August 4 - 15, 1999

The American Cinematheque presents... STRANGE ILLUSIONS: The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer

"Nobody ever made good pictures faster or for less money than Edgar G. Ulmer."

-- Peter Bogdanovich

Our enormous thanks to Ulmer’s tireless champion, daughter Arianne Ulmer Cipes, who is helping to restore her father’s legacy through the Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corp.

Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok, Gwen Deglise and Chris D.


Special Thanks To: Bernard Benoliel & Michael Henry Wilson/ CINEMATHEQUE FRANCAISE; Eric Le Roy/ARCHIVES DU FILM; Charles Hopkins/UCLA FILM & TV ARCHIVE; Bryony Dixon/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE; Michael Friend/ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURES ARTS & SCIENCES - Film Archive; Joe Dante; Mimi Krant/BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY - NATIONAL CENTER FOR JEWISH FILM; Dick Costello/UNIVERSAL PICTURES; Peter Langs; John Kirk/MGM-UA; Heidi Kuebler & Leslie Fenady/WARNER BROS.; Margit Kleinman/GOETHE-INSTITUT; Alexander Kogan/FILMS AROUND THE WORLD; Allan Greenfield/VIDEO DIMENSIONS; Tricia Graves/SWANK MOTION PICTURES; Eric Sherman; Bruce Goldstein/FILM FORUM.

Also, our thanks to Peter Bogdanovich for quotes from his pioneering interview with Ulmer in Who The Devil Made It.


A Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation 501(c)(3) Committed to the preservation and propagation of the work of independent, pioneering filmmakers.

Donations to:

Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corp.

3651 Stone Canyon Avenue

Sherman Oaks, CA 91403-4530

Phone/Fax: (818) 789-2477


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"We had nothing but ambitions," marveled director Edgar G. Ulmer (1904 - 1972), extraordinary master of light and shadow, Expressionist wunderkind and permanent Hollywood outlaw. A black-sheep cousin to fellow Austro-German emigrés like Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau, von Stroheim and Siodmak (many of whom he worked with as production designer), Ulmer spent a brief career at Universal -- where he made the awesome, Bauhaus-inspired THE BLACK CAT (1934) -- before plunging into the zero-budget world of Poverty Row studios like PRC ("It had a nice family feeling, not too much interference" -- Ulmer). Working in every imaginable genre -- feverish noirs and thrillers (DETOUR, BLUEBEARD), baroque sci-fi (THE MAN FROM PLANET X), black musicals, Yiddish dramas, Army training shorts and venereal disease films -- Ulmer turned budgetary limitations on their head, using "dreamlike superimpositions, twisted perspectives, Dutch angles and stilted CALIGARI-like sets" (Michael Henry Wilson). Ulmer drove his films forward at a fierce pitch, as if he realized how much he had to say, how little time (and resources) he had to say it with. His best pictures are odd, relentless gems, carved out of pure imagination.

Wednesday, August 4 - 8:00 PM

Brand-New 35 mm. Print from the Cinematheque Francaise!

BLUEBEARD, 1944, PRC, 73 min. Frustrated painter and puppet-master John Carradine roams the fog-bound streets of Paris strangling innocent women, in Ulmer’s macabre masterpiece. "I was very much influenced at the time by Grand Guignol -- which took me 20 years to get out of my system!" -- Ulmer.

Restored 35 mm. Print!

STRANGE ILLUSION, 1945, PRC, 80 min. Ulmer’s inspired remake of Hamlet (!) stars James Lydon as a young man tormented by dreams of his dead father -- until he realizes too-suave Warren Williams is out for his mother’s money, and has himself committed to a mental institution to prove his case. "Few cared that Ulmer had chosen the most impossible of terms, and had functioned as a true artist" -- Myron Meisel.

Discussion following with Arianne Ulmer Cipes and BLUEBEARD puppeteer Bob Baker.

 Thursday, August 5 - 8:00 PM

Ulmer’s Ultra-Rare Yiddish Films - New 35 mm. Prints!!

GREEN FIELDS, 1937, 95 min. Co-dir. Jacob Ben-Ami. Ulmer’s first Yiddish picture -- lovingly restored by the National Center for Jewish Film -- is a luminous, Chagall-like portrait of a Talmudic scholar (Michael Goldstein) whose spirit is restored when he visits the countryside.

THE LIGHT AHEAD, 1939, 94 min. "A haunting poem of metaphysical dread and Jewish suffering" (Bret Wood), THE LIGHT AHEAD stars David Opatoshu and Helen Beverly as a crippled young man and his blind sweetheart living in the impoverished Eastern European shtetls. Lost for years until it was rediscovered by the National Center for Jewish Film, LIGHT AHEAD emerges as one of Ulmer’s major Expressionist works.

Friday, August 6 - 7:00 PM

Karloff & Lugosi! Restored 35 mm. Print!!

