I should have told you to see To Be or Not to Be at the Cleveland Cinematheque last weekend. There was a big crowd there, anyway, because the Plain Dealer wrote a nice story about the film and the Ernst Lubitsch series it’s a part of. Lubitsch’s films are the best kind: they’re classic works of art and also highly entertaining. As the spouse of a hardcore film buff, I can tell you those two things do not always go together.
Next in the series on the 9th and 10th (5:15 pm and 4:00 pm, respectively) is Ninotchka, in which, famously, “Garbo laughs.” Greta Garbo plays a Soviet agent who happens to fall in love with a playboy played by Melvyn Douglas. Bela Lugosi’s in it, too, but not as Dracula, and it was co-written by Billy Wilder of Sunset Boulevard fame. 1939 was an extraordinary year for films. Besides this one, there’s The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, and many others.
If you’ve never seen a film with Greta Garbo, you should see this one. If you’ve never seen a film by Ernst Lubitsch, come to this one; you may be hooked for the rest of the series.
Lubitsch was a Jewish German émigré who arrived in the U.S. in 1922 to direct a film starring Mary Pickford. He never left. Here’s what John wrote in the Cinematheque flyer about Lubitsch:
“Lubitsch’s films. . . were often cynical, amoral, and risqué, so to skirt the censors’ scissors, he had to be discreet in his depiction of taboo subjects. He managed to do this via a virtuosic, often elliptical visual style that used objects (e.g., closed doors) as metaphors, thus slyly suggesting illicit activities rather than showing them explicitly. This ability came to be celebrated as the ‘Lubitsch touch.'”
And, I might add, his movies are very funny.