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Such a mercurial director almost requires the prismatic approach of a critical anthology rather than the single thesis of a monograph. The essays in Edgar G. Rhodes divides the contributions into sections on texts and contexts surrounding the director, the film noirs , individual films, and three case studies of The Black Cat. Two essays, for example, are exceptional in the way they explore psychoanalytic theory through Ulmer, rather than merely applying it to him.

He writes that we cannot even regard the characters on screen as separate biological entities:. The stakes are elsewhere. Jekyll pursues all the offshoot questions of this quirky film. We may not be sure, but we remain interested. By examining production history and cross-textual references, Pummer reveals the extent to which Cossacks in Exile was a collaborative effort between Ulmer and Vasile Avramenko. One of the signal achievements of this volume, however, is its demonstration of how difficult it is to let go of this legend, even as we maintain a critical understanding of it.

Several of the authors mention that it took Ulmer only four days to shoot Detour. He somehow too felt he was being tuned up His parting words, after explaining to his son that he may not return from the front and that he should be prepared to take care of his mother and siblings, are instructive: "Never forget your and my name Throughout the narrative the trauma of war figures with great prominence.

When George visits the comparatively grand, sumptuous home of his friend Heinrich, who "played the piano like a virtuoso" and is two classes ahead of George, they debate the merits of the patriotic fervor-the so-called spirit of that swept the country in the early years of the Austrian military campaign. Playing on the Latin education of Viennese schoolchildren of Ulmer's generation, George cites Horace's Odes, "Dulce est pro patria mori" It is sweet to die for one's country , and goes on, in one of the more thinly veiled autobiographical moments of the novel, to confront Heinrich: "So my father was killed in your war.

What does that make us children? War orphans! My mother was left with four children. Pabst a year later. The rotten taste of "warbread" serves as a redolent leitmotif in the novel. Following their heated discussion, George ends up storming off from his friend's home only to find himself with a prostitute called Peppi, whom he recognizes from the breadlines in which he waits with his maid.

Peppi offers a kind of familiar, possibly maternal comfort-she affectionately calls George "Bubi" an Austrian term of affection for a small boy -that he is willing to pay for. As his first sexual partner, Peppi is accorded special status. George insists, as a means of preserving her status as long as possible, that she accept his extra payment of ten kronen so she can spend the entire night sequestered in their hotel room without entertaining additional patrons. Not with the son of God on the cross, but woman. In a highly compressed chapter, limited to a single typewritten page, Ulmer opens with yet another musical allusion, marking the chosen tempo of his work "allegro con brio," an ostensible reference to the countless Viennese composers, from Haydn through Schoenberg, who were known to begin their symphonies in that same tempo.

The setting here, however, is the horrible winter of , when rations were cut and the initial war frenzy had begun to wane. A melody like a dirge began slowly to rise. Ulmer writes of George, "He wanted no part of his home, nor his mother.

The Best Films of Edgar G. Ulmer

His general linguistic mastery-minor syntactical errors and, in spoken English, his thick Viennese accent notwithstanding-is impressive. As for his protagonist, George leaves his mother's house behind and moves in with a Dr. Donat engages with George in a kind of dialogic analysis, a talking cure of sorts. For Ulmer, as he noted repeatedly in his letters, the pure intellectual or artist, loyal to his or her pursuit-the genius perhaps-forms a separate social class.

The air is thin, cold, way up there. Practically no people live up there. It's warmer in the valley where all the other people live. There is laughter down there, children and the comfortable house and somebody who belongs to you. The penultimate chapter concludes with George lying down to sleep, with a final thought of transformation: "Always something happened to lift him from the greatest despondency to a state of security from which he was able to start the trek of his earthly existence anew. The novel offers little in the way of resolution.

In fact, the fifth and final chapter is just as skeletal as some of the other more compressed parts. There is no formal denouement.

Edgar G. Ulmer by Noah Isenberg - Hardcover - University of California Press

Instead, George awakens the next morning, somewhat confused and disoriented, at Dr. Donat's home. Donat two years ago, greets him in her pink robe. She teases George for wearing one of Erika's sleeping gowns, calls him "the run-away" and mistakenly addresses him as "Joseph" instead of George, possibly an allusion to the biblical figure known to be an interpreter of dreams.

George is "put properly in his place" by the rhetorical skills of the aspiring actress, and the story essentially comes to a halt there. As elsewhere in the writing process, Ulmer shows a high degree of self-awareness; indeed, the very act of writing a fragmentary, autobiographical work with literary pretensions is itself highlighted throughout the text. Erika Donat, in conversation with George, declares herself to be "good material for a novel or play in the modern vein" and suggests possible affinities to Jakob Wassermann and Henrik Ibsen.


