The Lubitsch Touch

Ernst Lubitsch was a director in the golden age of cinema. He started directing films in Germany, then came to America during the peak of the silent era and directed some of the great classics of that time. He transitioned gracefully into the era of the talkie, but “the Lubitsch touch” has little to do with dialogue.

As Lubitsch.com defines it,

“The Lubitsch Touch” has long been the phrase used to describe the unique style and cinematic trademarks of director Ernst Lubitsch. But what exactly is “The Lubitsch Touch?” 

According to film historian/critic Scott Marks, “The Lubitsch Touch” was a phrase concocted by studio PR men eager to turn a great director, Ernst Lubitsch, into a brand name. As Marks points out, “the label adhered, and to this day, critics still bandy it about, ever hoping to unlock the mysteries of its meaning.” 

The website shares several definitions of what the Lubitsch touch is to a variety of filmmakers:

“The Lubitsch Touch” is a brief description that embraces a long list of virtues: sophistication, style, subtlety, wit, charm, elegance, suavity, polished nonchalance and audacious sexual nuance.”   — Richard Christiansen

“A subtle and souffle-like blend of sexy humor and sly visual wit.”   — Roger Fristoe

” . . . The Lubitsch Touch, with its frequent Freudian overtone of revealing previously hidden motivations, the sexual story, by an adroit bit of business or a focus on a significant object.  The Lubitsch Touch signals to the audience that the old interpreter is at it again, letting us in on a priviliged perspective, embracing the audience as a co-conspirator of interpretation, an accomplice in the director’s and the camera’s knowingness.”     — Leo Braudy

“It was the elegant use of the Superjoke.  You had a joke, and you felt satisfied, and then there was one more big joke on top of it.  The joke you didn’t expect.  That was the Lubitsch Touch….”    — Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder may have described it best with this example:

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