Gustav Ucicky

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Tommaso
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am

Gustav Ucicky

#1 Post by Tommaso » Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:51 am

Now here's a director I'd like to see more from. Austrian Gustav Ucicky (1899-1961) started as cameraman for Michael Kertesz (aka Curtiz) before taking over as a director in the late 20s. His name is somewhat infamous now as he made some blatant propaganda pieces for the Third Reich, but those four films I was able to see show an apparently different man.

Only very little of his work is available on disc and even those films that are have no subs. First off is a very early Marlene Dietrich film, "Café Elektric" (1927), which was already referenced in the Silent Film Thread. Great atmosphere and beautiful sights of Vienna here. The next film I've seen by Ucicky is "Der zerbrochene Krug" (1937), a very well-made adaptation of the Kleist comedy starring Emil Jannings.

But what really spurred my interest are the 1939 "Der Postmeister" (The Stationmaster, adapted from Pushkin) and "Ein Leben lang" (1940, which is sadly not on DVD as far as I can see). Both can be classified as melodrama, but they are subtle and magnificently acted, with Heinrich George/Hilde Krahl and Paula Wessely, respectively, in the main roles. Both films are visually striking with lots of inventive but not intrusive camerawork and a certain lush quality to the sets and the dresses ("Postmeister" especially, which also features some brief moments of nudity) that you rarely saw in Austrian or German productions of that dark period. Ucicky really knew how to make his female leads shine, especially Hilde Krahl in "Postmeister", a film that with only a few changes might have been an ideal Garbo vehicle. Also, I was forcibly reminded of Ophuls by both films, but more in the sense of a common 'feeling' and sensitivity than, say, long camera tracks or other peculiarities. Definitely recommended; I was genuinely surprised about how good they were.

Has anyone seen other Ucicky films and would like to comment a little on them or on those I mentioned?

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lubitsch
Joined: Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:20 pm

Re: Gustav Ucicky

#2 Post by lubitsch » Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:52 am

Shall I repeat my usual moaning about the lack of international (not to speak of the limited national one) availability of german sound films between 1933-1965?
Ucicky's reputation will forever be compromised by his reactionary politics, directing Das Flötenkonzert von Sans-souci and Morgenrot before the Third Reich isn't going to win many sympathy today. This aside he's an utterly excellent craftsman, Morgenrot is THE genre-defining submarine film with a prowling camera in the sub and first-class special effects which attracted the notice of US reviewers. I also thought it rather daring to film a Kleist play and to start with 10 minutes where no word of the play is spoken. His Jeanne d'Arc version is slightly confused and seems to gravitate towards a Nazi ideology without really achieving it. Strangely Ucicky made his most reactionary pictures up to 1933 and then only returned once with Heimkehr to this topic which is more or less a remake of his own Flüchtlinge showing oppressed Germans who want to return to Germany from Asia or Poland.
I'd also put in a word for Der Postmeister as a DVD release for e.g. Kino, it's a Pushkin adaptation, feautures Heinrich George and a positively radiant Hilde Krahl and closes at least one gap in the international reception of Third Reich cinema. From what I have read he shared the fate of many competent Third Reich directors who declined towards utter mediocrity in the Post-war era though Das Mädchen vom Moorhof and Das Erbe von Björndal are supposed to be rather good. It's a subject for further research, maybe the 50th anniversary of his death in 2011 would be an opportunity.

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Tommaso
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am

Re: Gustav Ucicky

#3 Post by Tommaso » Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:19 pm

Thank you Lubitsch! I also heard that Ucicky's late films are mediocre, though it was perhaps mostly for the post-war Heimatfilm-genre that I didn't bother to watch "Björndal" when it was on TV not too far ago.
lubitsch wrote: Shall I repeat my usual moaning about the lack of international (not to speak of the limited national one) availability of german sound films between 1933-1965?
This is definitely worth repeating, though I'm not sure whether anyone would listen. The films from that period have next to no international reputation, unlike unavailable French or Italian films from the same time. There are reasons for this, of course, but I'm sure many here would be surprised about what treasures occasionally can be found in German sound films up to about 1940 (and sometimes also later, and in the post-war era).

