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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Lubitsch in Berlin


Starring: Emil Janning, Pola Negri, Ossi Oswalda and Paul Wegener
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £25.99


Certificate: PG
Release Date: 18 September 2017

Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947) was a German Jewish director who made the successful transition into being an equally successful Hollywood director.

Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin is a three-disc Blu-ray collection of some of his earliest surviving silent films. The set takes its name from a feature length documentary which is also included. In the English-speaking countries, he is best known for his skilful comedies that he made in America, including To Be or Not to Be (1942) Ninotchka (1939), Trouble in Paradise (1932) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940).

He originally moved to Hollywood for a visit, but the changing political landscape of post war Germany and the rise of national socialism meant that his Jewish heritage led to him losing his German citizenship. What was a loss for Germany turned out to be good news for America as Lubitsch had been honing his comedic skills for decades. His skill as a comedic director became a selling point on all the posters promising the audience that ‘Lubitsch Touch’, which brought a European sensibility to American comedies which presumed that audiences were intelligent enough not to be spoon fed the plot.

The Blu-ray set gathers together seven of his earlier films, while there are comedic elements in all his work, the collected films represent a much wider range of genres.

Disc One:

Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to Be a Man 1918. 45 min, 23 sec) is the story of a young woman who feels that her sex puts her at a disadvantage, so she decides to dress as a man, a sort of reverse Victor, Victoria (1982). However, she finds that life as a man isn’t as easy as she thought it was. Like a lot of Lubitsch films, the comedy comes from the transgression of social mores.

Die Puppe (1918. 1 hr. 05 min 23 sec) is a romantic fantasy. A young man is being forced to marry to carry on his family line. He flees at the thought until he meets The Doll Maker, who has constructed a mechanical doll. In some ways this could also be thought of as an early science fiction film.

Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess. 1919. 57 min 57 sec). Oyster-king Quaker, a personification of how Germans viewed Americans, is so rich he has servants to lift his teacup to his lips. Having everything in the world the only thing which will make things perfect is if his little girl marries a real prince.

Disc Two:

Sumurun (1920. 1 hr. 43 min 56 sec) is a costume drama, a sort of Arabian Nights which revolves around a sheik's infatuation with a dancing girl, two lovers who must fight for their love, with the help of the Sheik's harem. Oh, for good measure it throws in a lovelorn dwarf.

Anna Boleyn (aka Deception. 1920. 2 hr. 03 min 55 sec) is a historical drama revolving around the second wife of Henry VIII.

Disc Three:

Die Bergkatze (The Wild Cat. 1 hr. 25 min 41 sec) is another romantic comedy. This time it’s a convoluted plot involving Lieutenant Alexis and his will they, won't they romance between him and a robber woman Rischka and the local blushing virgin, Lilli.

Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin: From Schönhauser Allee to Hollywood (2006. 1 hr. 49 min 32 sec) is a documentary, written and directed by Robert Fischer which covers Lubitsch’s career from his beginnings as a bit part player in the Berlin theatre. It covers his transition to cinema and his eventual move to Hollywood. The documentary includes directors as well as Lubitsch’s daughter and granddaughter, with audio contributions from people no longer alive. I suggest if you do not know the director's work that you start her. It’s a very good documentary and offers a wide-ranging grounding in the director’s work.

The films have all been restored and can be viewed with English intercards. The films are presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.


Charles Packer

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