“It’ll get a terrific laugh.”*
Today is the birthday of Ernst Lubitsch (January 29, 1892 – November 30, 1947) who, you will recall, was a German-American film director, producer, writer, and actor back in the day. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood’s most elegant and sophisticated director. His movies were famous for “the Lubitsch touch.”
The story goes that, leaving Lubitsch’s funeral, Billy Wilder ruefully said, “No more Lubitsch.” William Wyler then responded, “Worse than that. No more Lubitsch pictures.”
Anyway, he made a lot of really good movies with the likes of Greta Garbo, Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier, Gary Cooper, Frederic March, Miriam Hopkins etc. He also knew how to use character actors like Edward Everett Horton and Zasu Pitts to their best and most hilarious advantage. Think of Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski in Ninotchka (1939). Think of the acting troupe in To Be or Not to Be (1942).
And actresses like Carole Lombard and Greta Garbo were at their sexiest and funniest–Garbo laughs!–with Lubitsch.
Indeed, Ernst Lubitsch personified what is missing in Hollywood today–humor without vulgarity. His films had class. Sure, there was plenty of innuendo, but it was all done with a light touch.
Maria Tura: It’s becoming ridiculous the way you grab attention. Whenever I start to tell a story, you finish it. If I go on a diet, you lose the weight. If I have a cold, you cough. And if we should ever have a baby, I’m not so sure I’d be the mother.
Josef Tura: I’m satisfied to be the father.
Of course he never won an Oscar for directing–only a special Academy Award for his “25-year contribution to motion pictures.”
They say The Shop Around the Corner (1940) was his own favorite. FYI it is the movie You’ve Got Mail (1998) is based on.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is showing several of Lubitsch’s best comedies today, so check the schedule here and set your DVR.
I know who I’ll be toasting and what I’ll be watching tonight!
*Greenberg in To Be or Not to Be (1942)