Josef von Sternberg

Highest Rated: 100% Ana-ta-han (Anatahan) (1954)
Lowest Rated: 44% Macao (1952)
Birthday: May 29, 1894
Birthplace: Not Available
Born in Vienna, director Joseph von Sternberg spent much of his youth in New York; his entrée into show business was as a film repairer for the World Film Company of Fort Lee, NJ. After returning to Austria to complete his education, he joined the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographer in 1917, then took assistant director jobs after the end of World War I. It was either actor Elliot Dexter or an anonymous producer who suggested that Sternberg would go farther in the industry if he affixed a "von" to his last name, à la Erich von Stroheim. Von Sternberg went whole hog in creating a "genius" veneer, adopting a strutting, imperious attitude, dressing in regulation beret and puttees, and even growing an obnoxious little mustache so he would be certain to be hated and feared. This posturing tended to obscure his genuine cinematic gifts, especially in the field of photographic lighting and composition (at one point, he was the only director permitted to carry an American Society of Cinematographers union card). After a few false starts, von Sternberg directed the independently produced The Salvation Hunters (1925), a somewhat ham-handed exercise in symbolism that received wide distribution after it was praised by Charlie Chaplin. When the film began losing money, Chaplin backed away from his praise, claiming he'd championed the film just to see how much clout his recommendation would have; be that as it may, von Sternberg's next assignment was the Chaplin-produced Woman of the Sea (1926), which for reasons that remain obscure was never released. In 1927, von Sternberg moved to Paramount, where he directed the misty, moody gangster drama Underworld. Much to Paramount's surprise, the film was a huge hit, proving that von Sternberg could combine artistry and expressionism with bankability. The director made several more atmospheric crime dramas for Paramount, the best of which was Docks of New York (1928); he also directed the still-powerful The Last Command (1927), which told the semi-true story of a once-proud Russian military officer who after the Revolution was reduced to a Hollywood extra. Though brilliant photographically, von Sternberg's films were somewhat wanting in story values (some of his plot lines were flat-out illogical), but audiences overwhelmed by their visual excellence didn't seem to mind. Only when talking pictures arrived did von Sternberg's shortcomings as a storyteller become obvious. By this time, however, von Sternberg was riding high on the strength of his German-made The Blue Angel (1929), which made a star out of Marlene Dietrich. For the next six years, the Dietrich/von Sternberg combination (which many insiders likened to Svengali/Trilby) proved a winning ticket, resulting in such delectable slices of exotica as Morocco (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932). But who, wondered Hollywood, was truly responsible for the popularity of these films, von Sternberg or Dietrich? Since Dietrich went on to star just as successfully for other directors, the consensus was that von Sternberg was not so brilliant after all, and that many of his camera innovations of the 1920s had descended into mere trickery by the 1930s. British film critic John Grierson summed up the industry's attitude toward von Sternberg in 1932 when he wrote, "When a director dies, he becomes a photographer." While this opinion seems insufferably snobbish (and uninformed) today, the fact remains that directors were held in much higher esteem than mere photographers in the early 1930s. Dropped by Paramount, von Sternberg still managed to find work, especially among such admirers as Peter Lorre, who requested that the director helm Lorre's 1935 version of Crime and Punishment. In 1937, von Sternberg headed to London to direct producer Alexander Korda's I Claudius, which thanks to a series of unforeseen and devastating disasters was never completed. Some observers unfairly held von Sternberg responsible for this debacle, and as a result his days as an A-li

Highest Rated Movies



No Score Yet I, Claudius Director 2011
No Score Yet Hollywood Mavericks Actor 1990
No Score Yet The Epic That Never Was Actor Director 1965
No Score Yet Josef Von Sternberg Director 1965
60% Jet Pilot Director 1957
100% Ana-ta-han (Anatahan) Director 1954
No Score Yet Anathan Director 1953
44% Macao Director 1952
100% The Shanghai Gesture Screenwriter Director 1942
No Score Yet I Take This Woman Director 1940
No Score Yet Sergeant Madden Director 1939
No Score Yet The Great Waltz Director 1938
No Score Yet The King Steps Out Director 1936
No Score Yet Crime and Punishment Director 1935
67% The Devil Is a Woman Producer Director 1935
86% The Scarlet Empress Producer Director 1934
53% Blonde Venus Producer Director 1932
100% Shanghai Express Producer 1932
100% Dishonored Screenwriter Director 1931
No Score Yet An American Tragedy Director Producer Screenwriter 1931
100% Morocco Director 1930
95% Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) Director 1930
No Score Yet The Case of Lena Smith Director 1929
67% Thunderbolt Director 1929
100% The Docks of New York Director 1928
100% The Last Command Director 1928
85% Underworld Director 1927
100% It Director 1927
No Score Yet The Salvation Hunters Producer Screenwriter Director 1925


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