The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.
- Audrey Hepburn

Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Past chats with our guests.

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
Robert Regan
Posts: 290
Joined: June 12th, 2012, 3:59 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Robert Regan » January 31st, 2014, 9:52 am

Thank you, Mr. Isenberg, for your thoughtful and informative responses to all these questions that my friends here have asked before I could. I am wondering, though, if you have ever seen, as I have, a print of Sunrise with an Ulmer credit? Any information on that?

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 10:37 am

JackFavell wrote:Hi, Mr. Isenberg! Thank you so much for visiting the Oasis! It's terribly exciting to have you here, since we are all Ulmer fans to one degree or another here.

I just bought your book a week ago, but haven't been able to read even a page yet, I just haven't had any time as yet. Can you tell me if Ulmer's continued blacklisting was solely because of his trouble with the Laemmles? Or was there something in his nature that was so uncomfortable - abrasive, or foolhardy, or grandiose, or deluded, or whatever that Hollywood continued to ignore him, keeping him working at the smaller studios? Or was it eventually perhaps his own choice? His talent is so obvious, one would think someone would have relented after a while, as is the case with so many other Hollywood blacklisting stories.


Ulmer tended to be gruff at times, and as I wrote in response to one of the earlier posts, he didn't always mask his contempt for producers and moneymen. It wasn't simply that he chose NOT to work for the studios; in fact, in the biography I refer to two very explicit moments--one in 1941 and the other in 1949--when his letters to Shirley make it abundantly clear that he hoped to break into the studios. (He is convinced, fleetingly it would seem, in the summer of 1941 that he's got a contract from Paramount lined up. Likewise, at an advance screening of Pirates of Capri in the Excelsior Hotel in Rome, in 1949, he insists that the big-studio reps from MGM, Warners, Paramount, etc. are thoroughly impressed with his work.)

JackFavell wrote:Also, I was wondering if he was ever in despair about the blacklisting? Was he philosophical? Arrogant even? I really have no idea of his personality, but something got him through those years, still working, even with constraints. Was he in the end happy with his work, his life?


He was in general quite happy with his work--his years at PRC, 1942-1946, were an especially happy time--but there were definitely intermittent bouts of depression, acute feelings of inadequacy, or also the occasional sense that the studios (especially the moguls) failed to recognize greatness.

JackFavell wrote:Perhaps he was a bit fanciful about what films he worked on, or perhaps it's that some other artists didn't want to acknowledge his contributions. Were the more fanciful stories perhaps a result of that blacklisting, or was it part of his nature in the first place to tout his 'achievements' like this?


That's a very good question. I think he had a penchant for arrogance at times--maybe it was insecurity or fear that his accomplishments wouldn't otherwise be recognized--and the blacklisting (in his case for love, NOT for politics) gave him more reason, perhaps, to harbor a grudge, to wear a chip on his shoulder, and/or to fashion himself as a true renegade.

JackFavell wrote:My first Ulmer film was THE BLACK CAT. which I remembered seeing once when I was a kid, and it stuck with me like glue for years and years, until I finally saw it again this last year. Did he use any of his personal experiences of war as a jumping off place for this movie? Was his writing for the movies inclusive of dialogue or did he simply outline stories and let others do the scripting? How much of a relationship did he have with writers on his films?


Yes, the experience of the First World War was central to this film. Ulmer's father died in Austrian uniform, fighting on the Italian front, in 1916. Not yet a teenager, he was sent on his own to identify the body in Innsbruck and to transfer his remains to Vienna. This was a HUGE loss for young Edgar, who was soon after sent by the Hoover Commission and a Jewish aid organization to foster care in Sweden. Although the film was scripted by Peter Ruric (a.k.a. Paul Cain or George C. Sims), Ulmer surely had input, and most assuredly placed an emphasis on the Great War, both visually and narratively.

JackFavell wrote:I too am curious how you sifted out fact from fiction in Ulmer's life.

One more question - did he and his wife have a good relationship after the scandal? I imagine that life must have been difficult for them. I also wonder if his life was a series of falls from grace - first losing a country, then a careeer. Did this affect him painfully?


