Ernst Lubitsch was a German-American film director, producer, and screenwriter, whose career spanned from the silent era to the 1940s.
He is widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, known for his sophisticated comedies and his deft touch with complex subject matter.
Here are some of his best films, ranked in no particular order:
“To Be or Not to Be” (1942) – A brilliant satire about a group of actors in Nazi-occupied Poland who use their theatrical skills to outsmart the Gestapo.
“Ninotchka” (1939) – A romantic comedy starring Greta Garbo as a stern Soviet official who falls in love with a charming Parisian playboy.
“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) – A charming romantic comedy about two bickering co-workers (played by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) who are unaware that they are secretly in love with each other.
“Trouble in Paradise” (1932) – A witty and sophisticated romantic comedy about a pair of con artists who fall in love while trying to swindle a wealthy heiress.
Ernst Lubitsch’s films are marked by their clever dialogue, subtle humor, and sophisticated storytelling.
His films continue to be studied and admired for their enduring wit and charm, making him one of the most important and beloved filmmakers of the classic Hollywood era.
Best Ernst Lubitsch Movies
Here are the top Ernst Lubitsch films. Each one showcases his unique style and his ability to find humor and romance in even the most difficult of situations.
1. Ninotchka (1939)
“Ninotchka” is a 1939 romantic comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, and Ina Claire.
The film tells the story of a stern Soviet Union envoy named Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushova, who is sent to Paris to sell off the jewels seized from the aristocracy during the Russian Revolution.
While in Paris, Ninotchka falls in love with a charming Frenchman, causing her to question her strict adherence to Soviet principles.
The film is notable for its witty dialogue, sophisticated humor, and engaging performances. Garbo, in particular, gives a standout performance as Ninotchka, bringing a rare combination of humor and vulnerability to the character.
The film’s sharp satire of Soviet bureaucracy and rigid adherence to Communist ideology was also groundbreaking at the time of its release.
“Ninotchka” was a critical and commercial success, earning four Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Garbo.
The film is now considered a classic of the screwball comedy genre, and it remains a beloved favorite among fans of classic Hollywood cinema.
Overall, “Ninotchka” is a delightful and charming film that showcases the talents of some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars and filmmakers.
2. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
“The Shop Around the Corner” is a 1940 romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
The film follows the story of two bickering employees of a Budapest gift shop who are unaware that they are each other’s anonymous pen pals, with whom they have fallen in love.
The film is notable for its charming dialogue, witty banter, and clever use of misdirection and misunderstandings.
It also features strong performances from its leads, who bring a sense of warmth and vulnerability to their roles.
The film has been praised for its timeless themes of love, trust, and communication, as well as its ability to find humor and grace in the everyday experiences of ordinary people.
“The Shop Around the Corner” has been remade several times, including as a musical (“In the Good Old Summertime”) and as a romantic comedy (“You’ve Got Mail”), but the original remains a beloved classic of the romantic comedy genre.
3. To Be or Not to Be (1942)
“To Be or Not to Be” is a 1942 black comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.
The film is set in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and tells the story of a troupe of Polish actors who use their theatrical skills to outsmart the Gestapo and save their country.
The film is notable for its blend of comedy and political satire, as well as its risky subject matter.
The film was released during the height of World War II and deals with the sensitive subject of Nazi occupation.
Despite the controversial subject matter, the film was well-received by audiences and critics alike and is now considered a classic of both Lubitsch’s filmography and the black comedy genre.
The film’s title is a reference to the famous Shakespearean quote from “Hamlet,” and the film features several references to the play throughout.
Jack Benny gives a masterful performance as Joseph Tura, the vain but talented leader of the theater troupe, while Carole Lombard shines as his clever and resourceful wife, Maria.
“To Be or Not to Be” remains a beloved film to this day, thanks to its clever script, engaging performances, and unique blend of humor and political satire.
4. The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)
“The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” is a 1927 romantic drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer.
The film tells the story of a young prince who is sent to the University of Heidelberg to continue his education, where he falls in love with a charming barmaid named Kathi.
The film is noted for its lush production values, romantic storyline, and memorable musical numbers, including the classic song “Deep in My Heart, Dear.”
It also features standout performances from its lead actors, who bring depth and complexity to their characters and help to elevate the film beyond a simple romance.