THE BLACK CAT, 1934, Universal, 65 min. Cat-fearing Bela Lugosi pursues devil-worshipping Boris Karloff through his crazed, Bauhaus-on-acid mansion, sitting atop the bodies of thousands of WWI vets. "Every time I had Karloff come in the door, he would open it and say ‘Here comes the heavy.’ He was a very lovely man." -- Ulmer.


Friday, August 6 - 8:45 PM

Brand-New 35 mm. Prints from the Cinematheque Francaise and the Archives du Film!!

THE WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO, 1946, PRC, 78 min. Ultra-entertaining yarn of the Count’s resourceful wife (the stunning Lenore Aubert) stepping in as Masked Avenger, and saving plague-stricken Paris from a web of bogus drug-peddlers. "The only one that took two weeks to shoot was WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO, because that was a BIG picture" -- Ulmer.

THE PIRATES OF CAPRI, 1949, Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corp/Kyra Pahlen, 94 min. More robust Ulmer action: Scarlet Pimpernel-clone Louis Hayward plays a court fop by day, avenging pirate Scirocco by night -- wonder why his fianceé never figures it out? Ulmer’s breathless swashbuckler features a score by future Fellini-composer Nino Rota.


Saturday, August 7 - 4:00 PM

Only Surviving Print!!

CARNEGIE HALL, 1947, 134 min. A true Ulmer rarity (and a field day for the music-mad director), CARNEGIE HALL takes a flimsy boy-wants-to-play-jazz-against-mother’s-wishes plot as as an excuse to line up the greatest classical talents of the day -- from conductors Leopold Stokowski and Fritz Reiner, to pianist Artus Rubinstein and legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz.


Saturday, August 7 - 6:45 PM

Actress Ann Savage and Arianne Ulmer Cipes In-Person!! Rare 35 mm. Print!

DETOUR, 1946, 70 min. Hitchhiking to Hollywood, loser Tom Neal takes several wrong turns and ends up on the expressway to hell -- Ann Savage plays the vixenish vagabond who ushers him there. She ends up paying a stiff toll herself.

Discussion following with actress Ann Savage and Arianne Ulmer Cipes, moderated by Eddie Muller.


Saturday, August 7 - 8:45 PM

Ultra Ulmer Sci-Fi Double-Header! Actor Robert Clarke In-Person!

THE MAN FROM PLANET X, 1951, MGM/UA, 70 min. With Margaret Field. Ulmer’s hallucinatory sci-fi flick stars Robert Clarke as a reporter investigating the alien invasion of the Scottish moors -- where he runs smack into scheming scientist William Schallert. "A U.F.A. fantasia filled with expressionist tropes -- the spaceship that blinks like a jack-o’-lantern, the lonely castle on the blasted moor" -- J. Hoberman, Village Voice.

THE DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, 1957, 71 min. Werewolf-to-be Gloria Talbott finds out her dad was the notorious Dr. Jekyll -- much to the alarm of boyfriend John Agar and the local villagers, in Ulmer’s doom-laden quickie. "Anyone who loves cinema must be moved by THE DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL" -- Andrew Sarris.

Discussion following with MAN FROM PLANET X star Robert Clarke.


Sunday, August 8 - 4:00 PM

Epic Ulmer! Victor Mature in SuperCineScope!!

HANNIBAL, 1960, Warner Bros., 103 min. Ulmer’s ultra-muscular costume epic stars the great Victor Mature as the Carthaginian general who tackles Rome with 12,000 extras and a herd of elephants. Back in 1960, Variety sniped, "HANNIBAL contains enough sheer spectacle, gore and quasi-historical action to excite those still willing to meet such films on their own primitive level." Need we say more??

Sunday, August 8 - 6:15 PM

U.S. Premiere - Restored 35 mm. Print from the B.F.I.!!

PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG), 1929, 59 min. A true landmark in film history, this neo-realist story of a young taxi-driver and his girlfriend on a Sunday outing was co-directed by Ulmer with friend Robert Siodmak, scripted by Billy Wilder, and photographed by the great Eugen Schüfftan with the help of Fred Zinnemann - !! Our thanks to the British Film Institute for allowing us to screen this brand-new print of the film with English-intertitles.

Restored 35 mm. Print! DAMAGED LIVES, 1933, 69 min. Young husband Lyman Williams strays from the path -- he and wife Diane Sinclair end up getting a v.d. lecture, in Ulmer’s suitably-deranged anti-syphilis film (made for the American Social Hygiene Society.) DAMAGED LIVES was widely banned in the U.S. -- but it led to Ulmer directing the even-stranger THE BLACK CAT the next year at Universal.






Wednesday, August 11 - 8:00 PM

CLUB HAVANA, 1945, Films Around the World, 62 min. Ulmer’s insanely low-budget hybrid of GRAND HOTEL and noir fatalism stars DETOUR’s Tom Neal as yet another unlucky schlemiel trying to escape the dreamlike Club Havana. "I adored making CLUB HAVANA -- I loved it! I had no script ..." -- Ulmer. Filmed in deep chiarascuro by Ulmer’s favorite cameraman Eugen Schüfftan.

