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ERNST LUBITSCH by Scott Eyman

ERNST LUBITSCH

Laughter in Paradise

By Scott Eyman

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-74936-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 Gratifying biography of one of the screen's greatest directors, by Eyman (Mary Pickford, 1992--not reviewed), film critic for the Palm Beach Post. Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) foretold that all his films, as well as those of his contemporaries, would vanish and turn to nitrate dust in the cans--and many did, film seemingly not having the longevity even of flesh. Fortunately, much of Lubitsch's work survives, because, unlike most of his fellow directors, Lubitsch didn't treat his films as just so much entertainment; instead, he patiently bathed them in wit and artistry, and, later, in humanity. A Berlin Jew of Russian ancestry, Lubitsch at 19 was a minor comic actor in the famed Max Reinhardt troupe, training that soon aided him marvelously when it came to directing film actors. Before coming to Hollywood in the early 20's, he'd directed and acted in dozens of silent German features (some of the best of them now lost utterly). A merry, cigar-smoking gnome of immense creativity, he had no rivals but many imitators. He wrote or cowrote (with playwright/screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, Billy Wilder, and others) nearly all his films, basing them largely on Hungarian farces or great operettas, and he invented the film musical whose lyrics and dance numbers not only advance the plot but demand witty camera work. His greatest talkies include The Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, To Be or Not to Be, and Heaven Can Wait, while even his misfires and lesser works shine with ``the Lubitsch Touch'' (a poor phrase, Eyman says). Lubitsch's former collaborator Raphaelson, the author tells us, thinks the director an unsentimental, vulgar man who never read a book but who nonetheless stood topmost among the most boundlessly charming men ever born. Readers driven to seek Lubitsch out in video stores will no doubt agree. Distinguished. Written for full orchestra, it captures every subtlety. (Photographs)