Biography of Josef von Sternberg (1894-1969)

Director and screenwriter austriaco-estadounidense, whose real name was Jonas Sternberg, born in Vienna (Austria), on May 29, 1894, and died in Hollywood (California) on December 22, 1969.


Belonging to a family of the Jewish Middle class in Vienna, Sternberg was a solid student training in Austria and United States before going to work, as editor, in a New Jersey company. He was Assistant to several directors and British theatre actor until George Arthur proposed to direct The Salvation Hunters, debuting on the big screen and an instant success. Mary Pickford tried to hire him, but finally was the Metro Goldwyn Mayer who took their studies.

The beginning for the company could not have been more desperate: The Masked Bride and the elegant sinful should be terminated by the directors of much less category that the Austrian, and The Sea Gull, commissioned by Chaplin for joy and brilliance of Edna Purviance, was not seen beyond the private study room. But, in 1927, filmed, for the Paramount and based on a story by Ben Hecht, the law of the underworld, considered the first film of gangsters in the history of cinema and, of course, a role model in the works of this genre that came later.

The following year, Sternberg confirmed his master directing, still in silence, the docks of New York, where a splendid George Bancroft plays a drunk and quarrelsome, marino redeemed by the love of a woman.

The great German actor Emil Jannings, who Sternberg led to United States to star in the great masterpiece of his stage moves (i.e. not of his entire career), the last command, where life-giving to a despotic Russian general after the revolution is forced to play roles of the nascent Hollywood extra, recommended him to come back to Europe to direct the work of Heinrich Mann the blue angel version, which, at the end and at the end, would be the first German sound production. The film made Marlène Dietrich an international star, and all a sex symbol, with its hot and cruel Lola-Lola, as well as the own Sternberg. Together again, in smell of multitudes, the United States, beginning a partnership that, in the short space of five years, made history in cinema.

Across the screen, Sternberg was the Dietrich, without leaving Hollywood, from the burning Moroccan desert to the most Andalusian Spain, from the exotic Shanghai up to the Baroque imperial Russia. In the first of these productions, Morocco (1930), Sternberg symbolized this exotic land where anything can happen, a world where cross legionaries (Gary Cooper) and cabaret (Dietrich) singers, rich without scruples (Adolphe Menjou) and adventurers (Cooper, Dietrich, Menjou). The appearance of Marlene in suit man and the way in which a spectator kissed were among the dazzling moments not only film, but the history of this art.

In fate (1931), with Marlene of spy X 27, director, playing to describe any character that was strange, smashed all the conventions of the spy films and created a unique universe, in Vienna from 1915. Mainly, to Sternberg not interested in the machinations of spies and Patriots, but passions, inherent to human beings, which join with the other.

In 1931, rolled, without Marlène Dietrich, a human tragedy, based on the novel by Théodore Dreiser and one of his business failures and criticism of hottest. Only Sylvia Sidney was spared in this film, product of a remake two decades later with the title of a place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951). The reunion between director and star was, therefore, swift; and a year later became its third collaboration of Hollywood and its biggest commercial success: the Shanghai Express.

Beijing to Shanghai, to the rhythm of the adventures of a journey by train and through the portrait of each of the characters that Sternberg shows us, is weaving one of the most beautiful love stories ever told by the film. In the film of Sternberg, man is proud, susceptible, too given to judge by appearances; women, however, is unmoved and always worthy, despite the impulses of passion that occasionally they through him. These impulses were this time, very controlled in the following production of Sternberg with his German Muse, the blonde Venus (1932), where the Dietrich is a selfless mother and wife that it sacrifices by her son and her husband, although she is madly in love with an almost beardless Cary Grant.

