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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.

  • Cara Soltsani

    How absurd! Not one mention of Austria (or Hungary for that matter), where most of these “German” exiles came from–and after the 1938 annexation, not at Hitler’s rise in 1933. Has no one done any research–or is this reductive production doing just what Hitler did–absorb Austria into Germany and forget that Hollywood had a far longer history with Vienna than with Berlin? Hedy Lamarr, Henry Koster, etc. never made a film in Germany. Why were Austrian film archives not included–or at least some neutral scholars? Hardly brings anything new or even accurate. The study of artist-exiles from Central Europe has been much more differentiated and nuanced in literature for the last 20 years.

  • Tita Beal

    Beyond the interesting film history, this documentary shows the challenge of changing cultures, languages, countries, continents – even for the most privileged. Three others:
    - Tonio Selwart, Austrian star, not Jewish, who left in protest and arrived in Hollywood blonde, blue-eyed, German accent. He spent his life playing the Nazis he hated, but he never was bitter. Lived in the US for our democratic equality but returned to Europe every summer after the war because he loved the form. He did this until he died at 104 years old
    - Oigen Bryden, a German theater director who had to escape because of his political resistance to Nazis, and his wife, actress Sonia Bryden (Russian, half Jewish) who were on a boat filled with refugees that no country would take. Finally they found a sponsor (my parents.) Oigen had to escape out the back of the theater. Sonia got a message saying take the first train out of Germany with their 3 year old. When the SS boarded the train, they showed Oigen’s photo to his young son and asked, “Is this your father?” Sonia dug her fingers into the child so he seemed to gag. She said he was sick and took him to the bathroom, told him no matter what they say, do not say that is your father. The Nazis were waiting outside the bathroom… and 3 year old Jimmy was heroic enough to keep silent about his father so the family escaped. Jimmy became became a NASA scientist who worked on the Apollo project. But life was as hard as the documentary shows – and they were theater not film people. They got a job as a butler and cook – but Sonia had been raised with servants, didn’t know how to cook. The documentary reminded me of how much talent was lost – and made me think about how any of us would handle a forced exodus to, say, China or India.

  • Donald Wolf

    It’s a remarkable film. It makes absolutely clear the tremendous impact of German cinema artists-actors, writers, directors, producers- on Hollywood film in the 1930’s. The film I grew up with!

  • Thos. Williams

    Great program idea, good clips, quite well executed, but poorly narrated with botched German-language pronunciation by Sigourny Weaver.

  • Primrose Meier

    Great documentary.I’d like to have a copy to review it again. Is it possible?

  • Mark Andersen

    One of the best Hollywood documentaries I have ever seen.

  • GMR

    A fascinating and informative documentary about this historical period. I was especially interested to see the various “home movies” of these artists.. Hollywood in the 40’s… a fabulous look back.

  • WSimmons

    This was one of the most grippingly informative documentaries I have ever seen, presenting so much information of crucial importance to the history of film that I wish I had taken notes.

  • Dave

    In the film, it was mentioned that in 1936 Jewish film makers (producers, directors, screen writers, etc.) were banned in Austria. I always thought that it was in 1938. If 1936 was the year (2 years before the nazi’s marched in and took over the government) is there a law that is documented or a website that explains that and the timeline of Jewish people in film and the arts?

  • Joan Haase

    Excellent!!! Thank you for a job well done.

  • Leah Levin

    As an avid fan of movies of the 30s and 40s, I enjoyed watching this film enormously. Learning about the German filmakers influence in the movies of that era such as creating drama in movie music, and camera angles using shadows thereby creating film noir.

    What took so long in producing this film?

    But, many thanks for airing it.
    among other

  • john Vogel

    a magnificent piece of film history. This is a priceless archive of the background of some of the great european actors, composers, directors and producers. The fact that these immigrants were jewish is not as important as the reason why they had to come to America. The faces could have been black or asian or hispanic. It is a vivid example of the vile nature of prejudice and the wealth bestowed upon us as the result of the forced immigration. I never knew the backgrounds of many of the people in the credits. I would pick out the stories of Wilder, Lubitsch and Zinneman as particularly good examples. Fred Zinneman’s short film on Semmelweis is more understandable now. Thank you for this gem. When will it be out on DVD?

