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December 2nd, 2008
About the Film
Promotional poster for M

Promotional poster for M (1931, dir. Fritz Lang)

When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, one of his earliest actions was to ban Jews from working in that country’s storied film industry, praised as the most creative cinema in the world. Men and women who had created landmarks of movie history fled their homeland in the ensuing months and years. Many of them went to Hollywood.

CINEMA’S EXILES: FROM HITLER TO HOLLYWOOD traces the experiences of the exiles who took refuge in Hollywood, and examines their impact on both the German and the American cinemas. In Germany, they had created such groundbreaking pictures as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Blue Angel, and M-The Murderers Among Us. In Hollywood, their influence ranged from the horror genre and film noir, to comedy and drama. With their lush compositions, they changed the role of music in the motion picture. They even made westerns.

More than 800 film professionals escaped to Hollywood in the years between 1933 and 1939. They include actors Felix Bressart, Hedy Lamarr and Peter Lorre; directors Fritz Lang, Henry Koster, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann; composers Frederick Hollander, Hans Salter and Franz Waxman; and cinematographer Rudy Mate. Not every exile found success in Hollywood; most never regained the fame they had known in Europe. Many had to seek work outside the industry. Still others would fail in America, financially dependent on the generosity of fellow Germans, among them actress Marlene Dietrich, and director Ernst Lubitsch. A few returned to Germany after the war — but not many. The majority had set upon the road taken by many refugees, that of integrating into the American culture – and giving an element of themselves back to that culture.

Production still from To Be Or Not To Be (1942, dir. Ernst Lubitsch)

By the 1950’s the émigré’s output reflected a degree of professional integration in Hollywood perhaps unimagined when they had all dreamt of California as a destination. Their films number among the classics of the American cinema. Excerpts from several of them are included in CINEMA’S EXILES: FROM HITLER TO HOLLYWOOD, among them The Bride of Frankenstein, Fury, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ninotchka, To Be or Not To Be, Casablanca, The Wolf Man, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, Sunset Boulevard, High Noon, The Big Heat, and Some Like It Hot. The program also highlights the films created by the early German cinema, including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, The Blue Angel, and M – The Murderers Among Us.

In addition to film clips, CINEMA’S EXILES includes a variety of visual elements: behind-the-scenes archival footage of director Fritz Lang in Germany, Marlene Dietrich’s Blue Angel screen test, rarely seen historical footage. Home movie footage and photographs have been provided to the production by the several of the exiles’ families, and the production has received the cooperation of the Museum of Film and Television, Berlin, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles and the National Archives. Eyewitness accounts of this era are provided by screen actress Lupita Kohner, author Peter Viertel and with archive statements from Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Fred Zinnemann, among others.

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