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Meet Ernst Lubitsch, Hollywood Legend

Ernst Lubitsch was a Hollywood legend and rom-com pioneer. Ever heard of him?

Recently I posted an old Hollywood photo from the 1937 movie Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich. Also in the photo is the film’s director, Ernst Lubitsch. To my surprise, Who2 did not have a profile of Ernst Lubitsch.

Now Who2 does have a biography of Ernst Lubitsch.

He was a giant in Hollywood for over 20 years, but he died in 1947, so it’s understandable that 65 years later he wouldn’t be a household name. The closest modern audiences have come to Lubitsch might be the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

I didn’t see the movie. Why would, I, right? I saw the trailer and saved myself the effort of seeing the actual movie. Not that I’m a snob — two days ago I spent eleven dollars to see a buffed-out Guy Pearce in the stupider-than-stupid thriller Lockout.

But Meg Ryan is about as appealing to me as a flat ocean, and Tom Hanks has all the charisma of a nice hue of household paint (interior latex). So I don’t need to see them doing that movie thing where they pretend they hate each other, while WE know they really love each other.

You’ve Got Mail is pretty much a remake of the 1940 Lubitsch film The Shop Around the Corner, which starred Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

In the course of reading up on Lubitsch, I turned to David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film. It’s a great read for film fans, that book. Thomson can be downright catty at times, and certainly harsh — and yet, I still walk away from even his most brutal assessments feeling pretty convinced. In discussing The Shop Around the Corner, Thomson says, “The café conversation may be the best meeting in American film.”

Whoa! What a statement! I had to see if I could find this café scene to see if it was all that. Well, of course it’s not. How could it be? We all know the “best meeting in American film” is when Napoleon Dynamite meets La Fawnduh.

I was fortunate, however, to find a clip that combines the café scene from The Shop Around the Corner with the café scene from You’ve Got Mail, right here.

For more on Ernst Lubitsch, go to the Who2 biography, and follow the links.

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