Producer. Nationality: German. Born: Hildesheim, 20 July 1889. Education: Studied in Gottingen. Military Service: Injured during World War I. Family: Married Gertrude Levy, 1913; one son. Career: Worked in clothing factory, Berlin; 1907–14—worked for Gaumont, first in Berlin, then after 1909 in Paris, first as salesman, then becoming the company's director of operations in Central Europe; 1915—founded the production company Decla (Deutsche Eclair), which merged with Bioscop to become Decla-Bioscop; 1923—company absorbed into UFA: continued to produce films for UFA until 1933; with rise of Nazis, began long exile in Paris, 1933, Hollywood, 1934, London, where he founded Mayflower Pictures with Charles Laughton, Hollywood again, 1940; 1946–56—helped
oversee the restoration of the German film industry; 1956—returned to Hollywood. Died: In Hollywood, California, 8 May 1966.
Films as Producer:
Die verschleierte Dame (Oswald); Und Wandern sollst du ruhelos (Oswald)
Die Pest von Florenz (Rippert); Die Frau mit den Orchiden (Rippert); Der Herr der Liebe (Lang); Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Wiene); Halbblut (Lang)
Die Spinnen (The Spider) (Lang—2 parts)
Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) (May—2 parts)
Der müde Tod (Between Worlds; Destiny) (Lang); Schloss Vogelöd (Haunted Castle) (Murnau)
Ein Glas Wasser (Berger); Vanina (von Gerlach); Luise Millerin—Kabale und Liebe (Froelich); Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler) (Lang); Phantom (Murnau); Der brennende Acker (Burning Soil) (Murnau)
Der verlorene Schuh (Berger); Nora (Viertel); Der steinerne Reiter (Wendhausen); Austreibung—Die Macht der zweiter Frau (Murnau); Der Evangelimann (Holger-Madsen); Tatjana (Dinesen); Der Wetterwart (Froelich); Seine Frau, die Unbekannte (Christensen)
Dekameron-Nächte (Wilcox—German version of Decameron Nights); Der Turm des schweigens (Bertram); Die Nibelungen (Lang—2 parts); Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (Murnau); Michael (Dreyer); Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs (The Grand Duke's Finances) (Murnau)
Pietro, der Korsar (Robison); Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (Prager); Liebe macht blind (Mendes); Tartüff (Tartuffe) (Murnau); Ein Walzertraum (The Waltz Dream) (Berger); Der Geiger von Florenz (Czinner); Variété (Variety) (Dupont)
Metropolis (Lang); Manon Lescaut (Robison); Faust (Murnau)
Hotel Imperial (Stiller) (+ co-sc); Barbed Wire (Lee)
Spione (Spies) (Lang); Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hungarian Rhapsody) (Schwarz); Heimkehr (Homecoming) (May)
Melodie des Herzens (Melody of the Heart) (Schwarz); Die underbare Lüge der Nina Poetrowna (The Wonderful Liesof Nina Petrovna) (Schwarz); Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon) (Lang); Asphalt (May)
Liebeswalzer (Thiele); Die Drei von der Tankstelle (Thiele); Die blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) (von Sternberg); The Temporary Widow (Ucicky—English version of Hokuspokus); Einbrecher (Schwarz)
Ihre Hoheit befiehlt (Schwarz); Voruntersuchung (Inquest) (Siodmak); Bomben auf Monte Carlo (Monte Carlo Madness) (Charell); Der Kongress tanzt (The Congress Dances) (Charell); Stürme der Leidenschaft (Storms of Passion) (Siodmak)
F.P.1. antwortet nicht (F.P.1 Does Not Answer) (Hartl); Ein blonder Traum (A Blonde Dream) (Martin); Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht (Early to Bed) (Berger); Quick (Siodmak); Happy Ever After (Martin and Stevenson)
The Only Girl (Heart Song) (Hollaender); On a volé un homme (Ophüls); Liliom (Lang)
Music in the Air (May)
Farewell Again (Troopship) (Whelan); Fire over England (Howard)
Vessel of Wrath (The Beachcomber) (+ d); St. Martin's Lane (The Sidewalks of London) (Whelan)
Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Dieterle)
Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner); They Knew What They Wanted (Kanin)
Zwischen Gestern und Morgen (Braun); . . . und über uns der Himmel (von Baky)
Lang ist der Weg (Fredersdrof and Goldstein); Morituri (York)
Illusion in Moll (Jugert); Nachts auf den Strassen (Jugert)
Ein Liebesgeschichte (Jugert)
Kinder, Mütter, und ein General (Benedek)
By POMMER: articles—
"Film parlant, film muet," in La Revue des Savants (Paris), no. 10, 1931.
