Max Ophüls

Max Ophüls was a German-born director who made films in Germany, Hollywood and in France. He made nearly 30 films, with those from the last period being especially notable. Critic Andrew Harris used Max Ophüls as one of the major artists who defined his use of the auteur theory. Sarris famously advised moviegoers to value the ‘how of’ a movie more than ‘the what’, as its story and message are not as important then its style and artistry. Ophüls was an extraordinary example because the director was obsessed with visual style, and elaborate camera movements. He was dismissed by many as nothing more than a fancy stylist, and it took Sarris along with the French auteurists to finally show what a brilliant master he was in his craft. Max Ophüls has been known with all his works to feature his distinctive smooth camera movements, complex tracking shots, dolly sweeps and crane shots which influenced the work of directors Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson. “He gave camera movements its finest hours in the history of the cinema,” stated critic Andrew Harris. Max Ophüls was born in Saarbrucken, Germany, initially envisioning himself as a stage actor. In 1933 Ophüls predicted the Nazi ascendancy, and being Jewish, fled to France in 1933 after the Reichstag fire and became a French citizen in 1938. After the fall of France to Germany, he traveled through Switzerland and Italy to the United States in 1941, only to become inactive in Hollywood. He eventually received help from a longtime fan, director Preston Sturges, and went on to direct a number of distinguished films. His most highly regarded American films were Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), which was a story derived from a Stefan Zweig novella, and The Reckless Moment (1949), a film-noir starring actor James Mason. Back in his French homeland, Ophüls directed and collaborated on the adaptation of Schnitzler’s La Ronde (1950), which won the 1951 BAFTA Award for Best Film. His most acclaimed films Le Plaisir (1952) and The Earrings of Madame de…(1953), the latter with Danielle Darrieux and Charles Boyer, were famously known for Ophüls signature camera aesthetics, most famously his fluid and smooth dolly shots. Ophüls last completed film was a colorful swan song titled Lola Montes, which tells the tragic story of a great adventurer who becomes the main attraction of a circus after being the lover of various historically important European men. Ophüls died from rheumatic heart disease in Hamburg, while shooting interiors on The Lovers of Montparnasse in 1957. Ophüls was later buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and his final film was completed by friend Jacques Becker.

Max Ophüls
Max Ophuls Featured Films
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Articles and Essays on Max Ophüls

Earrings of Madame de, The (1953)

“Madame de…was a very elegant, distinguished and celebrated woman, seemingly destined to a delightful, uncomplicated existence. Probably nothing would have happened had it not been for those jewels…” In the opening sequence you see one of the most memorable tracking shots of the film. The camera swoops over the shoulder of a woman whose face you yet […]