Samson Raphaelson - Writer

Writer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 30 March 1896. Education: Attended Lewis Institute, Chicago; University of Illinois, Urbana, B.A., 1917. Family: Married 1) Raina (Raphaelson), 1918 (divorced); 2) Dorothy Wegman, 1927; one son and one daughter. Career: 1917–18—reporter, City News Service, Chicago; 1918–20—publisher's assistant; 1920–21—teaching assistant, University of Illinois; 1921–22—police reporter, New York Times ; 1925—first play produced, The Jazz Singer ; 1929–30—contracts with RKO, then with Paramount; began association with Ernst Lubitsch; 1931—first film as writer, The Smiling Lieutenant ; alternated between screenwriting and stage work until early 1950s, then retired to study photography; early 1970s—involved in the Israeli film industry as adviser; 1976–83—adjunct professor of cinema, Columbia University, New York. Award: Writers Guild Laurel Award, 1976. Died: In New York City, 16 July 1983.

Films as Writer:


The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch); Magnificent Lie (Viertel)


One Hour with You (Lubitsch and Cukor); Broken Lullaby ( The Man I Killed ) (Lubitsch); Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch)


The Merry Widow (Lubitsch); Caravan (Charrell); Servants' Entrance (Lloyd); The Queen's Affair ( Runaway Queen ) (Wilcox)


Ladies Love Danger (Humberstone); Dressed to Thrill (Lachman)


The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Boleslawsky); Angel (Lubitsch)


The Shop around the Corner (Lubitsch)


Suspicion (Hitchcock)


Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch)


The Harvey Girls (Sidney); Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli)


Green Dolphin Street (Saville)


That Lady in Ermine (Lubitsch and Preminger)


Main Street to Broadway (Garnett)



The Jazz Singer , New York, 1925.

Young Love , New York, 1928.

The Wooden Slipper , New York, 1934.

Accent on Youth, and White Man , New York, 1935.

Skylark , New York, 1939, also novelization, 1939.

Jason , New York, 1942.

The Perfect Marriage , New York, 1945.

The Human Nature of Playwriting , New York, 1949.

Hilda Crane , New York, 1951.

Three Screen Comedies (includes Trouble in Paradise , The Shop around the Corner , Heaven Can Wait ), Madison, Wisconsin, 1983.

By RAPHAELSON: articles—

Film Comment (New York), May-June 1976.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), December-January 1977.

Film Comment (New York), September-October 1979.

On RAPHAELSON: articles—

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

Film Comment (New York), May-June 1978.

Film Comment (New York), September-October 1983.

Sabath, Barry, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series , edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

Cineforum (Bergamo), July-August 1993.

Simon, John, "Know-brainers," in New York , 15 November 1999.

* * *

Samson Raphaelson's great talent was in making true love seem so much more than a boy-meets-girl plot device, while at the same time cherishing the delicate patterns and structures of that device. Music and camerawork celebrate the artifice in One Hour with You and are elaborate in design; the revelation of an affair is given in soliloquy.

Trouble in Paradise is about the attraction of two calculating thieves in Venice. Their initial flirtation is a tricky blend of teasing, charm, and a veiled threat to betray the other to the police. Gaston declares his love for Lily, and also the fact that she stole a gentleman's wallet that was in his possession. With a flourish, he tenderly returns a diamond brooch he lifted from her. Lily, poise intact, asks him the time. Gaston discovers his watch is missing and Lily, smiling triumphantly, hands it back to him. "It was five minutes slow, but I regulated it for you."

Amid the garbage, gondolas, and glittering evening dress, a state of romantic pandemonium revolves around Gaston's moonlit passion for his "mark," Mariette. Money means nothing to Mariette and everything to Lily, but causes Gaston, seeking more carnal conquest, reason for pause. Social conventions, male pride, and feminine curiosity add to the problem; but true love for Lily, in the end, weaves an even lovelier picture. The director Ernst Lubitsch regarded Trouble in Paradise as the favorite of his own films.

The Shop around the Corner is an excellent work that shows Raphaelson's strict adherence to structure and craft. In this tale set in a tidy Hungarian shop, two lonelyhearts seek love and find their ideals through letters. Personally, Klara and Kralik lock horns in petty rivalry as clerks. Kralik finds her out first and, having the upper hand, makes a shrewd game of playing the smug Klara against the woman of his dreams—who is one and the same person. Passion and conflict find expression in oblique and indirect ways throughout. The plot mechanics mesh like the gears of a music box, fittings perfect.

Raphaelson collaborated with Ernst Lubitsch in nine pictures. Their first collaboration was The Smiling Lieutenant . The next, The Man I Killed , was an artistically important tragedy about a French soldier's lone odyssey for conscience and solace in Germany during the First World War. It was Lubitsch's only sound drama.

They worked most often with a Hungarian play as a springboard and finished with something entirely different, save for the bare bones of the original plot. Raphaelson himself tended to dismiss "writing in the Lubitsch vein," as his theatrical and literary concerns were most important to him, but the two of them (and let us not exclude Ernest Vajda) inspired one another "past all sanity."

Raphaelson's The Jazz Singer was produced as a play in 1925. It was, he reflected, "heartfelt, corny and dramatic. It hurtled me into a lifetime dedicated to never again being so shamelessly effective." This solid star vehicle has been filmed three times to date, as was his 1934 play Accent on Youth . The story of a middle-aged Broadway playwright (a songwriter in the Crosby picture, a producer in the Gable picture) who is found attractive by his much younger secretary hadn't lost its spark in its numerous adaptations.

Raphaelson considered Suspicion , for Alfred Hitchcock, "in many ways my best screenplay." The heroine's role was tailored to the talent of Joan Fontaine, who won an Oscar. All the situations and dialogue led indirectly and cumulatively to Cary Grant trying to murder her. However, the ending insisted on by the studio made Grant innocent and the rewritten ending was unconvincing. Although meticulous from a technical point of view, Suspicion does not really match the best work Raphaelson did with Lubitsch.

—Rob Pinsel

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