume the throne. Lubitsch predates the bittersweet illustration of duty as the death of love that would be the theme of Stroheim’s The Wedding March the following year and a major preoccupation of Max Ophuls’ films in subsequent decades. Lubitsch also abandons his customary satirical approach to romance, presenting the love story simply and directly, to devastating emotional effect.

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Friday August 18 at 9:30pm

Ninotchka

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire
US 1939, 35mm, b/w, 110 min

A poignant comedy of sexual and political tensions, Ninotchka teamed Lubitsch with up-and-coming screenwriter Billy Wilder behind the camera and Greta Garbo in front, with MGM’s big selling point being the indoctrination of the famously sultry star into the realm of farce. Garbo plays the joyless Comrade “Ninotchka” Yakushova, a walking parody of Soviet rigidity dispatched to swinging Paris to facilitate a jewelry sale. There, she meets her comic and romantic foil, the suave, pleasure-seeking Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). While the film’s central dialectic of communism and capitalism manifests itself initially as broad satire in which Ninotchka is steadily educated on the spiritual benefits of loosening up (a thread that results in the greatest laughing fit in film history), Lubitsch gradually unveils richer shades in the scenario. The freethinking glamour of prewar Paris is shown to also be home to various displays of vanity and callousness, while a third act relocation to Ninotchka’s motherland illuminates the solidarity and companionship blossoming within gloomy Moscow flats. And as the film’s perspective expands, the humor darkens, touching on such extra-diegetic horrors as executions for civil disobedience, censorship and even the fast-encroaching stench of Nazism.

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Saturday August 19 at 7pm
Friday September 1 at 9:30pm

Cluny Brown

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Jennifer Jones, Charles Boyer, Peter Lawford
US 1946, 35mm, b/w, 100 min

Lubitsch’s adaptation of Margery Sharp's mischievous satire on English propriety is one of his most engaging romantic comedies. Conforming to societal expectations, the orphaned Cluny Brown—played by a stunning, radiant Jennifer Jones—lands a job as a maid at a country estate and finds herself trapped in the tortuous manners of British high society. Luckily, she finds an ally in Charles Boyer’s elegant Czech intellectual Adam Belinski. Crossing class and gender expectations, the displaced duo frustrates convention—while navigating the complex plumbing of old estates and bewildered hearts. Set before the war but shaded with the darker tones of a humor postwar, Cluny Brown was Lubitsch’s last completed film before his untimely death a year later at the age of fifty-five.

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Sunday August 20 at 4:30pm

To Be or Not To Be

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack
US 1942, 35mm, color, 99 min

“I was tired of the two established, recognized recipes, drama with comedy relief and comedy with dramatic relief,” Lubitsch declared. “I made up my mind to make a picture with no attempt to relieve anybody from anything at any time...” A black comedy before there was black comedy, the political satire of To Be or Not To Be shocked audiences for whom World War II was a current reality. Lubitsch’s Nazis were portrayed as not only evil, but absurd and bumbling—or as human and laughable as the theater troupe attempting to subvert them. With the neurotic antics of Jack Benny and the surprising, scintillating delivery of Carole Lombard leading the way, the egotistical actors confront their greatest roles when Germany invades Poland. Lubitsch’s send-up of both the artifice of theater and the theater of politics hilariously and brilliantly challenges the audience with the question of “To Be or Not To Be” in all of its various guises. Lubitsch pulls the curtain back and forth on art and life so ingeniously that when these bumbling Shakespearean players must face actual death, bravery and dignity, they—and we—discover that pain and laughter, tragedy and comedy are not at war, but disturbingly close.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Sunday August 20 at 7pm

The Merry Jail
(Das fidele Gefängnis)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Harry Liedtke, Kitty Dewall, Emil Jannings
Germany 1917, 35mm, b/w, silent, 48 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Yet another charming three-reel comedy and again a farce on marriage, desire and social and sexual role-play, The Merry Jail anticipates Lubitsch’s more sophisticated comedies of manners such as The Marriage Circle and Trouble in Paradise. A loose adaptation of the Johann Strauss II operetta Die Fledermaus, the film revolves around marital, and possibly extramarital, antics, with identity switching and traded places reminiscent of So This is Paris. Playing the husband, Harry Liedtke became a Lubitsch regular after this, while Emil Jannings—who plays the prison director—would become Lubitsch’s cinematic alter ego.