Long after setting out to write his novel, Ulmer would remain enthralled by notions of self-mythologizing and the vast powers of the human imagination. Like many artists before him, Ulmer felt the need to declare himself a native son of Vienna and, in so doing, claimed a profound attachment-emotional, cultural, and otherwise-to the storied city. The song's refrain goes as follows:. As the scene of Ulmer's first metropolitan experience, Vienna certainly attained the status of city of dreams, and he continued to treat it as such long after he left it behind, first for Sweden, then for Berlin to work on Max Reinhardt's stage productions, and still later on for New York, Hollywood, and eventually back to Europe once more.

Indeed, the course of Austrian cinema was not unlike the itinerary of Ulmer's life. From the very beginning the industry was necessarily international, with well-trodden paths leading to Berlin, Paris, and, somewhat later, Hollywood. By the time Ulmer reached his teens, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that vibrant amalgamation of cultures and ethnicities, no longer existed.

Past Films

And even before that, the Jews of Vienna, as Carl Schorske has noted, had become regarded as a "supra-national people. Erich von Stroheim would take on a self-avowed air of Prussian aristocracy; Otto Preminger pedaled the image of a Teutonic tyrant, something he shared with Fritz Lang; Billy Wilder embraced the identity of a former gigolo and star reporter "In a single morning," he boasted to Playboy 's Richard Gehman, "I interviewed Sigmund Freud, his colleague Alfred Adler, the playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler, and the composer Richard Strauss.

In one morning" ; and Ulmer, no less immodestly, fashioned himself a wunderkind from Reinhardt's renowned drama school and an "aesthete from the Alps. As Ulmer once remarked of Stroheim, with a tone of approval, if not outright adulation: "I loved Stroheim.

  1. Detour () | The Criterion Collection.
  2. Filmography.
  3. About the Book.
  4. Anthology Film Archives!
  5. Survival Instincts Part 2.
  6. An Advent Sojourn.

The man invented his own character-everything" B From childhood onward, Ulmer would remain engaged in the process of self-invention; his Viennese youth, the skills he learned, and the cultural mythology that seems to have followed him to the New World featured prominently in this process. The decadence of the Habsburg monarchy was in some ways the pervasive sense of impersonation, of pretending to be in possession of values and status that relied for credibility not on substance but on convincing performance, on persuading others to take an appearance for the reality.

There were, however, real-life events that punctuated the illusion of living merely in a spectacular world of appearances. After his father Siegfried's death-it's hard not to think of the event in mythical, even Wagnerian, terms-with the help of a Jewish aid organization and the U.

Hoover Commission, Edgar and his sister Karola were sent to a foster family in Sweden, where they remained until the end of the war his brother, Max, found foster care in England, his sister Elvira in Holland.


To qualify for financial support, Ulmer's mother, Henriette, allegedly had to present her children as orphaned nieces and nephews. A surviving photo from that period shows Ulmer, in , with his Swedish host family. Surrounded by mostly smiling young girls, he looks strangely ill at ease, uncharacteristically serious and without any hint of play, staring rather blankly at the camera Figure 5.

Likewise, Ulmer seems to have left a strong impression on his Swedish foster family, and it is perhaps that positive experience that made it possible for him, upon leaving Sweden, to return not to his mother who, by , had begun a relationship with a new man, something that her teenage son had difficulty countenancing but instead, much like the character of George in "Beyond the Boundary," to enter into yet another nonbiological family structure.

Returning to Vienna in , Ulmer moved in with the Schildkrauts, a father-son acting duo, Rudolf and Joseph, who were largely responsible for introducing him to the world of theater and cinema. Around this same time, in continued rebellion against his mother, he rejected her plans for him to become a furrier, a trade that Middle European Jews of his generation pursued in relatively large numbers, and instead registered for courses at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts.

Cast and crew

This sort of rebellion was not uncommon among Ulmer's cohort of aspiring filmmakers. There is, regrettably, no surviving record at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts of Ulmer ever having formally enrolled; records of this sort are generally kept only for graduates of the academy, which suggests that, assuming he attended at all, he never graduated. In Shirley Ulmer's rendition, written in a personal letter from , "[Ulmer] had wanted to be a symphony conductor, but his widowed mother wouldn't sponsor his education along these lines. Even so, he took the next best route along 'the world of make believe'-the stage.

Regardless of the precise circumstances surrounding his formal studies-as Ulmer tells it, before his time with Reinhardt, "I took my schooling at the Burg Theater in Vienna" B , the city's most historically renowned dramatic venue-the true details of which will likely never be known, what is clear is that the Schildkrauts served as an important conduit for Ulmer, an initial apprenticeship of sorts in preparation for his later career.

As Ulmer describes it himself, in conversation with Bogdanovich: "In my youth, the first time I ran away from home was with Rudolph Schildkraut and Pepi [i. Pepi was at the beginning in the theatre with me. Rudolph was, of course, a fantastic actor, and he understood kids" B Rudolph Schildkraut was a matinee idol, the Barrymore of that time.