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Max Ophüls

Max Ophüls
Maximillian Oppenheimer

(1902-05-06)6 May 1902
Died26 March 1957(1957-03-26) (aged 54)
Resting placePère Lachaise Cemetery
  • Germany
  • France (from 1938)
Occupation(s)Director, Writer
Years active1931–1957
SpouseHildegard Wall (m. 1926)
ChildrenMarcel Ophuls

Maximillian Oppenheimer (/ˈɒpənhmər/ OP-ən-hy-mər, German: [maksiˈmiːli̯aːn ˈʔɔpn̩ˌhaɪmɐ]; 6 May 1902 – 26 March 1957),[1] known as Max Ophüls (UK: /ˈɔːfəls/ AW-fəlss, US: /ˈfəls/ OH-fəlss,[2] German: [maks ˈʔɔfʏls]) or simply Ophuls, was a German-born film director who worked in Germany (1931–1933), France (1933–1940 and 1950–1957), and the United States (1947–1950). He made nearly 30 films, the latter ones being especially notable: La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1952), The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) and Lola Montès (1955). He was credited as Max Opuls on several of his American films, including The Reckless Moment, Caught, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and The Exile. The annual Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis in Saarbrücken is named after him.


Youth and early career

Max Ophüls was born in Saarbrücken, Germany, the son of Leopold Oppenheimer, a Jewish textile manufacturer and owner of several textile shops in Germany, and his wife Helene Oppenheimer (née Bamberger). He took the pseudonym Ophüls during the early part of his theatrical career so that, should he fail, it would not embarrass his father.[3]

Initially envisioning an acting career, he started as a stage actor in 1919 and played at the Aachen Theatre from 1921 to 1923. He then worked as a theater director, becoming the first director at the city theater of Dortmund. Ophüls moved into theatre production in 1924. He became creative director of the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1926. Having had 200 plays to his credit,[citation needed] he turned to film production in 1929, when he became a dialogue director under Anatole Litvak at UFA in Berlin. He worked throughout Germany and directed his first film in 1931, the comedy short Dann schon lieber Lebertran (literally In This Case, Rather Cod-Liver Oil).

Of his early films, the most acclaimed is Liebelei (1933), which included a number of the characteristic elements for which he was to become known: luxurious sets, a feminist attitude, and a duel between a younger and an older man.

It was at the Burgtheater that Ophüls met the actress Hilde Wall.[4] They were married in 1926.[5]

Exile and post-war career

Predicting the Nazi ascendancy, Ophüls, a Jew, fled to France in 1933 after the Reichstag fire and became a French citizen in 1938. After the fall of France to Germany, he travelled through Switzerland and Italy, where he had directed Everybody's Woman (1934). In July 1941, before leaving for the United States, he stayed in Portugal, in Estoril, at Casa Mar e Sol.[6] Once in Hollywood, championed by director Preston Sturges, a longtime fan, he directed a number of distinguished films.[citation needed]

His first Hollywood film was the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. vehicle, The Exile (1947). Ophüls' Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), derived from a Stefan Zweig novella, is the most highly regarded of the American films.[1] Caught (1949), and The Reckless Moment (1949) followed, before his return to Europe in 1950.

Back in France, he directed and collaborated on the adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde (1950), which won the 1951 BAFTA Award for Best Film, and Lola Montès (1955) starring Martine Carol and Peter Ustinov, as well as Le Plaisir and The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), the latter with Danielle Darrieux and Charles Boyer, which capped his career. Ophüls died from rheumatic heart disease on 26 March 1957 in Hamburg, while shooting interiors on The Lovers of Montparnasse, and was buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. This final film was completed by his friend Jacques Becker.

Ophüls's son Marcel Ophüls became a documentary-film maker, director of The Sorrow and the Pity and other films examining the nature of political power.[7]


All his works feature his distinctive smooth camera movements, complex crane and dolly sweeps, and tracking shots.

Many of his films inspired filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick[citation needed] and Paul Thomas Anderson, who gave an introduction on the restored DVD of The Earrings of Madame de... (1953).

