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March 26: Max Ophuls

Lawrence Bush
March 25, 2017
Filmmaker Max Ophuls (Oppenheimer), who made films in Germany (1931–1933), France (1933–1940 and 1950–1957), and the United States (1947–1950), died at the age of 54 on this date in 1957. An early refugee from Nazism following the 1933 Reichstag fire, Ophuls became a French citizen in 1938, then made his way to the U.S. in 1941, where he was given a helping hand by Preston Sturges and directed several Hollywood movies, including The Exile (1947) with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), adapted from a Stefan Zweig novel. The most admired of his thirty or so movies were made in France, including La Ronde (1950), which won the 1951 BAFTA Award for Best Film, and Lola Montès (1955). Ophuls was famous for his tracking shots and smooth camera sweeps.“The Ophuls tracking shot is tough to describe and almost illicitly easy to watch,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “His films fear stasis and stolidity in the way that the diplomat lives in terror of broken protocol, or the rake is seized with dread at the prospect of a night alone. They answer to our basic, frequently camouflaged need to keep on moving, not to be wearied or ground down by a lumpen life.” Ophuls’ son Marcel became a filmmaker, most famous for The Sorrow and the Pity, the two-part 1969 documentary about Nazism and Vichy France. “His camera . . . roamed the open spaces of the studio with ease, and so clearly and nimbly did he chart the rise and fall of love, as if watching the skies, that he devised a species of movie that is his alone: the tragedy that looks like a comedy.” --Anthony Lane

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.