New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (website) is currently presenting “Pola Negri: Life Is a Dream,” a week-long retrospective on the career of the first European star import to succeed in Hollywood.
Born in Poland in 1894, Pola Negri became a star in Germany in the late 1910s – and subsequently around the world – in a series of films directed by Ernst Lubitsch, among them Die Augen der Mumie Ma / Eyes of the Mummy and Madame DuBarry / Passion.
Brought to Hollywood by Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount), Negri established herself as an exotic vamp in films that did well enough at the box office to guarantee her a following and a large income, but not well enough to guarantee her the superstardom she had enjoyed in Germany. Indeed, Gloria Swanson remained Famous Players’ biggest female star throughout the 1920s. (There was much talked-about animosity between the two actresses, though Swanson later dismissed it as mere studio publicity.)
Negri’s American career floundered even before the advent of talking pictures, but it was revived in Germany in the early 1930s. In order to escape from the World War II, however, she returned to the United States. She would only appear in two more films, the last of which was the 1964 Disney production The Moon-Spinners.
Her last few decades were spent in the company of a Texan heiress. Negri died in San Antonio in 1987.
Organized by Charles Silver, Associate Curator at the Department of Film and Media, the Pola Negri program includes a new documentary about the actress, Life Is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri, directed by Mariusz Kotowski, and featuring interviews with Negri’s co-stars including Hayley Mills and Eli Wallach, and with several film historians.
Note: The MOMA notes state that Negri was engaged to Rudolph Valentino, though if I’m not mistaken the alleged engagement is very much open to debate.
Upcoming Pola Negri screenings:
Friday, September 22, 6:00p.m.
Excerpt from Carmen (released in USA in 1921 as Gypsy Blood). 1918. Germany. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. 12 min.
Madame DuBarry (released in USA in 1920 as Passion). 1919. Germany. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Screenplay by Fred Orbing, Hans Kraly. With Emil Jannings, Harry Liedtke. Set against a backdrop of Reinhardtian spectacle, this comic romance about Louis XV and his mistress opened the door for a wave of German films in the bitter aftermath of World War I. 89 min. Silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model.
Friday, September 22, 8:00p.m.
Die Bergkatze. 1921. Germany. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Screenplay by Lubitsch, Hans Kraly. With Viktor Janson, Paul Heidemann. Negri plays a temperamental but comic wildcat in an arguable forerunner of Lubitsch’s later satirical musicals. 100 min. Silent, with piano accompaniment by Stuart Oderman.
Sunday, September 24, 1:30p.m.
Life Is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri. 2006. USA. Directed by Mariusz Kotowski. With Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach. Narrated by Cindy Williams. A chronicle of the star’s life, with clips from rare films and interviews with friends, coworkers, and critics. 90 min.
Monday, September 25, 6:00p.m.
Hotel Imperial. 1927. USA. Directed by Mauritz Stiller. Screenplay by Jules Furthman, based on a work by Lajos Biro. With James Hall, George Siegmann. Romance and espionage in wartime Hungary during the Russian invasion of 1917 – played out in high Paramount-studio style. 78 min. Silent, with piano accompaniment by Stuart Oderman.
Monday, September 25, 8:00p.m.
Outtakes from Woman on Trial. 1927. USA. Directed by Mauritz Stiller. 10 min.
Excerpt from A Woman Commands. 1932. Great Britain. Directed by Paul Czinner. 6 min.
A Woman of the World. 1925. USA. Directed by Malcolm St. Clair. Screenplay by Pierre Collings, based on Carl Van Vechten’s novel The Tattooed Countess. With Charles Emmett Mack, Holmes Herbert. An exotic European countess clashes with small-town American values. The resolution of the romantic plot involves the horse-whipping of a district attorney. 65 min. Program approx. 81 min. Silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model.