Like déjà vu, or the uncanny ache of nostalgia, there is something very particular about Ernst Lubitsch‘s films.
The Jewish German director was known for many things—for being Hollywood’s most elegant director, for winning a 1946 Honorary Academy Award for contributions to the motion picture, for writing and directing his own films by the age of 22—but, mostly, he was known for his touch.
The “Lubitsch Touch,” to be exact. Lubitsch’s films combined droll storytelling, sensuality, intelligence, and subversion in such a singular way that they required a proper descriptive trademark. No one made films quite like Lubitsch.
Known for films like 1932’s Trouble In Paradise, in which two thieves fall in love while trying to pick each other’s pockets, That Uncertain Feeling, a 1941 film about a woman who goes to a psychoanalyst to cure her hiccups, and To Be Or Not To Be, a 1942 comedy about Nazis too funny to be appropriate, Lubitsch was lauded by critics and fellow artists alike, landing him at #16 on an Entertainment Weekly list of all-time best directors.
And speaking of fellow artists: friend and one-time collaborator Billy Wilder was a big fan of the German director. Long after Lubitsch’s death in 1947, Wilder hung a sign over his office door. It read: “What would Lubitsch have done?”