Ernö Metzner - Writer

Art Director and Director. Nationality: Hungarian. Born: 25 February 1892. Education: Attended the Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest. Family: Married the actress Grace Chiang. Career: Art director on films in Germany from 1920: first film as art director, Sumurun ; 1927–29—directed and designed several films; 1933—left Germany with the rise of the Nazis, and worked in the United Kingdom and the United States. Died: In 1953.

Films as Art Director:


Sumurun ( One Arabian Night ) (Lubitsch)


Das Weib des Pharao ( The Loves of Pharaoh ) (Lubitsch)


Fridericus Rex (von Cserepy—4 parts)


Fra Diavolo (Lange); Don Juan (Heine and Land); Salome (Wiene) (+ co-d)


Alt-Heidelberg (Behrendt); I.N.R.I. (Wiene)


Arabella (Grune); Ein Sommernachstraum ( A Midsummer Night's Dream ) (Neumann)


Geheimnisse einer Seele ( Secrets of a Soul ) (Pabst)


Man steigt nach (+ d + co-sc)


Uberfall ( Accident ) (+ d, ph); Hotel Geheimnisse (Feger); Mikosch rückt ein (Randolf); Freie Fahrt (+ d); Dein Schicksal (Lohmann); In Anfang war das Wort (+ d)


Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen ( Diary of a Lost Girl ) (Pabst); Die weisse Hölle von Piz Palü ( The White Hell of Piz Palü ) (Pabst and Fanck)


Westfront 1918 ( Comrades of 1918 ) (Pabst); Zwei Krawatten (Basch-Weichert); Die Firma heiratet (Wilhelm); Fra Diavolo (Bonnard)


Kameradschaft ( Comradeship ) (Pabst); Eine Nacht im Grandhotel (Neufeld); Der unbekannte Gast (Emo)


L'Atlantide ( Die Herrin von Atlantis ) (Pabst); Ein bisschen Liebe für dich (Neufeld); Skandal in der Parkstrasse (Wenzler); Zigeuner der Nacht (Schwarz)


Das Meer ruft (Hinrich); Der Läufer von Marathon ( The Marathon Runner ) (Dupont)


Du haut en bas (Pabst); Princess Charming (Elvey); Chu-Chin-Chow (Forde)


The Tunnel (Elvey); The Robber Symphony (Feher)


Seven Sinners (de Courville); Strangers on Honeymoon (de Courville)


Take My Tip (Mason)


It Happened Tomorrow (Clair)


The Macomber Affair (Z. Korda)

Other Films:


Stier von Olivera (Buchowetzki) (costumes); Fiesco ( Die Verschwöhrung zu Genua ) (Leni) (costumes)


Sein ist das Gericht (Lange) (costumes)


Schlagende Wetter (Grune) (costumes)


Der Leibgardist ( Der Gardeoffizier ) (Wiene) (costumes)


Achtung! Liebe-Lebensgefahr! (d—revised sound version, Rivalen im Weltrekord , 1930)


Revolte im Erziehungshaus (co-d)


By METZNER: articles—

"Defence of Uberfall ," in Close Up (London), March 1929.

"A Mining Film," in Close Up (London), March 1932.

"On the Sets for the Film Atlantis ," in Close Up (London), September 1932.

"The Travelling Camera," in Close Up (London), June 1933.

On METZNER: articles—

Close Up (London), February 1929.

Close Up (London), April 1929.

Close Up (London), May, 1929.

Close Up (London), October 1929.

Blakeston, Oswell, on Uberfall in Film Weekly (London), 21 October 1929.

Film Dope (Nottingham), October 1989.

* * *

The contribution of Hungary to world cinema has been considerable—writers, actors, cameramen, and critics. Ernö Metzner is a Hungarian whose best work was done outside his homeland. In Germany, from 1920 to his enforced exile in 1933, he achieved distinction as a film designer as well as a director of films of great originality, experimental in spirit and strongly imbued with social comment.

He worked for Lubitsch on the spectacular Sumurun and designed some of the costumes for Das Weib des Pharao . For von Cserepy's mammoth four-part epic Fridericus Rex , he was codesigner. While he had wide experience with the films of Paul Leni, Karl Grune, Robert Wiene, Hans Behrendt, and Friedrich Feher, it was with G.W. Pabst that he realised his best work. He designed the fantastic and complex settings for Geheimnisse einer Seele , a psychoanalytical drama supervised by Dr. Hans Sachs, a colleague of Freud. The distorted images of mental breakdown required a special type of setting specially related to camera effects.

From 1927 to 1929, he took up directing, which also included design and camerawork. The most famous of the films from this period was Uberfall , the adventures of a man who finds a gold coin in the street and is pursued by thugs who beat him up. This was virtuoso filming, using all the creative devices of the camera lens, including distortion effects. The film became a cause célèbre when the German censor banned it on the grounds of brutality, a decision that seemed rather ridiculous even in its time. He also made Freie Fahrt for the Social Democratic Party, a film very much influenced by the Russian films then popular in Berlin. In these films he featured his wife, Grace Chiang, and the famous still photographer Hans Casparius.

Again he worked for Pabst on Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen which featured Louise Brooks and on Die weisse Hölle von Piz Palü in which Pabst shared direction with Dr. Arnold Fanck.

With the coming of the sound film and its inhibiting effect on the visuals and camera work, Metzner magnificently overcame these problems in three films for Pabst. In Westfront 1918 he designed for the moving camera in the war scenes, while in Kameradschaft , his studio construction of a mine was completely functional, allowing mobility of camera in a narrow space and achieving the most extreme realism in the visual action. The collapse of the mine tunnels during an explosion, the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped, the texture and tactile image of the mine guaranteed a unique involvement of the spectator. On the other hand, his design for Die Herrin von Atlantis embraced pure fantasy, and Metzner carefully selected material which would reinforce the illusion of an underground city in the desert. His sensitive awareness of the needs of the movie camera was remarkable, derived perhaps from his experience as a total filmmaker. His feeling for abstraction changed to accommodate the realism of his work for Pabst. He was to work on one more film for Pabst— Du haut en bas —when he was an exile in France, a refugee from the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

In England he worked on a series of minor films, but in 1935 he designed Friedrich Feher's delightful fantasy The Robber Symphony . (He had worked with Feher previously in Berlin on Hotel Geheimnisse .) Visually The Robber Symphony was a delight to watch and provided Metzner with the opportunity for his imaginative skills. In the early 1940s, he found himself in Hollywood where he does not seem to have had much success, although he worked with both René Clair and Zoltan Korda.

—Liam O'Leary

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