083Pola Negri and Alfred Abel in “Die Flamme,” Efa (Germany) 1922/ Released in U.S. as “Montmartre” Paramount, 1923.

“Die Flamme” was the last German picture collaboration between Pola Negri and her favorite director, Ernst Lubitsch.  It starred Miss Negri as a prositute who marries an up-and-coming musician, despite the objections of his family.  When the musician becomes famous, his family’s objections to her increase and she finds she cannot escape her past.  She commits suicide.  Cheery, don’t you think?  No wonder that American critics of the day considered German productions to be “morbid.”

Paramount had formed its own German subsidiary, EFA, specifically to sign Miss Negri and Lubitsch after the expiration of their contracts with UFA where they had made such hits as “Carmen” “DuBarry” and “Sumurun.”   The notion was that Lubitsch would direct her in German productions that would then be exported to America for domestic consumption.  But on completion of “Die Flamme,” EFA decided on an alternative “happy” ending for the picture.  A furious Lubitsch vowed to never make another picture for EFA and was, instead, lured to America by Warner Brothers.

Not that his relationship with Pola helped matters any.  They had become estranged.  According to a Lubitsch biographer, he had become fed up with her habit of only working when she felt like it and then showing up late in the afternoon on days she would work.  He prepared two copies of the script, one consisting only of her scenes so he could shoot them and get them out the way first and not have to deal with her after that.  He had also come to resent her fame and felt that she did not credit him enough with her success.  On that point he was wrong.  Pola always gave him credit and said the best pictures she made was with him as her director.

Paramount should also be deducted a few points for their handling of the picture.  After the mostly-negative reviews for “Bella Donna” and “The Cheat” in 1923,  Miss Negri had a much-needed hit with “The Spanish Dancer.”  The reviews raved about her performance and how she had returned to what her fans expected from her.  So what does Paramount do?  They belatedly release “Die Flamme” as “Montremarte.”  The critics don’t approve of a very lackluster picture and goodbye Pola’s career momentum.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Paramount’s handling of Pola Negri’s American career was lousy.   They heralded her as a great dramatic actress and killed her at the box office with one lousy picture after another..

Advertisements