One of the film’s most striking features is its use of the “Lubitsch touch,” a term coined to describe the director’s ability to suggest sexual and romantic themes through subtle innuendo and suggestion, rather than explicit content.
This technique is on full display in “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg,” adding a layer of sophistication and nuance to the film’s portrayal of love and romance.
Overall, “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” is a classic example of early Hollywood filmmaking, combining sweeping romance, lush visuals, and memorable music to create an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Its enduring popularity and influence are a testament to the enduring power of great filmmaking and storytelling.
5. Trouble in Paradise (1932)
“Trouble in Paradise” is a 1932 romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall.
The film follows the story of a pair of smooth-talking thieves, Gaston (Marshall) and Lily (Hopkins), who fall in love while trying to swindle a wealthy widow (Francis).
As their love affair blossoms, they find themselves torn between their passion for each other and their desire for wealth and luxury.
The film is notable for its sophisticated humor, elegant style, and playful approach to romance and sexuality.
It features witty dialogue, clever misdirection, and a lightness of touch that makes it a joy to watch.
The chemistry between the leads is palpable, and the film’s depiction of their love affair is both charming and sexy.
“Trouble in Paradise” is considered one of Lubitsch’s greatest films, and a masterpiece of the pre-Code era. It has been praised for its sophisticated storytelling, its daring approach to sexual themes, and its ability to find humor and romance in the midst of criminal activity.
The film remains a classic of the romantic comedy genre, and a testament to Lubitsch’s unique style and sensibility.
6. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
“The Smiling Lieutenant” is a 1931 musical comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, and Miriam Hopkins.
The film tells the story of a charming lieutenant in the Austrian army who becomes torn between his betrothed, a virtuous violinist, and a vivacious, flirtatious princess.
The film is notable for its sophisticated humor, catchy musical numbers, and Lubitsch’s trademark use of innuendo and suggestion.
The film’s opening sequence, in which Chevalier serenades several women on a park bench, has become one of the most iconic scenes in Lubitsch’s filmography.
Chevalier gives a delightful performance as the charismatic lieutenant, while Colbert and Hopkins shine as the two women who vie for his affections.
The film’s memorable musical numbers include “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” and “You Stole My Heart.”
“The Smiling Lieutenant” was well-received by critics and audiences upon its release and has since become a beloved classic of the pre-Code era.
The film’s playful and light-hearted tone, combined with Lubitsch’s deft touch, makes it a must-see for fans of classic Hollywood cinema.
7. Angel (1937)
“Angel” is a 1937 romantic drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, and Melvyn Douglas.
The film tells the story of a beautiful young woman named Maria, who marries a wealthy Englishman named Sir Frederick Barker, but falls in love with a charming American named Anthony Halton.
The film is notable for its elegant visuals, witty dialogue, and sophisticated humor, which are hallmarks of Lubitsch’s signature style.
It also features standout performances from its lead actors, particularly Dietrich, who brings a nuanced and complex portrayal of a woman torn between duty and desire.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film involves Maria’s attempt to maintain her composure during a dinner party, despite the presence of her lover and the tension that ensues.
This sequence, like many others in the film, showcases Lubitsch’s ability to balance humor and drama with grace and skill.
Overall, “Angel” is a classic example of early Hollywood filmmaking, combining romance, drama, and wit to create a timeless cinematic experience.
Its enduring popularity and influence are a testament to the power of great storytelling and the enduring legacy of one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers.
8. The Doll (1919)
“The Doll” is a 1919 silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It is a romantic comedy that tells the story of a wealthy man named Lancelot who is set to marry a woman he does not love, but instead falls for a life-size doll he mistakes for a real woman.
The film is notable for its use of humor and satire to critique the upper-class society of its time, and for its inventive use of special effects to bring the doll to life.
Lubitsch’s light touch and wit are evident throughout the film, as he explores themes of love, desire, and the artifice of social conventions.
“The Doll” is considered one of Lubitsch’s early masterpieces, and a key example of the sophisticated style that would come to define his work.
It has been praised for its clever use of visual gags and for its playful exploration of gender roles and sexual desire.
The film remains a classic of the silent era, and a testament to Lubitsch’s unique blend of comedy, romance, and social commentary.
