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Born: Berlin, Germany, 28 January 1892.
Died: 1947.

Ernst Lubitsch (JPG, 15 KB)

German director, actor and producer, and one of the great geniuses of comedy in the cinema. Joining Max Reinhardt's ensemble in 1911, Lubitsch became successful as a film actor in 1913, creating the comic persona of the wily and lecherous shop assistant (for instance in Die ideale Gattin and Die Firma heiratet, both 1913), before also taking over direction (first film: Fräulein Seifenschaum, 1915). His international breakthrough came in 1919, with a string of hits: Die Austernprinzessin / The Oyster Princess, Madame Dubarry / Passion, Die Puppe. On the strength of the American success of Madame Dubarry, Lubitsch left for Hollywood in 1921, to direct Mary Pickford, and then a series of social satires which inaugurated the new genre of the "sophisticated comedy" - The Marriage Circle (1923); Lady Windermere's Fan (1925); So This is Paris (1926) - which was to make him world-famous. The coming of sound did not diminish Lubitsch's talent or acumen (The Love Parade, 1929, starring Maurice Chevalier; Monte Carlo, 1930), and in 1935 he became director of production at Paramount, though it was for MGM that he made the sparkling political comedy Ninotchka (1939), with Greta Garbo.

The famous "Lubitsch touch" was a combination of sharp socio-psychological analysis and indirect comment, leaving out what the spectators could easily supply by way of erotic play or sexual innuendo. To Be or Not to Be (1942) is probably the blackest example of Lubitsch's satirical humour, unmasking the cruelty and barbarity of the Nazi regime by focusing on stupidity, illogicality and pompous make-believe.

Thomas Elsaesser / Katja Uhlenbrok, Encyclopedia of European Cinema

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