Two years later, Sternberg made a kind of Biography (totally altered, of course) of Catherine II of Russia, inspired by the daily close of this, Imperial whim. What Sternberg proposes truly is a genuine poem visual, Baroque and exuberant, on the transformation of a young girl, pure and innocent, private of his surname, their religion, their roots, the dissolute of, first, the Empress Elisabeth Romanov heart and, later, by the Grand Duke Pedro III. Without the moral support of any kind, it undergoes a metamorphosis of victim in dominating, and only with awareness of his great power erotic. Misunderstood at the time of its premiere, today no one doubts, despite its extravagance, the genius who developed Sternberg in this work.

The last of his collaborations was a genuine curiosity, almost historical: The Devil is a Woman. The devil in this case, and always, is Marlène Dietrich. Based on the novel the woman and puppet of Pierre Louÿs, Sternberg repeats its usual constants whenever you are working with the actress: female perversion, exacerbated eroticism, crude and cruel dialogues and intrusion into the lives of characters disposed by the beauty or the power of seduction of women, Devil for society, fate for menready to ruin by getting their buoyed favors.

After Dietrich of Sternberg era films, two were very significant, each for different reasons. The first was El embrujo de Shanghai (1941), a wonderful black film of suspense and exoticism which had the priceless presence of Gene Tierney (much more beautiful than the Dietrich but less wild eroticism). So Baroque as his previous tapes, the atmosphere of depravity and lust that Sternberg created in this film, has managed that, even, many times it is not considered within the genre.

The second was The Saga of Anatahan (1953), a poetic study on some forgotten Japanese troops on an island at the end of the second world war. Eroticism this time is not so much in his female character, which by itself just oozes eroticism, but in the fact that this character is unique among a group of men alone, without partner; men, in short, like Josef von Sternberg (published his autobiography titled Fun in a chinese laundry in 1965).

Twice nominated for the Oscar, which never won, the Shanghai Express, Josef von Sternberg's Morocco (1930) (the von was added, as to the other Austrian flagship, Stroheim, to give glamour to his name) was considered to be one of the great directors of the Golden Hollywood of the 1930s. Today is mainly remembered for the seven films shot at the service of the star, the myth, he created: Marlène Dietrich. But we must not forget that Sternberg was first and foremost a master of photography, creating environments, always largely overcoming the handicap roll in studies. He never made a film in color, but the rich texture of the images got by itself a special color; certainly if he learned something about the experiments of the first German cinema, it was the creation, through the expressionist use of light and shadow, of fascinating and heterogeneous atmospheres.


As montador:1928: the nuptial March.

As argumentista:1928: the street of sin.

As an Assistant of direccion:1919: the mystery of the yellow room. 1921: The best postor.1924: the price of vanity; By divine right (and screenwriter). 1927: this (and Co-Director).

Director: cortometraje:1944: The town (documentary).

Largometraje:1925: The Salvation Hunters (and producer, script and Assembly); The false bride (Co-Director). 1926: the elegant sinner (Co-Director & co-writer); A Woman of the Sea (and argument and screenplay). 1927: the law of the underworld; Children of divorce (Co-Director). 1928: the docks of New York; The RAID; The last orden.1929: the world against it (uncredited co-writer); Thunderbolt (if credited co-writer). 1930: the blue angel (if credited co-writer); Morocco (uncredited co-writer). 1931: A human tragedy (and production, coargumento and cofotografia)); Fatality (and argument and additional music). 1932: La blonde Venus (and argument and uncredited editor); (Co-writer and editor uncredited) Shanghai Express. 1934: imperial whim (and uncredited co-writer and additional music). 1935: The Devil is a Woman (uncredited, co-writer and cofotografía); Crime and punishment. 1936: The lovely Princess. 1937: I, Claudius (and screenplay) - unfinished-. 1938: the great Waltz (uncredited Co-Director). 1939: Sergeant Madden. 1940: This woman is mine (uncredited Co-Director). 1941: El embrujo de Shanghai (and screenplay). 1951: love of reaction; An adventurer in Macau (Co-Director). 1953: The Saga of Anatahan (and co-producer, photography and screenplay, and actor). 1965: The Epic that Never Was: I, Claudius (and actor)