Yes, the beginning of "Der zerbrochene Krug" is quite fascinating. Like in the other films I mentioned, there seems still to be a lot of silent film sensibility at work, even in such a dialogue-driven film as "Krug" necessarily is. But he makes very good use of interiors, and finds just the right places where to put the camera; indeed, as you say, the signs of a true craftsman. Whether his politics would necessarily hinder a wider reception of his films is a good question: everybody talks about Harlan, and Ucicky seems to be the far more subtle director in comparison; and I didn't recognize any sort of propaganda in those films I mentioned, much to my own surprise. Ucicky being Viennese might have helped to give his films a more 'international flair' in general.
lubitsch wrote:I'd also put in a word for Der Postmeister as a DVD release for e.g. Kino, it's a Pushkin adaptation, feautures Heinrich George and a positively radiant Hilde Krahl and closes at least one gap in the international reception of Third Reich cinema.
Absolutely, though they'd seriously have to unearth a better print than the one that is on the German Kinowelt disc. While the transfer is allright, the materials look like several generations down from the neg. But that's a minor point given how magnificent the film is. Though George in a way seems to slightly reprise his "Alexanderplatz"-role, as far as acting style and facial expressions are concerned, his performance is very believable and differentiated. Same for Krahl, though the real knock-out for me with these films was the young Paula Wessely in "Ein Leben lang"; no wonder she later became one of Austria's most famous actresses.
lubitsch wrote: From what I have read he shared the fate of many competent Third Reich directors who declined towards utter mediocrity in the Post-war era.
Apart from Trenker (obviously), I tend to think especially of Pabst here, whose last film "Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen" references the 50s Heimatfilm-genre not only in the title, but also in its style. Though it's actually a historical film about Carl Maria von Weber, it is indeed utterly forgettable and makes for a hard viewing even if you normally care very much for Pabst.

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lubitsch
Joined: Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:20 pm

Re: Gustav Ucicky

#4 Post by lubitsch » Thu Oct 01, 2009 9:19 am

Tommaso wrote: Whether his politics would necessarily hinder a wider reception of his films is a good question: everybody talks about Harlan, and Ucicky seems to be the far more subtle director in comparison; and I didn't recognize any sort of propaganda in those films I mentioned, much to my own surprise. Ucicky being Viennese might have helped to give his films a more 'international flair' in general.
Well you saw the easily accessible ones, I watched by accident yesterday Heimkehr and that's a film which really hurts. It's a fascinating case of guilt transfer a la Hitchcok because this anti-Polish film blames them for everything which in reality the Germans committed at the same time. Flüchtlinge was about more or less the same, but more of an adventure film, while Heimkehr is really nasty and vicious.
Ucicky was probably merely an ambitious craftsman and his propaganda films from 1933 on were written by the Nazi author Gerhard Menzel with Ucicky being a former cameramen being content to visualize that stuff. But he surely would have done well as contract director for a Hollywood studio.
Tommaso wrote:Absolutely, though they'd seriously have to unearth a better print than the one that is on the German Kinowelt disc. While the transfer is allright, the materials look like several generations down from the neg. But that's a minor point given how magnificent the film is. Though George in a way seems to slightly reprise his "Alexanderplatz"-role, as far as acting style and facial expressions are concerned, his performance is very believable and differentiated. Same for Krahl, though the real knock-out for me with these films was the young Paula Wessely in "Ein Leben lang"; no wonder she later became one of Austria's most famous actresses.
Have recorded Ein Leben lang but not seen it. I was always a bit suspicious of George's performances because he hams it up a bit, I've seen him a bit too often in this role of the big, strong but naive man. Wessely has just died a bit for me after Heimkehr, Krahl is one of the great missed opportunities of the German cinema, the same goes for Ilse Werner, both should have had more success after 1945 than they had.
Tommaso wrote:Apart from Trenker (obviously), I tend to think especially of Pabst here, whose last film "Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen" references the 50s Heimatfilm-genre not only in the title, but also in its style. Though it's actually a historical film about Carl Maria von Weber, it is indeed utterly forgettable and makes for a hard viewing even if you normally care very much for Pabst.
Post-war Pabst isn't that bad. Der Prozeß is a bit obvious in its humanism, but well-made. Geheimnisvolle Tiefe is a stylistic fireworks, a bit hollow, but fascinating to watch. So he clearly wasn't finished after the War, but it's really a fascinating phenomenon what happened to all these people. It's comparable to the decline of Curtiz and Walsh in the 50s but still it's hard to see why almost all these directors descended towards an artistic level which must have embarrassed them. Even Staudte and Käutner turned ou a few turkeys of no significance at all.

