Thursday, December 8, 2011

Top Ranked Films of Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst Lubitsch
5 titles, 72nd in points with 11,597

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1892, Lubitsch came to Hollywood in 1922 (contracted as director by Mary Pickford), then made his mark with a too short career of classic comedies, dying there in 1947 at age 55 after his sixth heart attack. What’s called The Lubitsch Touch is a sophisticated comedy of manners, a term applied after a few successful American comedies. Critic Michael Wilmington said 'made by a man amused by sex, not afraid of it'.

These are all the films of classic American director Ernst Lubitsch that made the top 1000 in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls.

1. Trouble in Paradise (1932) bw#322
2. To Be or Not to Be (1942) #331
3. Ninotchka (1939) #471
4. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)#561
5. Angel (1937) #980

Out of the top 1000
6. Design for Living (1933) #1104
7. Heaven Can Wait (1943) #1887

These are all very memorable films. My favorite is also Trouble in Paradise, #1 of his films, which is a pre-code film that is rather risque by comparison to most; it involves two con-artists who use romance to fleece their suspects, while the two remain just platonic friends, more like real co-workers. For me, it was easily the best film of 32 (Grand Hotel won, which was ok but not as involving as one would think, and best pic was its only Oscar). In Trouble, you get the idea that a lot more is going on in the dark, because the film is full of innuendos and other signs that there’s a lot of unseen action.

The Shop Around the Corner was a very good romantic comedy, and one that has proven so classic that’s it’s been remade twice more, as In The Good Ole Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. The basic premise is that two co-workers who are not very friendly to each other are secret admirers as pen pals, and plan to get together to meet face-to-face sometime. Since they work together, it’s hard for them to both be off at the same time, which adds to the delay of them finding out their admirer’s true identities (which of course, are each other). Classic situation comedy, and each film has been popular, but Lubitsch’s was the first, and is still the best. It was his own personal favorite of all of his films.

I never did get To Be or Not To Be, however (though many other obviously do); for me, it wasn’t very funny (I never find the Nazis comic material), and it wasn’t a very good drama either (Benny and Lombard in a spy film?), so I’m not sure what it is besides boring. Jack Benny, though at his best here, is no actor, and is only barely a comedian; his schtick worked better on tv when it was over quickly. It’s the slow delivery followed by the slow double-take, and that’s about all he ever does. Ninotchka is just ok, it moves pretty slowly, and Garbo had laughed quite heartily in The Painted Veil (1934), so not a lot new here. It was a pre-cold war comedy about the soviets, it just didn’t have much spark so the humor was lukewarm, especially for a Billy Wilder penned script.

Leaving his funeral, Billy Wilder said ‘no more Lubitsch’. William Wyler replied ‘worse than that – no more Lubistch pictures’.

See the full list of top ranked 100 directors here: Top Ranked 100 Directors, 2011 Edition

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