9. The Marriage Circle (1924)
“The Marriage Circle” is a 1924 silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Florence Vidor, Monte Blue, and Adolphe Menjou.
The film tells the story of a group of upper-class couples in Vienna whose marriages are all intertwined in a web of infidelity and deception.
The film is notable for its witty and sophisticated script, as well as its nuanced exploration of marital relationships. Lubitsch’s use of symbolism and visual gags adds to the film’s comedic and artistic value.
The performances in the film are uniformly excellent, with Vidor and Menjou particularly standing out for their portrayal of a couple on the verge of divorce.
The film’s themes of infidelity and mistrust are handled with a deft touch, and the film’s ambiguous ending leaves much to interpretation.
“The Marriage Circle” was a commercial and critical success upon its release, and helped to cement Lubitsch’s reputation as a master of the romantic comedy genre.
The film’s influence can be seen in the works of later directors such as Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and it remains a beloved classic of silent cinema to this day.
10. Design for Living (1933)
“Design for Living” is a 1933 romantic comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins.
The film tells the story of two artists, Tom and George, who both fall in love with a young woman named Gilda.
The three of them eventually decide to live together in a platonic arrangement, but soon find themselves struggling to resist their romantic feelings for each other.
The film is notable for its witty and sophisticated dialogue, which explores themes of love, art, and unconventional relationships.
It also features standout performances from its lead actors, who bring nuance and depth to their characters, and help to elevate the film beyond a simple romantic comedy.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film involves Tom, George, and Gilda taking a train to Paris, where they encounter a wealthy American art collector named Max Plunkett.
The ensuing conversation between the three characters and Max is a showcase of Lubitsch’s signature style, combining humor, romance, and social commentary in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Overall, “Design for Living” is a classic example of early Hollywood filmmaking, combining wit, sophistication, and charm to create a timeless cinematic experience.
Its enduring popularity and influence are a testament to the power of great storytelling and the enduring legacy of one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers.
11. Heaven Can Wait (1943)
“Heaven Can Wait” is a 1943 romantic fantasy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, and Charles Coburn.
The film tells the story of a charming and successful man named Henry Van Cleve (Ameche), who recounts his life story to the devil (played by Laird Cregar) after being denied entrance to heaven.
The film is notable for its witty and urbane dialogue, its romantic and fantastical themes, and its deft blend of humor and pathos.
It explores the themes of love, marriage, and mortality, and offers a whimsical and philosophical reflection on the nature of human existence.
“Heaven Can Wait” has been praised for its innovative storytelling, its engaging characters, and its elegant visual style.
It was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and remains a beloved classic of the romantic comedy and fantasy genres.
The film is a testament to Lubitsch’s unique approach to filmmaking, and to his ability to infuse even the most fantastic stories with a sense of emotional depth and human truth.
12. Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925)
“Lady Windermere’s Fan” is a 1925 silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name.
The film stars May McAvoy, Ronald Colman, and Irene Rich and tells the story of a scandalous affair that threatens to destroy the marriage of Lady Windermere.
The film is notable for its sharp wit, clever dialogue, and stylish direction, as well as its sophisticated exploration of themes such as social class, morality, and gender roles.
Lubitsch’s use of visual storytelling and symbolic imagery adds to the film’s artistic and emotional depth.
The performances in the film are uniformly excellent, with McAvoy giving a standout performance as Lady Windermere, and Colman delivering a charming and nuanced performance as the mysterious Lord Darlington.
The film’s themes of betrayal and forgiveness are handled with a deft touch, and the film’s twist ending is both surprising and satisfying.
“Lady Windermere’s Fan” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and helped to establish Lubitsch as a master of the romantic comedy genre.
The film remains a beloved classic of silent cinema and a testament to Lubitsch’s enduring artistic legacy.
13. The Oyster Princess (1919)
“The Oyster Princess” (German title: “Die Austernprinzessin”) is a 1919 silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson.
The film tells the story of a wealthy American heiress named Ossi, who is known as “The Oyster Princess” due to her love of luxury and extravagance.
She decides to find a prince to marry, and hires a matchmaker to find a suitable candidate.
The film is notable for its satirical and humorous take on the excesses and frivolities of the wealthy class, as well as its innovative use of cinematic techniques, such as expressive camera movements and visual gags.