BTW, there's a nice bio + essay in Cinegraph on Ucicky, only three and five pages, but worth a look.

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Tommaso
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am

Re: Gustav Ucicky

#5 Post by Tommaso » Fri Oct 02, 2009 11:02 am

lubitsch wrote:
Ucicky was probably merely an ambitious craftsman and his propaganda films from 1933 on were written by the Nazi author Gerhard Menzel with Ucicky being a former cameramen being content to visualize that stuff. But he surely would have done well as contract director for a Hollywood studio.
Yes, I think so, too, and I wonder why he didn't choose to go to Hollywood when he apparently had the chance. It's always a bit hard to believe that a director could completely ignore the political implications of a script, even if at least with early Third Reich films the propaganda was generally much more 'hidden' than in later ones.

lubitsch wrote: Wessely has just died a bit for me after Heimkehr
I can understand that, I had a similar feeling after seeing Sybille Schmitz in "Tanz auf dem Vulkan", which is not even a hugely terrible film , but has still some pretty propagandistic undertones, but rather in the form of subtle manipulation. Paradoxically I can ignore the propaganda better if it's blatantly obvious (like in "Titanic"); with such films I have the choice to simply switch them off, or if I decide to go on watching, to concentrate on other aspects of the film in question. But if you've been put off by Wessely because of "Heimkehr" (which I haven't seen, so I cannot say how bad it is in terms of propaganda in comparison to Harlan's films for instance), just watch "Ein Leben lang" since you've recorded it anyway. I'm sure it will help to balance things a bit.


lubitsch wrote: Krahl is one of the great missed opportunities of the German cinema, the same goes for Ilse Werner, both should have had more success after 1945 than they had.
I'm not sure what to make of Ilse Werner. She is quite good in Käutner's "Wir machen Musik", but the same could be said about Marika Rökk in similar films. Good, but not much more; certainly no comparison to Lilian Harvey, for instance. Reminds me of the industry's attempts to replace Dietrich with someone like Zarah Leander... The problem here are the films themselves. The Käutner is quite allright, but with most other German revue-films of the time I find that they are far too tame and far less adventurously filmed than their American counterparts which they so desperately try to imitate. The Busby Berkeley-approximations in "Hallo Janine" are simply unimaginative and border on being terrible. But I agree that Werner and Krahl, probably also Rökk, should have had more success after 1945. Only that there were so few films in the post-war era in which they could have played a really good role, given that indeed even the good directors went into a terrible downward spiral, as you note.

lubitsch wrote: Post-war Pabst isn't that bad. Der Prozeß is a bit obvious in its humanism, but well-made. Geheimnisvolle Tiefe is a stylistic fireworks, a bit hollow, but fascinating to watch.
Sounds good, thanks for the headsup. Actually, I also think that his Stauffenberg-film "Es geschah am 20. Juli" is quite well made and certainly much more effective and exciting than most other adaptations of the story. But "Durch die Wälder" is truly bad.

lubitsch wrote: Even Staudte and Käutner turned ou a few turkeys of no significance at all.
Oh yes indeed (talking about Käutner). Thanks to reading that collection of essays on Käutner in which you took part I'm now at least convinced that not all of his films after 1950, apart from "Monpti", are forgettable, though it seems that those films which might be the best of that bunch are precisely those that are almost never shown on TV. But how a man who once made very good films in his beginnings was able to turn out an incoherent mess like "Schinderhannes" or, even worse, "Bildnis einer Unbekannten", is beyond me. Even considering that the 50s were a terrible period for German cinema in general.

serdar002
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2007 1:13 pm
Location: Germany

Re: Gustav Ucicky

#6 Post by serdar002 » Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:20 am

According to the German wikipedia, Ucicky was the son of Gustav Klimt. I liked all of the pre-1941 the films mentioned by you a lot, except Heimkehr which I haven't seen and don't want to, I think. Someone told me Yorck (1931) was irretrievably lost. I'm now getting, inspired by your posts, "Aufruhr in Damaskus 1939". And if someone could share Ein Leben lang in one way or another, pm please.

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