Major Lube

A fabulous object comes my way. I love getting free DVDs in the post, but it’s even better when they have my name on them. I have contributed liner notes to two of the films in Masters of Cinema’s LUBITSCH IN BERLIN box set, in the excellent company of Anna Thorngate and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. The pristine prints are the same as those featured in the American release, except here the intertitles are the original German ones, with helpful English subs.

Buy a copy — Lubitsch needs shoes!

Lubitsch In Berlin [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] [1918]

22 Responses to “Major Lube”

  1. An execellent DVD, it explores Lubitsch’s impact as an actor — something I expect few of his modern-day fans are familiar with. He was really something.

  2. A Peacock Says:

    I look forward to getting this soon.
    First MoC, soon Criterion…. how long till the Cairns audio commentary?

  3. I just read — and I wish I’d known this when I wrote my piece — that he was dissatisfied with his work in Sumurun (which is magnificent) and that was responsible for his decision to retire as performer. Much later, when his angina was interfering with his directing career in Hollywood, plans were announced to star him in a film of The Inspector General (later made with the unsuited Danny Kaye). That could have been quite a thrill.

    A commentary would be fun. and I can talk FAST, so they’d get their money’s worth.

  4. You know that’s really funny because as a performer Lubitsch resembles an actually talented Danny Kaye.

  5. Oh, I won’t have a word said against DK. Well, OK, I find some of his comedy a shade embarrassing as an adult, but he could sing, dance a bit, act (his serious perfs are heartfelt and moving), do tricky tongue-twisters and his comic timing was excellent when he had the material to support him and when he reined in his face-pulling tendencies.

    Looking forward to watching the Robert Fischer documentary in my box set because there’s such a distance between Lubitsch the grimacing ham in the early comedies (I’ve only seen one and some clips) and the versatile and moving performer we see in Sumurun. If we had such a thing as a talkie with Lubitsch starring, we could see the man’s comedy style in its pure form, rather than filtered through actors like Jack Benny or Gary Cooper, whom he drilled in his particular approach.

    Lubitsch to David Niven: “Nobody can play comedy who does not have a circus going on in his head.”

  6. david wingrove Says:

    Plus, I’m not sure Lubitsch would have managed to carry on a long and top-secret affair with Laurence Olivier…as Danny Kaye allegedly did!!

    SUMURUN strikes me as more Max Reinhardt than Lubitsh. After all, it was Max who directed the original stage extravaganza – in which Lubitsch appeared as a performer. Not having been in Berlin post-World War I, it’s hard to say what originated where and with whom.

  7. I like the IDEA of the Olivier-Kaye affair, but the facts seem uncertain. One of the bits of “evidence” for it was the “passionate letters” Olivier write to his friend. But the American who seized upon these did not apparently understand the British theatrical tradition of calling everyone “darling”…

    Olivier once greatly offended Alec Guinness when AG told him he’d stayed the night at John Gielgud’s (due to some problem with transport). Olivier raised his eyebrows or otherwise made a facial insinuation of the “My my, you and him alone together all night” variety, and Guinness was disgusted because Gielgud would be the last man on Earth to make any uninvited approach to a friend. So Guinness regarded Olivier as not only straight but a touch homophobic.

    Sumurun certainly has a lot of Reinhardt to it, but that’s true to an extent of all the historical epics, which are a major part of EL’s development.

  8. Here you go, David

    This world-famous scene belongs to the great Mildred Natwick, IMO.

  9. and this one belongs to the great Jack Cole.

  10. I think possibly everything that’s not nailed down belongs to Mildred Natwick. Didn’t they pass a law to that effect?

    I can recite this one from memory:

    It’s possible that what I really like about Danny Kaye is Sylvia Fine.

  11. David Boxwell Says:

    The one I like best: THE OYSTER PRINCESS (19). There’s a case to be made for Lubitsch as the first 20th century filmmaker. Griffith and DeMille’s films from the same period are so bloody Victorian in their sensibility! By contrast, EL’s OP is so MODERN! Even Gance, for all his innovation at the turn of the teens into the 20s, seems so stolid next to EL. . .

  12. I’ve still got The Oyster Princess to look forward to! And I AM looking forward to it. I didn’t have the option of writing about that one, I think it was already taken. But like an idiot I seem to recall I passed up The Mountain Cat, which looks sensational.

    Hmm, who would be the other filmmakers who might qualify for the position of first 20th century filmmakers? Those who threw off the model of the 19th century novel…

    Actually Melies, even though he adapted some of those novels, and even though his technique excludes the closeup and the interpolation of shots within a scene. His playfulness is very informal and modern.

  13. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen any of these early Lubitsch films. My favourite Lubitsch is still the delightful “Angel” with Marlene Dietrich and Herbert Marshall. Speaking of delightful films, has anyone seen Xavier Giannoli’s enchanting Quand J’étais Chanteur (The Singer)? Gérard Depardieu gives a great performance as a dance hall crooner.

  14. Ah, just re-watched ANGEL a couple of weeks ago. It’s really beautiful the way it uses essentially comic devices to tell an essentially serious story, and with the utmost delicacy.

    I think my favourite has to be Cluny Brown, but it’s a large field to choose from.

    Haven’t seen the Giannoli. It sounds lovely though.

  15. david wingrove Says:

    ANGEL is a near-masterpiece…and should be required viewing for anyone who subscribes to the ridiculous notion that Marlene really couldn’t act. She is stupendous in that film, in a hugely complex and difficult role.

    And if playing Marlene Dietrich for 90-odd years was not great acting, then I honestly don’t know what is!!

  16. david wingrove Says:

    Alas, I can’t get the COURT JESTER clip to play with sound on this computer! Will try elsewhere tomorrow.

  17. It’s worth it!

  18. DK FTW! Unlike other classic gurners, when Kaye turns it down there’s a genuine, unmatchable warmth there (clearly visible in Court Jester), rather than useful eerie cyphers like Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey or Sellers. Bitn disappointed by the evidence against a Kaye-Olivier triste, but now you mention it, the slightly homophobic Olivier thesis does make sense of a lot of his villains. It was always a SINISTER camp.

  19. But of course there are masks on top of masks — maybe Olivier was a flaming homosexual who concealed it beneath a homophobic veneer? Who knows? But I think this one makes sense and the reading of Olivier’s villains as sinister camp is a very illuminating one.

    Agree with you re Kaye, he’s very sweet – although I also like his impish, slightly demonic side on the rare occasions it emerges.

    Great stuff on YouTube of him conducting the NY Philharmonic!

  20. You know, for kids. He pops up at 2.09:

  21. Delightful. He only SORT OF aged, didn’t he? It’s not like proper aging, it’s a special Danny Kaye kind.

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