Keeping with the “Faces Behind the Camera” theme I’m spotlighting the saucy, bedroom comedies director Ernst Lubitsch and his famous “Lubitsch Touch”. This moniker was bestowed on him by other legendary filmmakers including Billy Wilder who was featured in the previous “Faces Behind the Camera” post. The phrase is used to describe the unique style and cinematic trademarks of director Ernst Lubitsch.
Hailed by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock (my other favorite director), Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles as a giant among filmmakers, Ernst Lubitsch was a preeminent figure in the history of cinema who directed some of Hollywood’s most sophisticated and enduring comedies.
More than a great director of actors and action, he added his own personal signature – the “Lubitsch touch” – to all his work creating a sense of style and grace that was rarely duplicated on the screen.
After making a name as a director in his native Germany, Lubitsch was brought over at the behest of silent film star Mary Pickford to direct her in “Rosita” (1923). From there, he made comedies like “The Marriage Circle” (1924) and “Kiss Me Again” (1925), as well as dramas like “The Patriot” (1925). But with the advent of sound, the cigar-chomping director’s career took off with his fascination with a new genre, the musical comedy, and he began displaying his famed Lubitsch touch with classics like “Monte Carlo” (1930) and “One Hour with You” (1932).
He directed his first bona fide masterpiece, “Trouble in Paradise” (1932) later described as “truly amoral” by critic David Thomson (a British film critic and historian). The cynical comedy was popular both with critics and with audiences. But it was a project that could only have been made before the enforcement of the Production Code. After 1935, “Trouble in Paradise” was withdrawn from circulation. It was not seen again until 1968. The film was never available on videocassette and only became available on DVD in 2003.
Lubitsch later hit his stride full force with “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” (1938), “Ninotchka” (1939) co-written by Billy Wilder and “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940). Lubitsch reached great artistic heights with “To Be or Not to Be” (1942) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1943) before dying mid-career in 1947, leaving behind a legacy virtually unmatched by a filmmaker before or since.
In 1946, he received an Honorary Academy Award for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture. He was also nominated three times for Best Director.
Lubitsch died of a heart attack on November 30, 1947, in Hollywood, and was buried at Glendale Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA. Leaving Lubitsch’s funeral, Billy Wilder ruefully said, “No more Lubitsch.” Lubitsch has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7040 Hollywood Blvd.