Emelka, Ufa, and Hollywood
Emelka was supposed to be Bavaria’s answer to Ufa in Prussian Berlin. Founded in 1919, the film studio located on Munich’s outskirts at Geiselgasteig was never able to match the competition to the north. But in reality, the Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (MLK, Emelka) had no intention of trying to become the financial and artistic powerhouse that Ufa was. The founders of Emelka wanted to be be known for entertainment rather than art.
|Alfred Hitchcock directed his first motion picture at the Emelka studios in Munich, Germany.|
Although Ufa was certainly bigger and more famous, Emelka/Bavaria has also made its contributions to Hollywood. Highlights in the history of Emelka and Bavaria Film include the first complete film that Alfred Hitchcock ever directed (The Pleasure Garden in 1925), the production of The Vikings (1958, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh), Berlin sets for Billy Wilder’s Cold War comedy One, Two, Three (1961), and filming for the 1981 international blockbuster Das Boot, directed by Wolfgang Petersen (now working in Hollywood).
During the Cold War, Germany’s film production was as divided as the country itself. After the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, West Germany was cut off from the former Ufa production facilities southwest of Berlin in Babelsberg. While the DEFA studios there became the center for communist East Germany’s film industry, western German production moved to Munich and the former Emelka studios there. In today’s reunited Germany, the country now has the two main film centers it had before World War II, one in Babelsberg (Studio Babelsberg) south of Berlin, the other south of Munich (Bavaria Film).
Below you’ll find a brief chronology of Emelka’s history. For a more complete historical timeline, see our German Film Chronology.
An Emelka Chronology
- 1919 - On January 1, Peter Ostermayr’s Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (MLK) is founded with a starting capitalization of two million marks. MLK will be better known by the spelling of its pronunciation in German: em-el-ka, or Emelka. In June Ostermayr purchases land near Munich at Geiselgasteig for his new film studio. In September construction of the Glashaus, a glass-enclosed studio, begins. (Full natural light was necessary because artificial light at the time was insufficient for exposing early movie film.) Soon other film facilities are built at Geiselgasteig.
- 1920 - The first film produced in the new Glashaus studio is Der Ochsenkrieg (“The Oxen War”), based on the novel by Ludwig Ganghofer. Peter Ostermayr's brother, Franz, is the director (credited as Franz Osten). Behind the camera is the Austrian Franz Planer (1894-1963), who would later work in Hollywood.
- 1925 - Alfred Hitchcock directs his first complete film (for the British company Gainsborough Productions) at the Emelka studios in Munich. His silent picture, The Pleasure Garden (German: Irrgarten der Leidenschaft), was also filmed at locations in Italy.
- 1926 - Hitchcock returns to Munich to direct The Mountain Eagle (German: Der Bergadler), a story set in Kentucky. The Austrian Alps stand in for the mountains of Kentucky.
- October 1929 - On October 28 ("Black Monday") the Dow Jones Industrial Average loses 13 percent of its value. The next day it drops another 12 percent. It is the start of the Great Depression and world-wide financial problems.
- 1929 - Construction begins on a new sound studio. Shortly thereafter, Emelka lays off much of its staff because of a poor German economy and the expenses of adapting to the sound era.
- 1930 - Emelka produces its first sound film by adding sound to the silent film In einer kleinen Konditorei. Wilhelm Dieterle (1893-1972) directs the silent film Ludwig II. In Hollywood he will later be known as William Dieterle. On September 24, Emelka's first weekly newsreel with sound (Tönende Emelka-Wochenschau) debuts in German theaters, two weeks after competing Ufa's first sound newsreel.
- 1932 - Emelka declares bankruptcy in November. In September its Geiselgasteig property is sold off to form a new company: Bavaria Film AG.
- 1933 - Nazi persecution of the many Jews in the film industry forces most of them to leave Germany. Many of them will end up in Hollywood, including longtime Emelka employees E.A. Dupont, Franz Planer, and Fritz Kortner.
- 1936 - Bavaria Film is once again bankrupt, but there are no potential buyers. By scraping together some funds, hocking inventory, re-using old sets and props, and by sheer luck and desperation, the studio produces a film that becomes a big hit. The comedy 1A in Oberbayern ("eins-ah" or "one-A" refers to a license plate), directed and produced by Franz Seitz (1888-1952), earns enough money to pay off the studio's debts. (The film was remade in color in 1956.)
- 1937-38 - When creditors demand full payment, Bavaria Film is again in financial trouble. A refinanced Bavaria Filmkunst GmbH is created in February 1938. The studio is now owned by the German government through a trust.
- 1939 - A complete American western town set is built at Geiselgasteig. Two westerns are filmed therewith German stars such as Hans Albers.
- 1945 - When World War II ends, the studio is located in the American occupation zone. U.S. authorities forbid any film production by the studio itself. It can only rent out its facilities for other productions. Washington also overrules an effort to turn the studio over to either the city of Munich or the state of Bavaria.
- 1946 - The first film to be dubbed into German at the Bavaria facility is Frank Capra's Hollywood film You Can't Take It With You.
- 1949 - The first postwar film produced by Bavaria Filmkunst is Das Tor zum Paradies directed by Josef von Baky. The Studio II building burns down after an accident during filming.
- 1956 - Bavaria Filmkunst AG is re-privatized at a value of 6.8 million marks.
- 1958 - Richard Fleischer directs The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh.
- 1961 - Replicas of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and Tempelhof Airport are built at Geiselgasteig for One, Two, Three, directed by Billy Wilder. The film stars James Cagney, Liselotte Pulver, and Horst Buchholz.
- 1962 - John Sturges directs The Great Escape with an international cast that includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, and the German Hannes Messemer (as Col. von Luger, camp commandant).
- 1974 - The Anglo-German coproduction The Odessa File is filmed at the Bavaria studios. Directed by Ronald Neame, the film features Maximilian Schell, Jon Voigt, and Hannes Messemer (as General Richard Glücks).
- 1981 - Wolfgang Petersen directs the submarine drama Das Boot, based on the bestselling novel by Günther Buchheim. On Sept. 17 the film has its premiere in Munich and later goes on to be a big hit in the US and other parts of the world.
NEXT > Ufa and Studio Babelsberg
- Ufa and Studio babelsberg - Established in 1912, this studio complex near Berlin became Germany's main film production site.
- An Ufa Chronology (1891-pres.) - A historical timeline that includes world cinema and other German studios.
- Famous German Movies - Films from Germany have made their mark on world cinema—and influenced Hollywood
- Germans (and Others) in Hollywood - About the three main waves of Germanic immigration to Hollywood
- German Cinema - From the German Way book
- Famous Germans, Austrians and Swiss
- Famous Graves - The graves and cemeteries of the famous
Bavaria Film and Studio Babelsberg on the Web
- Bavaria Film near Munich, Germany's "other" film center (in German or English)
- Bavaria Filmstadt - For tourists who want to learn more about the studio and its "Film City" theme park south of Munich (in English), including Bully Herbig's Bullyversum.
- Studio Babelsberg - Official site
- Universum Film AG (Ufa) - Wikipedia (English)
MORE > German-Hollywood Connections