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Pola Negri Loses Her Head in “Passion”

December 14, 2010

Madam DuBarry released in the U.S. as  Passion (1920)
Madam DuBarry released in the U.S. as  Passion (1920)

Today we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the American premiere of Ernst Lubitsch's Passion at the New York Capitol theater on December 12, 1920.

Today the film is more commonly known by it's original title Madam DuBarry.  The 1919 German film was renamed Passion for the American release because distributor First National believed (probably justifiably) that Madam DuBarry sounded too foreign to draw at the box office. 

Madam DuBarry featured two of Germany's biggest stars, Pola Negri and Emil Jannings, and is credited by Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman as being "the film would have the greatest influence on Lubitsch's career."   In her modestly titled Memoirs of a Star, Pola Negri echoed the sentiment calling the film "the most important film of my career."

Negri recalled the Berlin premiere at the UFA-Palast in Berlin on September 18, 1919:

Pola Negri in Madam DuBarry [aka Passion] (1920)
Pola Negri in Madam DuBarry [aka Passion] (1920)

" was also the opening night of the largest motion picture theatre in Europe, the UFA Palace in Berlin.  The four thousand seats were filled with a distinguished audience from the worlds of society and the arts and standees lined the back.  A special box, decorated with flowers, had been reserved for Lubitsch, Jannings, and me.  Work had gotten out that this film might mark the beginning of a new epoch in pictures, and representatives of movie companies had come from all over the world.  The atmosphere rippled with anticipation.

At the end of the picture, there was a breathless silence.  Emil almost looked pleased.  Lubitsch and I exchanged a very nervous glance.  Was it possible that the public did not like what we considered our best work?

Then the roof fell in!  There was a burst of thunderous applause as we were accorded a standing ovation that went on endlessly.  People began to clamor into our box.  We were terrified that we might be torn to shreds by their enthusiasm.  I found myself being lifted onto strange shoulders and paraded through the theatre, as the audience changed, 'Hail K├Ânigin Pola!'"