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Erik Visits an (Non) American Grave, Part 264

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This is the grave of Max Ophüls.

Max Oppenheimer was born in 1902 in Saarbrücken, Germany to a textile manufacturer. The family was quite well-off and so when young Max started his acting career, he changed his name so that his father wouldn’t be embarrassed if he failed. Turned out he didn’t have too much to worry about on that front. Ophüls started on the stage in 1919 and got a lot of work. He turned to directing in 1923, adding producing in 1924 and then becoming creative director at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1926. He was still only 24 years old. Having produced or otherwise been involved in 200 plays by 1929, he moved to film. His first film, a short comedy, came out in 1931.

A Jew, Ophüls left Germany as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933. He continued to work and became a French citizen in 1938. When the Germans invaded France, he managed to get to Switzerland and eventually to the United States. When he came to the U.S., he was pretty depressed, as one can understand, and he stopped working for awhile. But Preston Sturges was a big fan of his work and got him connected in Hollywood. He finally started directing again in 1947, with The Exile. The next year, his excellent Letter from an Unknown Woman came out, with Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan. He returned to Europe in 1950 and hit his peak period, with several excellent films. 1950’s La Ronde, a fun, sophisticated film about a bunch of people and their affairs set in 1900 Vienna, won the BAFTA for best film. 1952’s Le Plaisir was three vignettes around the theme of pleasure. It received an Oscar nomination for set design. 1953′ The Earrings of Madame de… continued along this style, following a pair of diamond earrings as they pass from rich woman to rich woman. Then came Lola Montès in 1955, a story about a woman in the circus who is the lover of many wealthy European men. He started working on his next film, The Lovers of Montparnasse, based on the last year of Modigliani. But he dropped dead of a heart attack on set. He was only 54 years old. Jacques Becker finished the film. Ophüls was truly a master of European sophistication on film, perhaps the greatest director of all time to work on that theme. Dying so young likely robbed us of several excellent films, although I imagine he would have fit in very poorly with the French New Wave, although I haven’t researched their response to his work.

Max Ophüls and his wife, Hilegard Wall, who acted in a few German silents before quitting the movies when she married, are buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France. Their son, Marcel Ophüls, became a great director himself.

If you would like this series to visit the graves of other great film directors, presumably ones buried in the United States, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. There are so many to go see. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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