It also features standout performances from its lead actors, particularly Ossi Oswalda, who brings a vivacious and engaging presence to her character.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film involves Ossi’s elaborate wedding ceremony, which is marked by various mishaps and comic misunderstandings.
The scene is a showcase of Lubitsch’s skill at creating complex and visually inventive set pieces, as well as his ability to infuse them with humor and satire.
Overall, “The Oyster Princess” is a classic example of early Hollywood filmmaking, combining satire, humor, and innovation to create a timeless cinematic experience.
14. I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918)
“I Don’t Want to Be a Man” is a 1918 silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Ossi Oswalda, who would become a frequent collaborator with the director.
The film is a comedy that tells the story of a young woman named Ossi who dresses in men’s clothing to go out and have a good time.
Along the way, she meets and flirts with a variety of men, but finds that the experience is not as enjoyable as she had hoped.
The film is notable for its exploration of gender roles and sexuality, as well as for its clever and playful approach to comedy.
It features a number of visual gags and witty intertitles that make it a joy to watch. The film’s critique of traditional gender norms was daring for its time, and it remains a classic example of Lubitsch’s unique style and sensibility.
“I Don’t Want to Be a Man” has been praised for its innovative storytelling, its charming performances, and its ability to find humor and pathos in the exploration of gender and sexual identity.
The film remains a beloved classic of the silent era, and a testament to Lubitsch’s willingness to take risks and challenge conventional thinking in his work.
3 Characteristics of Ernst Lubitsch Films
Ernst Lubitsch was a highly influential filmmaker known for his distinctive style, which combined wit, sophistication, and visual inventiveness. Here are three characteristics that are often associated with his films:
Subtle, sophisticated humor: Lubitsch was known for his ability to infuse his films with a dry, subtle sense of humor that often relied on witty dialogue and clever visual gags.
His films were rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but instead featured a more refined and sophisticated type of comedy that appealed to more discerning audiences.
Emphasis on character relationships: Many of Lubitsch’s films explored the intricacies of human relationships, often focusing on the ways in which characters interacted with one another.
He was particularly skilled at depicting romantic relationships, often using them as a way to comment on larger societal issues and themes.
Visual elegance and inventiveness: Lubitsch was known for his highly stylized and visually inventive approach to filmmaking, which often incorporated innovative camera angles, intricate set designs, and intricate choreography.
His films were marked by a sense of elegance and refinement, and he was highly regarded for his ability to use visual storytelling to convey complex ideas and emotions.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Ernst Lubitsch Films
Ernst Lubitsch was a master filmmaker whose work has left an indelible mark on cinema. Here are three reasons why you should watch his films:
His films are witty and sophisticated: Lubitsch was known for his clever and urbane approach to storytelling, and his films are full of witty banter, sly innuendos, and subtle satire.
Watching his films is like taking a
His films are timeless: Despite being made almost a century ago, Lubitsch’s films remain relevant and entertaining today.
They offer a glimpse into a bygone era, but their themes of love, desire, and human foibles are timeless.
His films are visually stunning: Lubitsch was a master of visual storytelling, and his films are full of beautifully composed shots, inventive camera angles, and striking use of light and shadow.
His films are a feast for the eyes and offer a
Overall, Lubitsch’s films are a testament to the power of cinema to entertain, enlighten, and inspire. They are timeless classics that deserve to be watched and appreciated by film lovers of all ages.
Best Ernst Lubitsch Films – Wrapping Up
Ernst Lubitsch was a master of the romantic comedy genre, and his films remain beloved classics of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Some of his most notable works include “To Be or Not to Be,” “Ninotchka,” “The Shop Around the Corner,” and “Trouble in Paradise,” all of which showcase his trademark wit, sophistication, and visual storytelling.
Lubitsch’s films were known for their clever dialogue, expertly timed physical comedy, and nuanced exploration of themes such as love, morality, and social class.
He was a master of subtlety and suggestion, often relying on symbolism and innuendo to convey his ideas.
Lubitsch’s influence can be seen in the works of later filmmakers such as Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, and Pedro Almodóvar, and his legacy continues to be celebrated by film lovers and critics around the world.
If you are a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, or simply enjoy well-crafted romantic comedies, Lubitsch’s films are a must-see.
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