Archive for Erich Von Stroheim

Madame Ora Was Right

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 5, 2019 by dcairns

Erich Von Stroheim’s introduction to THE MERRY WIDOW is the gift that keeps on giving ~

ERICH VON STROHEIM: Mae Murray, who always played under the direction of her husband, a very great man, very great, six-feet-three, and a very gentle man. I could make a comparison between a Saint Bernard dog… [laughter] …She herself, if I may say so, was very active, very agile, too active… [laughter] So this grand man and this little woman, you know very well who won the battle… [laughter] It was always Mae Murray, it was always she who won, and the big Saint Bernard did exactly as she told him to do.

But it was very different with me, since I was not married to this woman… [laughter]

No, she was very gentle, but she had ideas… [laughter] …And, as I said before, I have ideas myself. So these two ideas… [laughter] …clashed.

One time we had a terrible battle, during the embassy ball scene, and it was terrible because I had 350 extras in it who loved me very much… it was always the workers who liked me, not the producers — the workers… do you see the difference? … [laughter and applause] So this woman thought… it was after World War I… and she called me “dirty Hun”… naturally, I did not like it, since I was born in Austria, in Vienna, and since she was born in Vienna, too… [laughter] …As a matter of fact, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but, then, I did not see much difference… [laughter] …and, since my workers, the extras, understood that this meant the end, they took off their uniforms and threw them on the floor…

ERICH VON STOHEIM: I want to tell you a very, very strange story … You will permit me to sit down. [He sits on the podium.] Thank you. Because this is a very strange story… [Laughter]

…I am very superstitious, also religious, and in many cases that goes together, as you know. I had troubles with Mae Murray, as I said before, and, also, troubles with electricity, lamps, with the helpers, with everybody. And it was strange, because it had never happened that way before. So, after the duel with Mae Murray, I was discharged by the company, but really… [laughter] …But I almost forgot to tell you my story.

Since I am very superstitious and religious, I used to visit a certain voyeuse…


ERICH VON STROHEIM: …voyante… [laughter] …So, before I started working on THE MERRY WIDOW, at the time when the company approached me, I naturally went first to my friend Madame Ora… [laughter] … She was an old woman, only an EAR, so I asked her what would be the outcome, should I make the film or not? She waited a little while, just enough to give the necessary weight, and said that I should “absolutely do it,” because it will be a great feather in my hat… [laughter]… In California nobody wears a hat, and I did not have a hat — but she assured me of great success, a large feather, a beautiful plume in my hat, bon!

So I started the film. I was discharged, and I came immediately, the first thing I did, to my advisor Madame Ora. I told her that I was discharged and that the president of the company had shown me the doors himself and that, in my turn, I have given him a few words that he shall never forget, and that I am in the street now. What should I do? And you have assured me that this will be a large feather in my hat! The Madame said to me, “Monsieur Von Stroheim, I can’t change my idea. You will continue tomorrow on THE MERRY WIDOW, you will direct it tomorrow, and it will be a great success, and it will be a great feather in your hat.”

“I said, “Madame, you have not understood me correctly, I am in the street…” [laughter] … “No, Monsieur, it is you who does not understand, it is you who does not understand. You will be continuing tomorrow morning.” And this was at six o’clock in the afternoon. And she says to me that furthermore, now, at this very moment, there are four or five men in my Los Angeles home waiting to see me… regarding tomorrow’s work. I said, “But this is ridiculous, isn’t it?” And she says, “And they are in uniforms…” [laughter]

…And it was the time of prohibition in California, and I, like a good citizen, had plenty of whiskey in my house… [laughter] …and a few whiskeys in my car, just like that… [laughter] …That meant this… [laughter] …the years not in a private prison but on the island of Alcatraz…

So I hurried home, and, believe it or not, there were four men waiting and they were in uniforms. But they were not policemen but from the staff of the company, sent by the president himself to speak to me, to ask me to continue to swork on the film the next morning! That was too much… too strange. During the night, the president sent his men twice more, just to be sure that I would definitely be at work the next morning, at 8.30 — counting thirty minutes for the peace talks… Oui! Madame Ora was right.

I continued directing, it was one of the great successes of its time, and it was chosen by the critics of America as the best film of 1926. That, perhaps, is not such a great credit in itself, since, probably, the other films were very bad… [laughter]

Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, November, 1955


  1. David Lynch has also reportedly had strange troubles with electricity. Michael J. Anderson describes a generator repeatedly blowing on a night shoot for FIRE WALK WITH ME. Finally, Lynch rearranged a couple of lines of dialogue, and the generator went back to working normallt. “I thought that might have been it,” observed Lynch, mysteriously.
  2. Could this talented voyante be the same psychic who predicted Murnau’s death? It seems probably. How many psychics were there in LA in the late twenties, anyway? And how many of them were that good?

[laughter] …

The Sunday Intertitle: What Do You Want?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 3, 2019 by dcairns

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in THE MERRY WIDOW.

And now, here’s Erich Von Stroheim introducing a screening of the film at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1958.

“…this film has made for its company four and a half million … though not for me. I had 25% of it. How much do you think I received?

“I thank you once more and ask you to have patience because the film is thirty years old, this print is only a 16mm version projected on too large a screen, and I don’t have the sound or the colour or the Cinerama … I have nothing. And so I have made all the possible excuses that I could think of. All the good things in this film were made by me. The things that are no good in it were made by others…”

From Film Culture, an anthology edited by P. Adams Sitney

Monkey with a Movie Camera

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2019 by dcairns

I’m not used to days that have CLIMAXES — Buster Keaton’s THE CAMERAMAN in the Piazza Maggiore with a full orchestral accompaniment was certainly one.

Mind you, the day began with OVER THE HILL, a simply brilliant Henry King drama from 1931 which showcases Fox’s mobile camera style and James Dunn’s performing. It’s a bit like MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW only with the worst son receiving a punitive ass-kicking at the end.

Dunn turned up again in HELLO, SISTER! a weird Fox romance, begun by Von Stroheim (Zasu Pitts co-stars) but finished by Edwin Burke and maybe Alan Crosland, Raoul Walsh and Alfred “I’ll finish it” Werker. The tonal shifts, which could induce whiplash in a less hardy reviewer, may be the result of surviving Stroheim footage. Romcom, slapstick, rape and an exploding tenement — half the plot and cast seem to be recycled from Borzage’s BAD GIRL. Enjoyed the mess thoroughly.

SURRENDER! was more coherent but duller. William K. Howard’s long tracking shots are among the best Fox ever had, but this was a boring story with a snoozy cast. Warner Baxter, Leila Hyams. Ralph Bellamy is somewhat amusing as a disfigured war veteran, half his face concealed beneath a black mask.

I’d been missing the Eduardo de Filippo season so was glad to catch FILUMENA MARTURANO, the 1951 original of MARRIAGE – ITALIAN STYLE. Slightly less funny than the celebrated remake, but even more emotional, thanks to Filippo and his co-star Titina de Filippo. Talented family. Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.