MOON OVER HARLEM, 1939, 80 min. With Bud Harris, Cora Green. Shot in four days in a cigar warehouse, Ulmer’s black gangster/musical was light years ahead of its time (and then some). Look for jazz great Sidney Bechet blowing clarinet. "In MOON OVER HARLEM I tried for the first time what was later called the Rossellini style: we didn’t use actors, we used real people, and they were very natural" -- Ulmer.


Friday, August 13 - 7:00 PM

Actress Arianne Ulmer Cipes In-Person!!

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, 1960, MGM/UA, 75 min. High-testosterone pilot Robert Clarke pushes his jet past 5,000 mph -- and finds himself catapulted into a crumbling, plague-ridden Utopia of Tomorrow. Shot at a futuristic exhibit at the Texas State Fairgrounds (along with THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN), TIME BARRIER co-stars Ulmer’s daughter as the villainous Markova. "The mutants were basically rubber bathing caps on these poor people’s heads!" -- Arianne Ulmer.

Discussion following with actress Arianne Ulmer Cipes.


Friday, August 13 - 9:00 PM

Brand-New 35 mm. Print!!

THE STRANGE WOMAN, 1946, 100 min. Black widow Hedy Lamarr lures suitors George Sanders and Gene Lockhart to destruction and drives stepson Louis Heyward to suicide -- before God tracks her down, in Ulmer’s fascinating portrait of avarice and depravity in 1820’s America.

HER SISTER’S SECRET, 1946, Films Around the World, 85 min. The most Ophuls-like of Ulmer’s films (he used future LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN cameraman Franz Planer), HER SISTER’S SECRET stars Nancy Coleman as a pregnant young woman who switches identities with New York sister Margaret Lindsay to protect her unborn child from shame. Trouble ensues.


Saturday, August 14 - 6:00 PM

Ulmer Exploitation Double-Header!! Arianne Ulmer Cipes In-Person!

Ulmer’s "Lost" Nudie!!

THE NAKED VENUS, 1958, 74 min. Ulmer’s rarest film, NAKED VENUS stars daughter Arianne as a lawyer defending the rights of nudists everywhere. Then the judge demands to see evidence, and ... Long credited to "Gaston Hakim" as director, NAKED VENUS screens here in the only surviving 35 mm. print!

GIRLS IN CHAINS, 1943, PRC, 70 min. Sold on the title alone, GIRLS IN CHAINS is a nifty little detective yarn/bad gal picture starring Arline Judge as a reform school teacher working with detective Roger Clark to ferret out a killer.

Discussion following with NAKED VENUS co-star Arianne Ulmer Cipes.


Saturday, August 14 - 9:15 PM

Rare 35 mm. Print!!

MURDER IS MY BEAT, 1955, Warner Bros., 77 min. Next to DETOUR, this is Ulmer’s finest noir: police detective Paul Langton finds himself sucked into a chaotic whirlpool of blackmail, missing persons and torched corpses -- while fighting for the innocence of gal-pal Barbara Payton.

THE NAKED DAWN, 1955, Universal, 82 min. One of Ulmer’s personal favorites, NAKED DAWN stars Arthur Kennedy as an aging Mexican bandido who draws a young farmer (Eugene Iglesias) and his wife into a inescapable circle of deceit, regret and absolution. "Ulmer loved both: the saints and the pariahs." -- Michael Henry Wilson.


Sunday, August 15th - 4:00 PM

Shirley Castle Ulmer In-Person!! Rare 35 mm. Print from the British Film Institute!

RUTHLESS, 1948, 104 min. "I’m going far, fast and alone," snarls Grade-A heel Zachary Scott, taking revenge on the world for being abandoned by his mother. (Ulmer himself was given up for adoption by his aristocratic Viennese mother.) Beautiful Diana Lynn co-stars as the unlucky girl who falls for Scott’s charms, with poisonous Sydney Greenstreet as the snake who finally stops him cold, in Ulmer’s brilliant, over-the-top version of CITIZEN KANE.

Discussion following with Edgar Ulmer’s wife and frequent collaborator, Shirley Castle Ulmer.


Sunday, August 15th - 6:30 PM

Rare 35 mm. Print!!

THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, 1960, MGM/UA, 60 min. Arguably the cheapest, nastiest film in the director’s career, this is the one even Ulmer fans can’t defend -- which is WHY WE LOVE IT! Former Army major James Griffith springs vicious con Douglas Kennedy so he can steal nuclear material for scientist Ivan Triesault’s invisible-ray machine -- the rest is film history. Released on a 1960 double-bill with GET OUTTA TOWN.

Uncut European Version!!

THE CAVERN, 1965, 100 min. 6 soldiers and one woman (the radiant Rosanna Schiaffino) are trapped for months in an underground munitions dump in this claustrophobic, psychological nailbiter -- Ulmer’s last picture, and a fitting swan-song to one of Hollywood’s wildest, most prolific careers. With standout performances by John Saxon, Brian Ahern and a young Larry Hagman.