Romeo and Juliet in the Snow (Romeo und Julia im Schnee)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Gustav von Wangenheim, Lotte Neumann, Jakob Tiedtke
Germany 1920, 35mm, b/w, silent, 45 min. German intertitles with English subtitles

Lubitsch’s second “winter film” premiered only three days after Kohlhiesel’s Daughters, yet did not enjoy the success of its predecessor—not because Lubitsch transformed the Shakespearian tragedy into a Black Forest comedy, but because of history, namely the attempted coup­–the Kapp Putsch–in Berlin that eclipsed all other news. The Shakespeare-inspired farce set in a Swabian village opens with two feuding families, the Capulethofers and the Montekugerls. Both are seeking a resolution to a dispute. While the parents are outraged over the judge’s verdict—determined with sausages on either side of the scale of justice—that neither is wrong nor right, the kids fall in love. Luckily for this Romeo and Juliet, the poison in Lubitsch’s farce turns out to be something much sweeter.

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Monday August 21 at 7pm

Angel

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Melvyn Douglas
US 1937, 35mm, b/w, 91 min

Despite being made in the era of the screwball comedy, Lubitsch’s adaptation of Melchior Lengyel’s play quiets the original’s laughs down to a knowing smirk. The masked reactions of Lubitsch’s polite characters caught in an uncomfortable love triangle belie more colorful pasts and passions. Within what is considered a transitional work before hitting his stride, Lubitsch begins to patiently tamper with assumptions and judgments, appearance and identity, through subtle ironies—exhibited everywhere from Marlene Dietrich’s array of enigmatic smiles to the set design. His discreet social commentary manifests by undercutting dramatic scenes of aristocrats with the comic versions already played out by servants; allowing women of both classes a certain sexual liberation; and transforming the titular object of desire into a more complex being than either man is willing to initially behold.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks
Saturday August 26 at 7pm

The Marriage Circle

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Marie Prevost, Monte Blue, Adolphe Menjou
US 1924, 35mm, b/w, silent, 92 min

One of Lubitsch’s classic sex comedies, The Marriage Circle is set in Vienna in the early days of the last century, a bygone era that critic Herman G. Weinberg evocatively described as “a vanished world of roses, kisses and embraces, of whispers and sighs, of a woman’s shadowed arm encased in georgette beckoning across a moonlit garden.” The story revolves around Mizzi, the promiscuous wife of a professor, who sets her flirtatious sights on her best friend’s husband, a handsome physician. The ensuing romantic roundelay reveals a latent attraction of the doctor’s medical partner for his wife as well as the growing suspicion of the beleaguered spouses that something is not well with their marriages. The film is filled with the quaint details Weinberg describes as well as Lubitsch’s shrewd insights into human nature.

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Saturday August 26 at 9pm

Trouble in Paradise

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 83 min

If the romantic triangle is the quintessential Lubitschean plot device, few films in the director’s career exercise it more rewardingly than Trouble in Paradise. Teaming Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis as high-society swindlers falling in and out of tentative romantic couplings amidst the opulent excesses of Venice and Paris, the film dances around the porous line between fakery and authenticity, exposing romance as an intricate charade rooted in an unspoken undercurrent of sex. Hopkins is the dashing, openhearted pickpocket, Francis is the heiress with enough money to fund her desires, and Marshall is the well-mannered jewel thief with eyes for both of them. Trouble in Paradise sets in motion a chain of trysts involving the members of this trio in which surface-level dramatic ironies—questions of who’s fooling whom with regards to stolen goods, for instance—stand in for the latent energies firing off between the characters, with the seeming plainness of Lubitsch’s shooting style just barely concealing the lustful heat simmering beneath the dialogue.

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Friday September 1 at 9:30pm

Cluny Brown

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Jennifer Jones, Charles Boyer, Peter Lawford
US 1946, 35mm, b/w, 100 min

Lubitsch’s adaptation of Margery Sharp's mischievous satire on English propriety is one of his most engaging romantic comedies. Conforming to societal expectations, the orphaned Cluny Brown—played by a stunning, radiant Jennifer Jones—lands a job as a maid at a country estate and finds herself trapped in the tortuous manners of British high society. Luckily, she finds an ally in Charles Boyer’s elegant Czech intellectual Adam Belinski. Crossing class and gender expectations, the displaced duo frustrates convention—while navigating the complex plumbing of old estates and bewildered hearts. Set before the war but shaded with the darker tones of a humor postwar, Cluny Brown was Lubitsch’s last completed film before his untimely death a year later at the age of fifty-five.

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