Some of his films are narrated from the point of view of the female protagonist. Film scholars have analyzed films such as Liebelei (1933), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and Madame de... (1953) as examples of the woman's film genre.[8] Nearly all of his female protagonists had names beginning with "L" (Leonora, Lisa, Lucia, Louise, Lola, etc.)

Actor James Mason, who worked with Ophüls on two films, wrote a short poem about the director's love for tracking shots and elaborate camera movements:

A shot that does not call for tracks
Is agony for poor dear Max,
Who, separated from his dolly,
Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
Once, when they took away his crane,
I thought he'd never smile again.


Year Title English title Country Notes
1931 Dann schon lieber Lebertran I'd Rather Have Cod Liver Oil Germany Short film
Die verliebte Firma The Company's in Love Germany
1932 Die verkaufte Braut The Bartered Bride Germany
1933 Liebelei Germany French version Une histoire d'amour released the same year
Lachende Erben Laughing Heirs Germany
On a volé un homme A Man Has Been Stolen France Lost film[9]
1934 La signora di tutti Everybody's Woman Italy
1935 Divine France
1936 Komedie om geld The Trouble With Money Netherlands
Ave Maria France Documentary short film
La Tendre Ennemie The Tender Enemy France
Valse brillante de Chopin France Documentary short film
1937 Yoshiwara France
1938 Le Roman de Werther The Novel of Werther France
1939 Sans lendemain There's No Tomorrow France
1940 L'École des femmes France
De Mayerling à Sarajevo From Mayerling to Sarajevo France
1946 Vendetta Vendetta United States Fired during filming
1947 The Exile The Exile United States
1948 Letter from an Unknown Woman Letter from an Unknown Woman United States
1949 Caught Caught United States
The Reckless Moment The Reckless Moment United States
1950 La Ronde Roundabout France
1952 Le Plaisir France Nominated for an Academy Award[10]
1953 Madame de... The Earrings of Madame de... France
1955 Lola Montès France,
West Germany
Eastmancolor film


  • Max Ophüls (1959), Spiel im Dasein. Eine Rückblende. Mit einem Nachwort von Hilde Ophüls und einer Einführung von Friedrich Luft, sowie achtzehn Abbildungen (autobiography), Stuttgart: Henry Goverts Verlag (posthumously published).

See also



  1. ^ a b Bock & Bergfelder 2009, p. 574.
  2. ^ "Ophüls". Collins English Dictionary.
  3. ^ Hollinger 1986, p. 271.
  4. ^ Seibel 2009, p. 122.
  5. ^ "Max Ophüls". The Daily Star. 17 December 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  6. ^ Exiles Memorial Center.
  7. ^ Staff, (21 November 2014). "Marcel Ophuls | Biography and Filmography | 1927". Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  8. ^ Mulvey, Laura (Spring 2013). "Love, History, and Max Ophuls: Repetition and Difference in Three Films of Doomed Romance". Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. 43 (1): 7–29. doi:10.1353/flm.2013.a506155. S2CID 141723307.
  9. ^ Williams, Alan L.; Williams, Alan Larson (1992). Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-76268-8.
  10. ^ "Le Plaisir". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2008.


Further reading

  • Alan Larson Williams (1977, reprinted 1980, 1992), Max Ophüls and the Cinema of Desire: Style and Spectacle in Four Films, 1948–1955, Dissertations on Film series, New York: Arno Press (reprint). | ISBN 0-405-12924-6
  • Susan M. White (1995), The Cinema of Max Ophüls: Magisterial Vision and the Figure of Woman, New York: Columbia University Press. | ISBN 0-231-10113-9
  • Lutz Bacher (1996), Max Ophüls in the Hollywood Studios, Rutgers, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. | ISBN 0-8135-2291-9
  • Melinda Camber Porter (1993), "Through Parisian Eyes: Reflections on Contemporary French Arts and Culture", Da Capo Press. | ISBN 978-0-306-80540-0
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Max Ophüls
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