Film Weekly (London), 27 February 1937.
Film Weekly (London), 10 December 1938.
On POMMER: book—
Jacobsen, Wolfgang, Erich Pommer: ein Produzent macht Filmgeschichte, Berlin, 1989.
On POMMER: articles—
Sight and Sound (London), April-June 1952.
Film Blätter, no. 13, 1959.
Luft, H.G., in Films in Review (New York), October and November 1959.
Films in Review (New York), December 1959.
Films in Review (New York), February 1960.
Films in Review (New York), May 1960.
Film Français (Paris), 20 May 1966.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July 1966.
EPD Film (Frankfurt), March 1989.
Jeune Cinéma (Paris), no. 195, June-July 1989.
EPD Film (Frankfurt), March 1989.
Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), November 1990.
* * *
Erich Pommer was not only Germany's greatest film producer but one of the most versatile of international showmen. His career chronicles the history of European cinema, and while a great many of the films he supervised appropriately fall into the category of motion picture entertainment, he was responsible for having shaped the artistic professionalism of the German cinema during the 1920s and 1930s and for closely supervising the creation of numerous cinematic masterpieces such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Last Laugh, Metropolis, Variety, and The Blue Angel. Pommer was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the motion picture industry; however, his most outstanding talents were his keen sense of story values and his ability to nurture young, creative, and frequently temperamental talents like Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg, Emil Jannings, Carl Mayer, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton.
The debonair, charming young Pommer began his career in films in the sales department of the Berlin branch of Gaumont in 1909. After being wounded in the German army in the First World War, Pommer founded his own production company, Decla, which turned out a series of Sherlock Holmes films starring Albin Neuss. Among the new talent Pommer nurtured at Decla were Fritz Lang, who directed Die Spinnen, and Carl Mayer, who co-scripted The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Pommer had a shrewd sense of what the public would accept, and it was at his insistence, over the objections of the writers, that the framing story was added to Caligari. This device explained that the machinations of the evil hypnotist and his somnambulist were a "madman's delusions." Pommer's demand for this change resulted in this landmark Expressionistic film reaching a far wider audience. By 1921, Pommer merged his Decla company with UFA, and it was here he produced his greatest German films and helped develop that studio into Europe's finest and most efficient production center. His output is impressive, and includes a series of landmark films: Phantom (Murnau); Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Lang), Die Nibelungen (Lang), Michael (Dreyer), The Last Laugh (Murnau), for which Pommer insisted upon a happy ending, Metropolis (Lang), Tartuffe (Murnau), The Blue Angel (von Sternberg), and Variety (Dupont) and The Waltz Dream (Berger), his two biggest commercial successes.
On 31 January 1933, the day that Hitler became chancellor of the Third Reich, Pommer resigned from UFA and joined Fox-Europa in Paris, where his first production was Max Ophüls's On a volé un homme. He then hired Lang to direct Liliom, which introduced him to a young composer named Franz Wachsman (Pommer later brought him to the U.S. as Franz Waxman). In 1934, Fox's Sidney Kent brought Pommer to America and set him up with his own production unit, where he produced Music in the Air starring Gloria Swanson and directed by Joe May. When Fox merged with 20th Century a year later Pommer was out of a job, so he went to England where he signed to produce two films for Alexander Korda.
Pommer next formed another company called Mayflower Pictures in association with Charles Laughton and had a releasing deal through United Artists. Laughton's four films for Mayflower contain some of his most interesting work: The Beachcomber, The Sidewalks ofLondon, Jamaica Inn, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. For Jamaica Inn, Pommer discovered a 16-year old lass named Maureen O'Hara and signed her to a personal 7-year contract. He used her again in Hunchback and after dissolving his company he sold her contract to RKO. Also for RKO, he produced They Knew What They Wanted, starring Laughton and directed by Garson Kanin. Poor health took its toll on Pommer's career during the early 1940s and he retired. In 1946, he returned to Germany under the auspices of the U.S. government to help restore the war-torn German film industry. He produced several films there in the 1950s, but none was of the caliber of his earlier successes.
Pommer was a stern, Teutonic disciplinarian but he knew the question every exceptional producer must ask—"What will the public accept?" He angered many of his creative artists by insisting upon a tight production rein, yet most of his colleagues recognized his business acumen. Carl Dreyer recalled: "For the conscientious film director, Pommer was the ideal producer. Once a decision was made on the major problems, such as script, casting, sets, etc., he would not interfere with the director's work."