Carole Lombard fulfilled a longtime dream in the fall of 1941 when she finally was able to act in an Ernst Lubitsch film, "To Be Or Not To Be." They'd been on good terms since the early 1930s, when Carole yearned to be in one of his movies.
He'd already played a key role in her career in 1935 and early '36, when he was named Paramount's head of production, the only director of note to hold that position at a major studio. In the wake of "Twentieth Century" the year before -- made at Columbia, but a critical success for both the film and for her -- Lubitsch made sure Lombard received material geared to her strong suit...smart comedy. The result? "Hands Across The Table," arguably her best Paramount vehicle.
Lubitsch was a master at the craft, perhaps my all-time favorite director. And for the next several weeks, his artistry will be honored in a retrospective in Los Angeles, appropriately held at the Billy Wilder Theater.
Wilder wrote for Lubitsch early in his career before becoming a director (and knew Lombard, though he never had the opportunity to work with her).This quote -- "How would Lubitsch do it?" -- hung in Wilder's office for many years. He also said of Lubitsch, "He could do more with a closed door than other directors could do with an open fly." In other words, subtext, thy name is Lubitsch.
The program, "How Did Lubitsch Do It? Ernst Lubitsch Revisited," kicks off tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. with the silent "So This Is Paris" and lasts through Aug. 24. (Ahd yes, "To Be Or Not To Be" is on the schedule, sharing a July 21 twin bill with "One Hour With You.")
Tomorrow's opening night includes two special guests: His 79-year-old daughter Nicola Lubitsch and film historian Joseph McBride, who has written a new book on her father called "How Did Lubitsch Do It?"
McBride will sign and sell copies tomorrow and July 7, when the Wilder presents two classics, "Ninotchka" and "The Shop Around The Corner."
For more information and to order tickets, visit https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2018/ernst-lubitsch-revisited. Actors adored working with Lubitsch (including Marlene Dietrich, whose "Angel" will be shown with "Trouble In Paradise" Aug. 4). After seeing this 16-film retrospective, you'll understand why.