25. Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947)
“Hitchockian” and “Felliniesque” are two common adjectives in the English language. But the one director who left an entire phrase as part of his legacy is Ernst Lubitsch.
Though some contend that “The Lubitsch Touch” was a phrase concocted as a publicity stunt—an attempt to ‘brand’ the director and increase his popularity—the term stuck. It has come to signify a certain bit of sophistication, wit and intelligence in film, making it possible for a director not to bend the rules of cinema, but find a way around them. Like Billy Wilder (whom he collaborated with on Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife and Ninotchka), Lubitsch’s razor-sharp observations of America were probably
due in large part to his standing as an outsider, having only left his native Germany in 1922. Says writer-director Sherman Alexie: “I wish his love of spoken language was more common in contemporary movies. The people in his movies were so damn smart, so clever, so biting and satiric, yet were capable of being foolish and vain. I wish more movie directors used dialogue to convey character, rather than relying on image and action.”
Sticking mainly to comedies, Lubitsch relied on superb writing and strong actors to bring his stories to life, leaving camera experimentation and tricks to others. As a result, his “touch” is not seen in any heavy-handed visual style, but rather in the overall emotion of such films as Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be, and Heaven Can Wait.
What directors do you feel we overlooked? Let us know in the comments.