I gather you mean the final scandal, when Ulmer was found having a long-time affair with Irmgard Kornrauth, with whom he had a final daughter, Carola Angela Ulmer, in 1967. Yes, things were terribly strained until the end, on the final day of September 1972. But Ulmer suffered a series of strokes, and Shirley couldn't seem to countenance a divorce under such circumstances; she cared for him, as did their daughter Arianne, until the end. But yes, there were many falls from grace, and I think that is what prompted the Cahiers critics, Luc Moullet in particular, to think of Ulmer as a cinéaste plus maudit.

Thank you so much for your responses. I hope we haven't given you too much all at once. :D

Wendy[/quote]

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 10:41 am

To the best of my recollection, I have never seen a print of Sunrise with an Ulmer credit--and yet he is indeed listed, together with Berlin-born designer Rochus Gliese, as the films official set designer. And in the reviews, he's even mentioned by name. I think here, despite his many dubious claims of having worked on glorious films of the great cinematic pantheon, he is indeed on firm ground.

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 10:49 am

MikeBSG wrote:Welcome to the Oasis!

I haven't seen a lot of Ulmer's work, but I have a few questions.

1) On "The Black Cat," did he get along okay with Karloff? I read the Ulmer interview with Bogdanovich, and Ulmer seemed to imply that Karloff found "The Black Cat" to be a rather ludicrous project.


Ulmer really liked Karloff. I include a production still of the two of them, as well as an extra from the Black Mass scene, having tea on the set (apparently Karloff insisted on this each day). Ulmer appreciated his professionalism and found him to be an especially serious actor in comparison to Bela Lugosi, who apparently liked to ham it up and exaggerate his acting style to such a degree that Ulmer had to cut away.

MikeBSG wrote:2) Also on "The Black Cat," was there a lot of footage cut from the ending? I recently came across something that implied that Karloff's death scene was much, much longer originally.


The shooting script, as I recall, has the death scene more protracted, and it also includes a Hitchcock-like cameo in the final scene (with Ulmer picking up Peter and Joan Allison on the road after the apocalyptic explosion of Fort Marmoros).

MikeBSG wrote:3) I like "Bluebeard," a great deal. How did Ulmer get along with John Carradine?


John Carradine was a great family friend of the Ulmers--and in fact lived with them, together with his son, when he was dodging his ex-wife in a nasty divorce--and Ulmer was extremely impressed by Carradine classical, Shakespeare training as an actor.

MikeBSG wrote:4) Also pertaining to "Bluebeard," the movie makes me think of "The Lodger." Did Ulmer know or like John Brahm, who directed "The Lodger" and "Hangover Square."


Alas, no knowledge whatsoever of Ulmer's ties to John Brahm. Sorry.

Thanks,

Mike[/quote]

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 10:52 am

Robert Regan wrote:ChiO, before we get serious here, let me note that I once saw at MOMA a 16mm print that included Ulmer's name in the Art Direction credits. But only that one time.



I take it you mean Sunrise here. Is that right? If so, it would make sense (though I myself cannot verify it -- at least not on the fly).

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 10:57 am

mongoII wrote:Well, it appears that I'm a tad too late with the questions I had ready for Noah since most of them have been asked already.
In any event I'll welcome Noah to the Silver Screen Oasis and I'll sit back and relax while I enjoy his responses to the questions which I find interesting.
Thank you
Joe
Oh! Did Hedy Lamarr enjoy working with Mr. Ulmer? Phew.



Hedy Lamarr and Ulmer had a very fractious relationship -- things blew up a few times on The Strange Woman, when they purportedly had a steamy affair, and on The Loves of Three Queens, a fiasco of a picture, he stormed off the set. There's a rather hilarious recounting of the scene by Scottish actor John Fraser, quoted in full, in my book (pp. 228-229)

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 11:04 am

kingrat wrote:Welcome to the Oasis! I have a couple of simpler questions.

1. Is a good print of The Strange Woman available anywhere? This was one of the poorest prints I've ever seen on TCM. An interesting film, even if George Sanders isn't exactly the most obvious choice to play a lumberjack.


You'd have to check with Ulmer's daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, about the print availability. Arianne runs the Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corp., and has a much better handle on prints -- she's hunted them down on several continents -- than do I. Her email is: [email protected]

kingrat wrote:2. How did Ulmer get involved with Carnegie Hall, which is like a snapshot of some of the most famous classical music performers from the 1940s? I love the close connection between Hollywood and classical music in the 1940s.


