Edgar G. Ulmer

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Memorial plaque in Olomouc

Edgar Georg Ulmer (born September 17, 1904 in Olomouc , Austria-Hungary , now the Czech Republic ; † September 30, 1972 in Woodland Hills , California ) was an American film director , screenwriter , set designer and producer of Moravian - Austrian origin.

As a director, Ulmer was able to refine low-budget productions so much that, in retrospect, they were highly valued by film journalists and historians. Ulmer made a total of 128 films in several countries.

Live and act

Edgar Georg Ulmer was born during his Jewish parents' vacation in Olomouc in Moravia . In 2005, after years of archive work , the literary scholar Bernd Herzogenrath found the house where Ulmer was born - as a result of these efforts, a memorial plaque was attached to the house on the occasion of the 'ulmerfest' 2006 organized by Herzogenrath (see photo). Ulmer studied at the Academy of Applied Arts Vienna with the aim of becoming a stage designer.

Entry into the world of film as a production designer

According to his own statements, his first film work was likely to have taken place in 1920, but can no longer be verified. From the age of 16, since he had pretended to be four years older, he worked as a set designer on German and Austrian large-scale productions such as Der Golem, how he came into the world , Sodom and Gomorrah , Nibelungen and The Last Man .

In 1923 Ulmer accompanied Max Reinhardt to New York as a production designer for the Mirakel production . In 1924 he came back to the United States and in 1925 found work at Universal as an assistant set designer and assistant director for “Two- Reel ” (about 20 minutes long) western series productions that were not known by name . He then worked as an assistant to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau , who had meanwhile moved to Hollywood. As the Art Director of Sunrise , Ulmer is also mentioned in the opening credits for the first time.

In 1929 Ulmer worked again in Berlin. He was the production manager and set designer for Escape to the Foreign Legion and Spiel um den Mann and also worked on Menschen am Sonntag , a classic silent film that was directed by a number of then unknown filmmakers such as Billy Wilder , Fred Zinnemann and the brothers Curt and Robert Siodmak originated. After that, in 1930, Ulmer went to the United States again and for good. In Hollywood he took over the post-production of Murnau's Tabu (1931) after he died in a car accident. This was followed by work as a set designer for the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company and as an art director for MGM .

Career as a director

1932 Ulmer went to New Jersey to enter the Metropolitan Studios of Fort Lee , the director of The Warning Shadow to take over. However, the film never came into theaters; it may not have been completed. However, two acts of the film were incorporated into the satirical comedy about New York, Mr. Broadway , written by Ed Sullivan .

For a while, a focus in Ulmer's films was minorities in the USA. As a “director of minorities” he incorporated the peculiarities of the respective ethnic group and shot in Mexico as well as on the east coast of the USA for the Ukrainian minority, for Eastern European Jewish immigrants or the black population of Harlem . This is how special “minority films ” such as the Yiddish melodramas Grine felder and Die Kliatsche , the Ukrainian film Zaporozhets Za Dunayem or the melodramatic musical Moon over Harlem emerged . For a long time these films were hardly looked at in biographies about him.

Between 1940 and 1942 Ulmer also produced short educational films for the national health authority and training and educational films for the US Army . From 1942 he directed 15 films for the Producers Leasing Corporation in collaboration with Leon Fromkess as First Contract Director . When it ceased operations in 1946 for financial reasons, Ulmer founded his own company, which, however, also went bankrupt after a few months.

In 1946 he directed the large-scale production The Strange Woman , which was tailored to Hedy Lamarr , but then returned to smaller "independent" film companies.


Ulmer mostly worked under restrictive circumstances, with tight budgets, often mediocre scripts, time pressure and for second-rate studios. The so-called B-movies that were created in this way were not comparable to the large-scale productions of the major Hollywood studios. However, they produced works that, although hardly appreciated during their lifetime, are retrospectively valued by film journalists and historians in terms of the style of film noir .

His reputation goes back to those films that were made within a very short period of time, in which he skillfully exploited possibilities for atmospheric and visual enrichment under restrictive circumstances. First of these films was the horror classic The Black Cat ( The Black Cat ) by Edgar Allan Poe , in which the two film stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi first stood together in front of the camera. Other works included Corregidor , Bluebeard , the film noir diversion , the Citizen Kane- inspired and socially criticized psychological study Ruthless , the Western The Naked Dawn and the science fiction film Beyond the time Barrier .

At the time of their creation, his films were largely ignored by US film critics, and his work was controversial in film circles. In 1956, in the magazine Les Cahiers du cinéma , Luc Moullet drew attention to the neglected artist of visual language, le plus maudite cinéaste ( cursed filmmakers ), and made room for less biased consideration.


Ulmer was married to the author Shirley Kassler (1914-2000), who wrote some of his scripts. The common daughter Arianné Ulmer Cipes is the Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corp. in Sherman Oaks and appeared as an actress under the name Arianne Arden in three post-war films by her father.

His youngest daughter Carola Krempler (* 1966) lives with her family in Vienna.

Filmography (selection)

as a screenwriter
as a production designer
as a director
as a producer



  • Stefan Grissemann : Man in the shade. The filmmaker Edgar G. Ulmer. Zsolnay, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-552-05227-5 .
  • Elisa Kriza: Understanding Yiddish Films: Religious Symbolism and Cultural Context . Series: Bamberg Studies on Literature, Culture and Media, Vol. 24, University of Bamberg Press, Bamberg 2018, ISBN 978-3-8630-9583-3 .
  • Bill Krohn: King of the B's. In: Film Comment. Vol. 19 No. July 4 / Aug 1983.
  • Peter Bogdanovich : Who the devil made it. Conversations with legendary film directors. Zurich 2000.
  • Rudolf Ulrich: Austrians in Hollywood. New edition, Verlag Filmarchiv Austria, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-901932-29-1 , pp. 536-538.
  • Bernd Herzogenrath: The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009, ISBN 978-0-8108-6700-0 .
  • Bernd Herzogenrath: Edgar G. Ulmer. Essays on the King of the B's. Jefferson (NC) 2009, ISBN 978-0-7864-3700-9 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rudolf Ulrich: Austrians in Hollywood. New edition, Verlag Filmarchiv Austria, Vienna 2004, p. 537.

Web links