Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Carl Laemmle, on TCM

Carl Laemmle would be appalled to see the Hollywood film industry he largely created now catering to the CCP regime, at a time when it was committing genocide in Xinjiang—but maybe not surprised. He truly was the only original mogul who criticized Hitler before the advent of WWII. Unfortunately, he had already been forced out of Universal by that time. Filmmaker James L. Freedman documents the mogul’s amazing life and career in Carl Laemmle, which airs late-night tomorrow on TCM.

Born and raised in Laupheim, Germany, Laemmle immigrated to America before Ellis Island was designated as a hub for new arrival processing. After some scuffling, he entered the movie business when it was still based on Nickelodeons and largely considered disreputable. A good portion of Freedman’s doc chronicles Laemmle role as a scrappy trust-buster, breaking Edison’s monopolistic hold on the motion picture industry. It is a good thing he did, because Edison was dead-set against producing feature-length films, whereas Laemmle was eager to push the envelope of film production.

With his son Carl Jr. in charge of production, Laemmle’s Universal’s produced some everyone’s favorite films, notably including the classic Universal Monster movies. That is exactly why a lot of viewers will be turning in. Some might prefer a deeper dive into Universal Monster lore, but the Laemmle doc still does them justice. However, Freedman focuses his familiar talking heads (including Leonard Maltin and Peter Bogdanovich) much more on Laemmle’s social and historical significance, first as the David who took on Edison’s monopolistic Goliath and then as a critic of Hitler and sponsor of Jewish refugees from Germany.

Much as he does in
The U.S. and the Holocaust, Breckinridge Long, the former Democrat politician appointed Assistant Secretary of State by FDR, emerges as the villain of Freedman’s film, for his hostility to Jewish immigration, despite the mortal danger they risked staying in Hitler’s Germany. Over and over, Laemmle petitioned the government on behalf of Jewish immigrants, willingly offering the required escrow affidavits to cover their expenses once they reached America. It still seems strange Roosevelt gets a pass for this, even though he was the one in charge, who personally chose Long for such a sensitive position in the first place.

Regardless, there is a heck of a lot of Hollywood history in
Carl Laemmle a lot of movie fans will not be familiar with. He made some terrific films, but his legacy goes deeper, having saved hundreds of people from almost certain death. He truly has no equal in Hollywood today. Watching Carl Laemmle puts his successors to shame. Very highly recommended, it airs late-night tomorrow (into the early A.M. Thursday 12/29) on TCM—and it streams on Chai Flicks.