Carnegie Hall came to Ulmer via producers Boris Morros and William LeBaron, both of whom had been at Paramount and who established an independent company, Federal Films, to make the movie (its only credit as a production company). Ulmer wanted merely to do a documentary, a tribute to the great artists, but they insisted on including the very schmaltzy story.

kingrat wrote:Thank you so much for chatting with us.

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2014, 11:26 am

Thank you so much for your replies, Mr. Isenberg. Cineaste plus maudit indeed seems to describe the man perfectly, not to mention his movies. I hope you don't mind some more questions?

I recently watched Her Sister's Secret, at Theresa/CineMaven's urging. I found the film really amazing in that there were no bad guys, the characters were thoughtful, almost philosophical about their circumstances and everyone had her reasons. I was also amazed at how rich the film's backgrounds were and the moodiness of the piece. Do you have any idea how Ulmer created that moodiness that marks his films? He takes such time with this one, establishing the story, how the characters react to their situation and to each other. I found it remarkably modern with that 'no bad guy' plot. I know there's a question in there somewhere.... don't quite know what it is though! If you could mention some of the backstory of this film or anecdotes, I'd greatly appreciate it. Do you feel that Ulmer's outlook was ahead of his time, as far as creating characters in conflict without the judgment of 'evil' or 'bad' placed upon them?

I find Hedy Lamarr's character in The Strange Woman so very modern, in some ways quite liberated. Now that I know that Hedy produced the film it makes sense. What could have been another Gone With the Wind style film ends up being kind of exhilarating for me, because of her refusal to fit into the traditional mold - either that of a wife/mother/girlfriend, or of the 'bad woman' or 'loose woman'. I think two of her best films are ones in which she plays women who are completely antithetical to any traditional women's roles of that time, The Strange Woman and H.M. Pulham Esq. How much input did Ulmer have with the script, or the way the character was presented? Did he and Hedy have any point of vision with this film? Did they have a lot in common personally? Hedy could have hired Ulmer to work on her next pictures. Why didn't she?

Many directors are closed mouthed about their vision for their pictures, even sometimes saying they don't think that a film is artistic or refusing to believe that it has many double edged meanings - re: John Ford just saying a film is a "job of work". Sometimes they literally don't know how it came out that way, it just happened as a by-product of the director himself, his own demons or imagination. Did Ulmer intend for or realize that Detour would be seen in (at least) two ways, as a story of desperation on the part of an innocent man, but also as a possible mind game - the story being perhaps a rationalization on Tom Neal's part, even possibly a complete fabrication by him to explain the murder. The main character's narrative is not reliable. Was this purposeful do you think or was he working too fast to even note the depth of it?

Thanks again.

Wendy

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby moira finnie » January 31st, 2014, 11:31 am

Thank you for your detailed answers, Noah. Here are a few more questions:

1.) One aspect of Ulmer's sometimes ambivalent personality that intrigued me in your book was his response to America, which seems to have been bound up with his contempt and longing for "that place between the desert and the sea,"--Hollywood, the center of commercial filmmaking. Could you see how his becoming a citizen in 1943 and his deepening loyalty to his adopted country informed several of his films?

2.) In the '50s, he seems to have been tempted to apply for German citizenship in order to secure a long-term contract at a Munich-based studio he helped envigorate. Do you think he would have been more at home working exclusively in the European market in the postwar period?

3.) One of the most amusing descriptions in your book about The Strange Woman (1946) refers to how Ulmer felt that he "had to work hard to get the desired performance he wanted from Lamarr. Taking a page from Murnau's directing manual, he purportedly used his baton to lash his ankles whenever she missed a cue, trying as best he could to make her act like a tigress." Lamarr later appears to have confessed that, despite this kind of "persuasion," she was no tigress. Do you think he changed his approach to directing over time? Did you find any evidence to indicate a difference between Ulmer's approach to directing actors and actresses?

4.) If Edgar Ulmer is the gifted, very human hero of your book, In some ways, Shirley Ulmer seems like the down-to-earth heroine of your biography. One of the most interesting aspects of your book are the incisive comments by this perceptive individual, who in many ways, counterbalanced her husband's occasional bouts of wounded self-aggrandizement, despair and his overly charitable comments about some of the less scrupulous people he encountered. Was she a difficult person to understand and research?
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2014, 11:58 am

When was the protracted death scene cut out of The Black Cat? I've read about the editing before. It may just be the power of that scene on my young brain, or the power of suggestion playing tricks on me, but I swear, the first time I saw the film, the death scene took more time and was more horrifying. That would have been sometime in the 1970's, on Chicago station WGN's Creature Features.