  • Sylvia Kimmel

    Bravo, 5 stars for this excellent, well done, information packed piece of history.

  • Len Lewy

    Seeing this film touched me and helped me more fully understand my parents’ story as non-artist exiles from Nazi Germany. It is hard to believe, but America really did impose a curfew on them as Germans. I think Mom and Dad took comfort from and were even proud of the fact many who made and acted in movies of the time shared their plight as refugees from Europe and could give Hitler a black eye in such films as Casablanca and To Be and Not to Be.

  • Cassandra Carroll

    I would love to obtain a copy of this program on DVD, where and when will one be available to order.
    Thank you.

  • gary evans

    The several earlier documentaries and books on film noir rarely (if at all)touch on the fact that these exiles’ persecution as Jews played a key role in the development of noir. Their experience of social abandonment no doubt helped them recreate the desperate atmosphere that we recognize as the feel and idea of noir. Caveats about missing historical details aside, this factor is an important contribution to our understanding of film noir.

  • Doug Lenier

    We missed most of the program when it first aired on KCET. PLEASE, PLEASE run it again!!!

  • Jeff Knight

    Truly fascinating and masterful in its visualizations. I had no idea of the struggles of these artists and actors in getting out of Germany–actual or annexed–and finally settling here, or the role people like Marlene Dietrich played in helping them in the process. I was also amazed at learning that Karl Freund, legendary cinematographer who helped Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball make “I Love Lucy” one of the shining lights of TV’s golden age, virtually created the “film noir” style of motion picture photography. Thank you.

  • A. Bledow

    It is interesting that Billy Wilder’s biography lists Austria as his place of birth, when in the documentary we see a glimpse of his papers and it reads Sucha, Poland. The area may have been ruled or partitioned to Austria as a time, but he is from Poland, which may account for his filming the concentration camps… since he spoke Polish. Many artists and emigres made themselves appear more cosmopolitan and denied acknowledgement of their true origins. I am also surprised by the lack of mention of Austria, Hungary, and Poland (Molly Picon and so many others). Peter Lorre’s real name is not of German origin… the documentary is great, but the problems in research are surprising.

  • Norman Jacobson

    An inspirational documentary. Please run it again so those who missed it can enjoy it as much as I did.

  • richard grupenhoff

    A fascinating and rewarding documentary. I will show it to my film history students. It is often difficult to include everyone, and my only disappointment was the omission of Erich Maria Remarque, author of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” He came to Hollywood in 1939.

  • Jay Lesiger

    Please rerun this program again. It sounds fascinating for any student of world or American film.

  • Steve Hillyer

    PLEASE issue this on DVD.

  • Eleanor Karp

    I would love to see this documentary. Will you be doing it again? Eleanor

  • Viktor Zavadsky

    Where & how can I buy this on dvd? Please!!!!!!

  • Lynda Appleton

    I also would like information on when this documentary will air again and/or if it is available on DVD.
    Thank you

  • Arnie Jacobson

    Please, please, please . . . announce soon that a DVD version is available!

  • petra hardy

    please notify me when i can purchase this DVD asap !

  • Christine Jennings

    Please let me know when/where I can buy/order this DVD, I have been searching for a few months…or when WGCU will run it again at the very least.

  • Jutta Heiner

    A most fascinating and informative documentary. Please run it again on WETA or MPT soon and make it available as DVD.

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  • monica mills

    I have heard that Cinema’s Exiles was one of the most important
    programs ever shown. I am researching this topic and the lives
    of some of the composers brought to Hollywood. I missed the PBS
    production and am so anxious to see it. Is it possible to purchase
    a copy of it for only my personal viewing. Thank you.


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