Walter Reisch - Writer

Writer and Director. Nationality: Austrian. Born: Vienna, 23 May 1903. Education: Attended the Reform-Real Gymnasium, 1913–22. Family: Married 1) Ina Schulthess, 1927 (divorced 1930); 2) Lisl Handl. Career: Extra, title-writer, and assistant to Alexander Korda at Sascha Film while still a student; 1923—camera assistant to Stefan Lorant, Berlin; then assistant cameraman for International Newsreels, Geneva; 1925–27—film writer in Vienna: first film as scenario writer, Der Fluch ; 1927–30—writer for AAFA, Berlin, and then for UFA, Berlin, 1930–33; 1933–37—worked in Vienna to escape the Nazis; 1937—first film in Hollywood, Men Are Not Gods ; 1938–48—contract with MGM; 1939—collaborator with Charles Brackett, at first with Billy Wilder, and after 1951 with Richard Breen; 1954–55—wrote and directed two films in Germany. Award: Academy Award for Titanic , 1953. Died: Of cancer, 28 March 1983.

Films as Writer:


Miss Hobbs ( Los vom Mann ; Die Tolle Miss ) (Kreisler) (titles)


Der Fluch (Land); Frauen aus der Wiener Vorstadt ( 15 Jahre schweren Kerker ) (Hanus); Ein Walzer von Strauss (Neufeld and Kreisler)


Küssen ist keine Sünd ( Die letzte Einquartierung ) (Walther-Fein); Schützenliesl (Walther-Fein)


Der Bettelstudent (J. and L. Fleck); Die Dollarprinzessin und ihre sechs Freier (Basch); Die elf Teufel (Z. Korda); Faschingzauber (Walther-Fein); Das Heiratsnest (Walther-Fein); Die indiskrete Frau (Boese); Ein Mädel aus dem Volke (J. and L. Fleck); Pratermizzi (+ co-d); Ein rheinisches Mädchen beim rheinischen Wein (Guter); Seine Hoheit, der Eintänzer ( Das entfesselte Wein ) (Leiter); Tingel-Tangel (Ucicky); Trommelfeuer der Liebe (Hartl)


Dragonerliebchen (Walther-Fein); Der Faschingsprinz (Walther-Fein)


Fräulein Fähnrich (Sauer); Die Frau, die jeder liebt, bist du! (Froelich); Der Held aller Mädchenträume (Land); Der lustige Witwer (Land); Der schwarze Domino (Janson); Schwarzwaldmädel (Janson); Die Nacht gehört uns (Froelich); Dich hab' ich geliebt ( Because I Loved You ) (Walther-Fein)


Donauwalzer (Janson); Brand in der Oper ( Barcarole ) (Froelich); Das Flötenkonzert von Sanssouci ( The Flute Concert at Sans Souci ) (Ucicky); Mach' mir die Wely zum Paradies (Merzbach); Das Lied ist aus (von Bolvary); Der Herr auf Bestellung (von Bolvary); Hokuspokus ( Hocuspocus ) (Ucicky); Wie werde ich reich und glücklich? (Reichmann); Ein Tango für dich (von Bolvary); Va banque (Waschneck); Zwei Herzen im 3/4 Takt (von Bolvary)


Im Geheimdienst (Ucicky); Die lustigen Weiber von Wein (von Bolvary); Der Raub der Mona Lisa ( The Theft of the Mona Lisa ) (von Bolvary)


Ein blonder Traum ( The Blonde Dream ) (Martin); Der Prinz von Arkadien (Hartl); F.P. 1 antwortet nicht M.( F.P. 1 ; F.P. 1 Does Not Answer ) (Hartl); Die Gräfin von Monte Cristo (Hartl)


Ich und die kaiserin ( Heart Song ) (Holländer); Leise flehen meine Lieder ( Schuberts unvollendete Symphonie ; Unfinished Symphony ) (Forst); Saison in Kairo (Schünzel)


Maskerade ( Masquerade in Vienna ) (Forst)


Episode (+ d); Escapade (Leonard)


Silhouettes (+ d)


Men Are Not Gods (+ d)


The Great Waltz (Duvivier); Gateway (Werker)


Ninotchka (Lubitsch)


My Love Came Back (Bernhardt); Comrade X (K. Vidor)


That Hamilton Woman ( Lady Hamilton ) (A. Korda); That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch)


Seven Sweethearts (Borzage); Somewhere I'll Find You (Ruggles)


The Heavenly Body (Hall)


Gaslight (Cukor)


Song of Scheherazade (+ d)


The Countess of Monte Cristo (de Cordova)


The Fan ( Lady Windermere's Fan ) (Preminger)


The Model and the Marriage Broker (Cukor); The Mating Season (Leisen)


Niagara (Hathaway); Titanic (Negulesco)


Die Mucke (+ d)


Der Cornet (+ d); The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Fleischer)


Teenage Rebel (Goulding)


Stopover Tokyo (Breen); Journey to the Center of the Earth (Levin); The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (Levin)


By REISCH: book—

With Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, Ninotchka (script), New York, 1966.

On REISCH: article—

Cameron, Evan William, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series , edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

* * *

The noted Hollywood screenwriter Walter Reisch really had a two-part career. In the first half he functioned as one of the most important screenwriters of late silent and early sound films in Germany. Like many others he fled the Nazi regime and eventually made his way to Hollywood. From the late 1930s through the 1950s Walter Reisch functioned as a "writer's writer" in the Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system.

Reisch entered the Austrian film industry as an extra in 1918. But the movie capital of Europe after the First World War was Berlin. Once he terminated his education Reisch moved to Berlin to make his mark in the new art form. He did everything, learning filmmaking from all sides. He translated title cards for silent films, worked as an assistant camera operator for features and newsreels, and helped as an assistant director.

But just as sound was coming in, Reisch saw that the industry would need more screenwriters and permanently moved into that niche of motion picture production. Quickly he rose to become one of the top writers at UFA, then Germany's largest studio and one of the more powerful movie corporations outside Hollywood. The seizure of power by Adolph Hitler changed everything and eventually forced Reisch to emigrate to the United States.

Although he wrote his first Hollywood screenplay for United Artists he made his way to MGM and settled at that studio from 1938–48. And the hits began to flow at once. The Great Waltz , the fictionalized biography of Johann Strauss, earned millions. In 1939 Reisch wrote the script for Ninotchka with another expatriot, Billy Wilder, and Charles Brackett. Yet another emigré, Ernst Lubitsch, directed. Swedish-born Greta Garbo starred. The film was a major hit and earned the writers an Academy Award nomination.

Reisch's career at MGM then settled into a routine. It was not until Reisch moved to 20th Century-Fox that he was again united with Charles Brackett to do more of his best work. Their collaborations did well at the box office and stand up well on repeated showings: The Model and the Marriage Broker , The Mating Season , Niagara , and Titanic .

Reisch's career then closed with a series of mediocre films. He retired gracefully and freelanced as uncredited "script doctor" and lectured widely at universities throughout the world. He provided many a student with tales of what it had been like to work at MGM during the Golden Days of the studio system.

—Douglas Gomery

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