Sex, Politics, and Comedy

Sex, Politics, and Comedy

The Transnational Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch
Richard W. McCormick
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/02/2020
ISBN: 978-0-253-04836-3
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Ernst Lubitsch (1982–1947) was one of the most successful and influential German filmmakers in American film comedy. In this volume, Rick McCormick argues for a more transnational view of Lubitsch's career and films with respect to nationality, ethnicity, migration, class, sexuality, and gender. McCormick focuses on Lubitsch's Jewishness, which is inseparable from the distinct transnational character of the director, categorizing his early films as "Jewish comedies" where Lubitsch strikes a tenuous balance between Jewish humor, antisemitic jokes, stereotypes, and the incorporation of antifascist subjects into his popular films. Above all, the larger political issues at stake in Lubitsch's work are brought forward: German-Jewish perspectives and experiences, the subtle treatment of covert political and social messages, and the relationship of comedy, especially sexual comedy, to emancipatory politics and, in particular, to the turbulent politics of Europe and the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.

The book discusses in depth the following films by Lubitsch: The Pride of the Firm (1914), Shoe Palace Pinkus (1916), Meyer From Berlin (1918), I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918), The Oyster Princess (1919), Madame Dubarry (1919), The Doll (1919), Sumurun (1920), The Wildcat (1921), The Marriage Circle (1924), The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), The Love Parade (1929), The Man I Killed (1932), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and To Be or Not to Be (1942).

Author Bio

Rick McCormick is a Professor of German at the University of Minnesota. He is author of Gender and Sexuality in Weimar Modernity: Film, Literature, and "New Objectivity" and Politics of the Self: Feminism and the Postmodern in West German Literature and Film.



The author speaks with a distinct voice and pursues consistently his own, original argument. I can imagine how after reading any chapter, some readers may be inspired to view Lubitsch's films again and test Rick McCormick's theses.


 (Mila Ganeva, author of Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses and Displays in German Culture)


The chief argument of the book is that Ernst Lubitsch's life and career should be understood through the lens of his transnational Jewish background. Rick McCormick brings an impressive level of scholarly erudition and critical acumen to the project.


 (Noah Isenberg, author of 'We'll Always Have Casablanca': The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie)

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Transnational Jewish Comedy

I. Berlin: Sex, Spectacle, and Anarchy

1. From the Jewish "Bad Boy" to the "Bad Girl": Early Comedies, 1914–1919

2. Bad Girls and the Costume Epics: 1919–1922

3. Bad Girls Untamed: Anarchic/Fantastic Comedies (1919–1922)

II. Hollywood: From European Sophistication to Anti-Fascist Screwball

4. Sex & Sophistication: Comedies & Operettas, 1924–1934

5. Pushing the Boundaries in Pre-Code Hollywood, 1931–1934

6. Screwball Politics: American Populism & European Politics, 1935–41

7. Coming Out as Jewish: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Epilogue: Twilight of a Cosmopolitan, 1943–47