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Stein, Paul (1892-1951)


Main image of Stein, Paul (1892-1951)

Paul Ludwig Stein was born in Vienna on 4 February 1892. As a youth he acted in the Berlin theatre and at eighteen went to New York, where he worked as a screenwriter and as a stage manager on Broadway. Back in Vienna, he spent two years acting on stage and in German and Austrian films. In 1920 he joined the UFA studios in Berlin as a director, working on romantic dramas and comedies, several starring the flamboyant actress Pola Negri.

Stein returned to America in 1922 to direct The Devil's Pawn, and again in 1926, when he stayed for six years directing musicals, romances and melodramas. In 1932 he moved to England but his career did not begin promisingly. He directed silent star Corinne Griffith in a mawkish tear-jerker, Lily Christine (1932), while his debut at British International Pictures was a flat musical comedy, The Song You Gave Me (1933) starring Bebe Daniels. However, because of his Hollywood experience, he was given responsibility for some prestige productions including Red Wagon (1934), a powerful drama set in the circus, based on a popular novel by Lady Eleanor Smith. Stein's real forte though, lay in the films he made with opera star Richard Tauber: Blossom Time (1934), based on the life of Franz Schubert, and Hearts Desire (1935), both of which benefited from charming Viennese settings and Tauber's mellifluous voice.

Stein's flair for romantic musicals did not initially extend to other genres; Mimi (1935) was uninspiring, despite its operatic associations and the presence of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Gertrude Lawrence, and Café Colette (1937) was a misguided combination of spy melodrama and music. However, he showed a deft touch with comedy in Jane Steps Out (1938) and crime drama in Black Limelight (1938). One of Stein's most interesting films is Poison Pen (1939), from Richard Llewellyn's play about a village plunged into internecine strife by an anonymous letters writer, which anticipated Henri-Georges Clouzot's much better-known Le Corbeau (1943). Poison Pen blended scenic views of the English countryside (only weeks before the outbreak of war) with a suggestion of underlying malevolence. The Monthly Film Bulletin noted that its "realistic atmosphere is skilfully created by a wealth of detail showing village life. The opening is quiet. Suspense is well-maintained, and the climax is gripping and tragic."

Although Stein's films during the 1940s were all box-office draws, those with musical themes were the most successful. Waltz Time (1945) repeated the winning Vienna-Tauber formula and one of the memorable aspects of The Lisbon Story (1946), based on a wartime musical play, was Tauber's rendition of the song 'Pedro the Fisherman'. Similarly, The Laughing Lady (1946), set in 1790s France, was embellished by the singing duo Ann Ziegler and Webster Booth. His last two films were untypical but original: a topical germ warfare thriller, Counterblast (1948), and a clever 'whodunit', The Twenty Questions Murder Mystery (1949). Paul Stein died in London on 2 May 1951.

Cole, Hubert, 'A Mercurial Maker of Stars', Film Weekly, 17 Aug. 1934, pp. 7
Paice, Eric, 'Poison Pen', Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1939, p. 135
Noble, Peter (ed.), The British Film Yearbook, 1947-1948 (London: Skelton Robinson, 1947), p. 354

Margaret Butler, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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