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 4:04 pm

JackFavell wrote:Thank you so much for your replies, Mr. Isenberg. Cineaste plus maudit indeed seems to describe the man perfectly, not to mention his movies. I hope you don't mind some more questions?

I recently watched Her Sister's Secret, at Theresa/CineMaven's urging. I found the film really amazing in that there were no bad guys, the characters were thoughtful, almost philosophical about their circumstances and everyone had her reasons. I was also amazed at how rich the film's backgrounds were and the moodiness of the piece. Do you have any idea how Ulmer created that moodiness that marks his films? He takes such time with this one, establishing the story, how the characters react to their situation and to each other. I found it remarkably modern with that 'no bad guy' plot. I know there's a question in there somewhere.... don't quite know what it is though! If you could mention some of the backstory of this film or anecdotes, I'd greatly appreciate it. Do you feel that Ulmer's outlook was ahead of his time, as far as creating characters in conflict without the judgment of 'evil' or 'bad' placed upon them?

I find Hedy Lamarr's character in The Strange Woman so very modern, in some ways quite liberated. Now that I know that Hedy produced the film it makes sense. What could have been another Gone With the Wind style film ends up being kind of exhilarating for me, because of her refusal to fit into the traditional mold - either that of a wife/mother/girlfriend, or of the 'bad woman' or 'loose woman'. I think two of her best films are ones in which she plays women who are completely antithetical to any traditional women's roles of that time, The Strange Woman and H.M. Pulham Esq. How much input did Ulmer have with the script, or the way the character was presented? Did he and Hedy have any point of vision with this film? Did they have a lot in common personally? Hedy could have hired Ulmer to work on her next pictures. Why didn't she?


Ulmer didn't toy with the script too much, as far as I know, but Hedy was adamant about wanting a very strong female character -- so strong in fact that in the scenes in which we see a young Jenny, when Arianne Ulmer initially acted as Jenny, Hedy scrapped it and demanded that the scene be reshot (purportedly by Douglas Sirk) when Ulmer refused to reshoot. They certainly had a lot in common, their Viennese upbringing and that cultural impact on them (they may have known each other as kids, but that's not totally clear), but they sparred on set. Hedy could have hired Ulmer, and may have wanted to do so, but he'd already taken off for New York by the time The Strange Woman had its premiere.

JackFavell wrote:Many directors are closed mouthed about their vision for their pictures, even sometimes saying they don't think that a film is artistic or refusing to believe that it has many double edged meanings - re: John Ford just saying a film is a "job of work". Sometimes they literally don't know how it came out that way, it just happened as a by-product of the director himself, his own demons or imagination. Did Ulmer intend for or realize that Detour would be seen in (at least) two ways, as a story of desperation on the part of an innocent man, but also as a possible mind game - the story being perhaps a rationalization on Tom Neal's part, even possibly a complete fabrication by him to explain the murder. The main character's narrative is not reliable. Was this purposeful do you think or was he working too fast to even note the depth of it?


I think Detour was always for Ulmer a deeply psychological exercise. He identified so much with the down-and-out pianist Al Roberts that it quickly became a very personal undertaking, even if he feuded with Martin Goldsmith about the script and the adaptation of Goldsmith's source novel.

JackFavell wrote:Thanks again.

Wendy

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 4:14 pm

moirafinnie wrote:Thank you for your detailed answers, Noah. Here are a few more questions:

1.) One aspect of Ulmer's sometimes ambivalent personality that intrigued me in your book was his response to America, which seems to have been bound up with his contempt and longing for "that place between the desert and the sea,"--Hollywood, the center of commercial filmmaking. Could you see how his becoming a citizen in 1943 and his deepening loyalty to his adopted country informed several of his films?


Yes, by 1943, when the war was raging, and many filmmakers began to lend their talents to the war effort (Mark Harris has a new book due out next month, FIVE CAME BACK, which addresses this subject with great care and substance), Ulmer arguably felt more American than he ever did in his entire life. With the rise of McCarthyism, and with such films as Ruthless and his relatively abrupt departure for Europe, you see the initial sparkle of his patriotism beginning to wane, if not disappear altogether.

moirafinnie wrote:2.) In the '50s, he seems to have been tempted to apply for German citizenship in order to secure a long-term contract at a Munich-based studio he helped envigorate. Do you think he would have been more at home working exclusively in the European market in the postwar period?


