Is Lubitsch funny?

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Daniel Eagan
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Daniel Eagan » Thu Jun 28, 2018 11:28 am

It's a book review of a new biography by Joseph McBride. A not entirely accurate review.

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Mike Gebert
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:40 pm

And now the Washington Post weighs in with a story called "A forgotten filmmaker who influenced Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder gets his due." I'd say the headline refutes his premise, but if it's in the Post it must be true, at least in the sense that there are many people to whom Lubitsch is unknown, much like Henry James, Earl "Fatha" Hines, General Pershing, Ben Bradlee and so on.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertai ... 33951c4a03" target="_blank

Many years ago, when Lubitsch was still known, I had a book called 50 Classic Motion Pictures, by David Zinman (not the conductor), and one of the 50, if I recall correctly, was Ninotchka, the Garbo Laughs movie with her as a commissar won over by Parisian romance. Despite that, I think I haven't seen it since college. It was on Filmstruck, so I watched it.

Ninotchka is clearly the precursor to To Be or Not To Be, in that it mines the Soviets for comedy as the latter mined the Nazis. The difference, though, is a war. The latter film feels like real daring and defiance; Ninotchka just gets off some smart one-liners on a subject of less than great urgency.

In fact I found myself liking the screenplay more than the result; for some reason many things that seemed smart when I thought about them as written seemed to be damp squibs when they were performed. And at 110 minutes, awfully long for a comedy, Ninotchka has a lot of time to allow you to think that it doesn't work all that well. Garbo is charming once she laughs, but robotically dull till then. Melvyn Douglas as a Parisian roue... I've never found him that appealing (though much later, he's excellent in Hud) and the seduction scene, where Douglas is a bit flummoxed by Garbo's Vulcan-logical decision to couple, seemed sort of sad and creepy. While the Garbo Laughs scene is relentlessly unfunny in convincing us it's the funniest thing ever (actual, told jokes are never funny in a movie). Sig Rumann and a couple of other supporting players form a sort of impromptu Ritz Brothers as the trade delegates she's sent to investigate, and the hilarity of saying their Russian names over and over pales quickly.

Anyway, this is one classic that I do not think is very classic any more. To Be or Not To Be is certainly far better, sharper, and more essential.
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by boblipton » Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:21 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:And now the Washington Post weighs in with a story called "A forgotten filmmaker who influenced Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder gets his due." I'd say the headline refutes his premise, but if it's in the Post it must be true, at least in the sense that there are many people to whom Lubitsch is unknown, much like Henry James, Earl "Fatha" Hines, General Pershing, Ben Bradlee and so on.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertai ... 33951c4a03" target="_blank" target="_blank

Many years ago, when Lubitsch was still known, I had a book called 50 Classic Motion Pictures, by David Zinman (not the conductor).

Was the other Mr. Zinman a conductor on the Baltimore & Ohio? 'm sure the Post would be shocked I did not know; perhaps he was made of copper.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Jul 15, 2018 7:09 pm

Yes, that was kind of a joke, as if we all know David Zinman.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Daniel Eagan » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:41 am

Best lines go to the supporting cast, like "This is a restaurant, not a meadow."

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Paul Penna » Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:06 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Yes, that was kind of a joke, as if we all know David Zinman.
If it's any consolation, I got the joke.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by bobfells » Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:10 am

Lubitsch films seem to me either hot or cold. My favs are SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and HEAVEN CAN WAIT, both loaded with sentiment. His more "sophisticated" films have a lot of sharp edges that perhaps appeal to certain tastes. Once he went too far with a line in TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942). This occurred when Jack Benny playing a ham actor in disguise can't help asking Nazi Sig Ruman if he ever saw Joseph Tura (Benny's character) perform in HAMLET. Ruman says yes. Benny can't resist asking what Ruman thought of his performance. Ruman replies, "He did to Shakespeare what we are now doing to Poland." This was roundly criticized at the time as being in extremely poor taste and, reportedly, Lubitsch was in shock because nobody had ever accused him of indulging in poor taste.
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by wich2 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:44 am

Boy, this guy loves NINOTCHKA.

Would someone more Cary Grant-ish have been better in the lead? Maybe, although Douglas here and elsewhere is a solid actor.

Is Greta standoffish at first? Well, yeah - that being the character and all! But I believe that she, and Lubistch, riff brilliantly on her own perceived persona there. And when she warms, she's as charming, and as cute, as she ever was on screen.

The Three (Slowly) Wise Men are terrific, and Bela does one of his calmest, neatest turns. (With this and Ygor, a banner year for him.)

Yeomanlike support all round, from Maxwell, Claire, Gaye, Tobias, et al.

Good stuff, rightly appreciated over the years.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Sep 08, 2018 7:47 pm

I made it 41 minutes into The Merry Widow. It's stylish as all get out, often jaw-dropping in its wedding cake design. But it's like MGM made a movie set in Klopstokia, and being MGM, killed most of the jokes. I just didn't buy a single character, except as a caricature; I could believe all the women being hot for Raul Roulien in The Last Man on Earth sooner than Chevalier here. The music is okay, but there's a reason we don't all hum Lehar, or sing him with Rodgers and Hart lyrics. Go ahead, tell me how wrong I am, what a philistine I am. But it's just not for me.
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by boblipton » Sat Sep 08, 2018 8:08 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:
Sat Sep 08, 2018 7:47 pm
I made it 41 minutes into The Merry Widow. It's stylish as all get out, often jaw-dropping in its wedding cake design. But it's like MGM made a movie set in Klopstokia, and being MGM, killed most of the jokes. I just didn't buy a single character, except as a caricature; I could believe all the women being hot for Raul Roulien in The Last Man on Earth sooner than Chevalier here. The music is okay, but there's a reason we don't all hum Lehar, or sing him with Rodgers and Hart lyrics. Go ahead, tell me how wrong I am, what a philistine I am. But it's just not for me.
Except for Una Merkel and Edward Everett Horton, I agree. The one Lubitsch touch -- the open transom -- is it.

Do you see why I don't like MGM operettas? Compare it to Love Me Tonight, directed by Mamoulian.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by bobfells » Sat Sep 08, 2018 8:41 pm

I agree that the ‘34 WIDOW is Lubitsch caught up in the MGM bureaucracy. He must have had a different deal when he returned there in ‘39.
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Danny Burk » Sat Sep 08, 2018 8:51 pm

Interesting - I thought I was the only one that doesn't care for it. I much prefer the utterly different '25 version.

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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:14 pm

I should note that Filmstruck, which just added a bunch of Lubitsch movies for the time being, not only has all the MGM titles you expect but a couple of the spectacles-- Anna Boleyn and Sumurun-- which have become a little harder to see than the German comedies which Kino released a few years ago (and which are also mostly on Filmstruck now too). So there's plenty to see, and I'm working my way through the ones I either haven't seen at all (like The Merry Widow) or in years (Cluny Brown and Heaven Can Wait, which must be 20+ years).
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Re: Is Lubitsch funny?

Unread post by greta de groat » Sat Sep 08, 2018 10:40 pm

It's oddly unmemorable. On the other hand, i appreciate it because i've seen the operetta many times on the stage with various famous opera singers--and it never really comes off. The score is ok, if a bit thin, but opera singers generally don't have the kind of effortless charm that a souffle like this requires. There's always lots of painfully labored comedy from most of the cast. MacDonald and Chevalier come a lot closer to showing how it should be done. Plus it's a lot shorter.

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