He was certainly caught in-between, one of those citizens of the world (what the Germans/Austrians call a "Weltbürger"), paradoxically at home everywhere and at home nowhere. Making films in Munich in the 1950s, he and Shirley were definitely a bit spooked by the immediacy of the Nazi past, and Ulmer especially avoided a return to Vienna for that same reason.

moirafinnie wrote:3.) One of the most amusing descriptions in your book about The Strange Woman (1946) refers to how Ulmer felt that he "had to work hard to get the desired performance he wanted from Lamarr. Taking a page from Murnau's directing manual, he purportedly used his baton to lash his ankles whenever she missed a cue, trying as best he could to make her act like a tigress." Lamarr later appears to have confessed that, despite this kind of "persuasion," she was no tigress. Do you think he changed his approach to directing over time? Did you find any evidence to indicate a difference between Ulmer's approach to directing actors and actresses?


When Ulmer felt he wasn't getting the desired response out of an actor, male or female, he could very quickly turn on you: he did this with Lucille Lund in The Black Cat; with Hedy Lamarr in The Strange Woman; with several of his actors in The Cavern. He apparently also struggled a bit with Victor Mature on Hannibal.

moirafinnie wrote:4.) If Edgar Ulmer is the gifted, very human hero of your book, in some ways, Shirley Ulmer seems like the down-to-earth heroine of your biography. One of the most interesting aspects of your book are the incisive comments by this perceptive individual, who in many ways, counterbalanced her husband's occasional bouts of wounded self-aggrandizement, despair and his overly charitable comments about some of the less scrupulous people he encountered. Was she a difficult person to understand and research?


Shirley Ulmer is in many ways the unsung hero! She was the true jack-of-all-trades (Jackie-of-all-trades?) on his films, serving not only as script supervisor (or script girl, in the parlance of the day), but as frequent screenwriter, producer, location manager, personal shrink, travel agent, mother, wife, spiritual guru!

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2014, 5:00 pm

Mr. Isenberg,

What drew you to German/Austrian studies?

Can you tell me about Ulmer's ethnic Yiddish films a bit? Did you find copies of these, or did you have to visit an archive to watch them?

Thanks so much for visiting us today. I can't wait to delve into your book! Please feel free to visit us again anytime.

Noah_Isenberg
Posts: 0
Joined: January 28th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby Noah_Isenberg » January 31st, 2014, 5:44 pm

JackFavell wrote:Mr. Isenberg,

What drew you to German/Austrian studies?


After being humiliated in my French class at Penn, my plans to spend junior year in Paris suddenly switched to junior year in Munich (I'd lived in Stockholm as a teenager, and had picked up Swedish, so German wasn't too terribly difficult


JackFavell wrote:Can you tell me about Ulmer's ethnic Yiddish films a bit? Did you find copies of these, or did you have to visit an archive to watch them?


They have all been released on DVD from the Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University. I watched them before on the big screen, on lousy VHS tape, and eventually got all 4 DVDs sent to me, when I promised to review them for the Forward newspaper in NYC.

JackFavell wrote:Thanks so much for visiting us today. I can't wait to delve into your book! Please feel free to visit us again anytime.


What a complete pleasure it's been. I'm about to head out for dinner now, but may check in later or some time over the weekend, in case there were any final posts. I've enjoyed this a great deal. Many thanks for having me as a guest visitor!

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Q & A For Noah Isenberg, the Biographer of Edgar G. Ulmer

Postby moira finnie » January 31st, 2014, 6:23 pm

It has been very inspiring to have you here, Noah.

Here's just two more questions from me and then I'll shut up!:

1.) Could you please name five (or more) Essential Edgar G. Ulmer Movies we should see to begin to get a handle on this protean, if unlucky talent?

2.) When you publish your next book, Everybody Comes to Rick’s: How ‘Casablanca’ Taught Us to Love Movies, could you please return for another visit?

Thanks so much.

I hope that others will post questions for you this evening...
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks


Return to “Archived Guest Stars”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest