Paul Leni

Paul Leni (8 July 1885 – 2 September 1929), born Paul Josef Levi, was a German filmmaker and a key figure in German Expressionist filmmaking, making Backstairs (Hintertreppe, 1921) and Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, 1924) in Germany, and The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Chinese Parrot (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and The Last Warning (1929) in the U.S.

Paul Leni
Paul Leni
Born8 July 1885[1]
Died2 September 1929 (aged 44)[1]
Cause of deathSepsis[2]
OccupationFilm Director, Art Director
Years active1913-1929
Notable work
The Cat and the Canary, The Man Who Laughs
MovementGerman Expressionist Film

Life and career

Das Plakat Sonderheft Der Film 1920 Titel
Cover for poster magazine Das Plakat special issue on The Movie, October 1920

Leni was born to a Jewish family[3] in Stuttgart. He became an avant-garde painter at the age of 15, he studied at Berlin's Academy of Fine Arts, and subsequently worked as a theatrical set designer, working for a number of theatres in Berlin (but not with Max Reinhardt).

In 1913 he started working in the German film industry designing film sets and/or costumes for directors such as Joe May, Ernst Lubitsch, Richard Oswald, and E. A. Dupont.

During World War I, Leni started directing as well with films such as Der Feldarzt (Das Tagebuch des Dr. Hart, 1917), Patience (1920), Die Verschwörung zu Genua (1920/21) and Backstairs (1921). Waxworks (1924) was planned as a four-part omnibus feature, but the last part was not shot when money ran out. He also made a series of unusual short animated films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 - 8, which were filmed crossword puzzles.

Leni designed short prologues for festive film premieres in Berlin cinemas, such as Lubitsch's Forbidden Paradise (1924), Herbert Brenon's Peter Pan (1924), and E. A. Dupont's Variety (1925).

In 1927, he accepted Carl Laemmle's invitation to become a director at Universal Studios and moved to Hollywood. There Leni made a distinguished directorial debut with The Cat and the Canary (1927), an adaptation of John Willard's stage play. The film had a great influence over Universal's later classic "haunted house" horror series, and was subsequently remade several times, notably in 1939 with Bob Hope. The following year he directed the big budget The Man Who Laughs (based on the novel by Victor Hugo), one of the most visually stylized of late period silent films.

His final film was The Last Warning, envisioned as a companion film for The Cat and the Canary due to its predecessor's popularity.[4] Leni died in Los Angeles on 2 September 1929, of sepsis brought on by an untreated tooth infection, [2] only eight months after its release. [5] He was 44.


German films

As art director

As director (and art director)

Universal Studio films


  1. ^ a b c d "BFI database: Paul Leni". Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Landazuri, Margarita. "The Cat And The Canary". Retrieved November 16, 2016. He died on September 2, 1929, of blood poisoning caused by a neglected tooth infection. He was 44 years old.
  3. ^ Brook, Vincent (2009). Driven to Darkness: Jewish Emigre Directors and the Rise of Film Noir. Rutgers University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0813548330.
  4. ^ Atkinson, Michael. "The Last Warning". Retrieved November 16, 2016. The kind of party we’re in for was immediately familiar to audiences in 1929 because of the intense popularity two years earlier of Leni’s The Cat and the Canary—to which The Last Warning is devised to be a companion film, almost a redux.
  5. ^ Atkinson, Michael. "The Last Warning". Retrieved November 16, 2016. was the final film for the illustrious Leni who died eight months after its release of blood poisoning at the age of forty-four.

External links

Children of Darkness (1921 film)

Children of Darkness (German: Kinder der Finsternis) is a German silent drama film directed by Ewald André Dupont and starring Grit Hegesa, Hans Mierendorff and Sybil Smolova. It was released in two separate parts Der Mann aus Neapel in December 1921 and Kämpfende Welten in January 1922. Both parts premiered at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo.

The film's sets were designed by the art director Paul Leni. It was shot in Berlin and Naples.

Dr. Hart's Diary

Dr. Hart's Diary (German: Das Tagebuch des Dr. Hart) is a 1917 German silent war film directed by Paul Leni and starring Heinrich Schroth, Käthe Haack and Dagny Servaes. The film depicts a German field hospital in occupied Russian Poland during the ongoing First World War.

The film was created as part of a major effort to propagandize the German-Polish friendship that leads to the re-establishment of Poland by German forces in late 1916. It was produced by Paul Davidson's PAGU in association with the propaganda agency BUFA. Shortly afterwards, hoping to produce a number of similar films, the German government founded UFA which PAGU merged into.

Forrest Stanley

Forrest Stanley (August 21, 1889 in New York City – August 27, 1969 in Los Angeles, California) was an American actor and screenplay writer best known for his work in silent film. He is particularly known for his role as the villain in the murder mystery film The Cat and the Canary (1927) directed by Paul Leni.


Hintertreppe (English: Backstairs) is a 1921 silent film. This was the first movie by German director Leopold Jessner, in cooperation with Paul Leni. Carl Mayer specifically wrote this for Leopold Jessner, who would go on to direct Erdgeist. Hintertreppe was a precursor of the 1920s German kammerspielfilm style.

Patience (film)

Patience or The Cards of Death (German: Die Karten des Todes) is a 1920 German silent film directed by Felix Basch and Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, Adele Sandrock and Wilhelm Diegelmann. It was produced by Gloria-Film, a company later taken over by UFA.

The film's sets were designed by Paul Leni.

Prince Cuckoo

Prince Cuckoo (German: Prinz Kuckuck) is a 1919 German silent drama film directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, Olga Limburg and Magnus Stifter. It premiered at the Marmorhaus. It is now considered a lost film.

It was shot at the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Karl Machus and Otto Moldenhauer along with Leni.

The Cat and the Canary (1927 film)

The Cat and the Canary is a 1927 American silent horror film adaptation of John Willard's 1922 black comedy play of the same name. Directed by German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni, the film stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West, Forrest Stanley as Charles "Charlie" Wilder, and Creighton Hale as Paul Jones. The plot revolves around the death of Cyrus West, who is Annabelle, Charlie, and Paul's uncle, and the reading of his will 20 years later. Annabelle inherits her uncle's fortune, but when she and her family spend the night in his haunted mansion they are stalked by a mysterious figure. Meanwhile, a lunatic known as "the Cat" escapes from an asylum and hides in the mansion.

The film is part of a genre of comedy horror films inspired by 1920s Broadway stage plays. Paul Leni's adaptation of Willard's play blended expressionism with humor, a style Leni was notable for and critics recognized as unique. Leni's style of directing made The Cat and the Canary influential in the "old dark house" genre of films popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. The film was one of Universal's early horror productions and is considered "the cornerstone of Universal's school of horror." The play has been filmed five other times, with the most notable in 1939 starring comedic actor Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.

The Chinese Parrot (film)

The Chinese Parrot (1927) is a silent film, the second in the Charlie Chan series. It was directed by Paul Leni and starred Japanese actor Sōjin Kamiyama as Chan. The film is an adaptation of the 1926 Earl Derr Biggers novel The Chinese Parrot. It is considered a lost film.The film is presumed to be lost.

Another version of the story was filmed in 1934, entitled The Courage of Charlie Chan.

The Conspiracy in Genoa

The Conspiracy in Genoa (German: Die Verschwörung zu Genua) is a 1921 German silent historical drama film directed by Paul Leni and starring Wilhelm Diegelmann, Maria Fein and Fritz Kortner. It is an adaptation of the 1783 play Fiesco by Friedrich Schiller.It premiered at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo.

The Countess of Paris

The Countess of Paris (German: Die Gräfin von Paris) is a 1923 German silent film directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki and Joe May and starring Mia May, Emil Jannings and Erika Glässner. It was the sequel to Tragedy of Love.

The film's sets were designed by the art director Paul Leni.

The Guilt of Lavinia Morland

The Guilt of Lavinia Morland (German: Die Schuld der Lavinia Morland) is a 1920 German silent drama film directed by Joe May and starring Mia May, Albert Steinrück and Alfred Gerasch.The film's sets were designed by the art director Erich Kettelhut, Paul Leni and Erich Zander.

The Last Warning

The Last Warning is a 1928 American mystery film directed by Paul Leni, and starring Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, and Margaret Livingston. Its plot follows a New York producer's attempt to re-stage a play five years after one of the original cast members was murdered in the theater. The film is based on the 1922 Broadway melodrama of the same name by Thomas F. Fallon, which in turn was based on the story House of Fear by Wadsworth Camp, the father of the writer Madeleine L'Engle.

Conceived as a followup to Leni's wildly successful 1927 production The Cat and the Canary (also starring La Plante), the film was produced by Universal Pictures under Carl Laemmle. Principal photography took place in Los Angeles in the summer of 1928 on sets recycled from Univeral's The Phantom of the Opera (1925). It premiered on Christmas Day 1928 before expanding in January 1929, and was released as both a part-sound as well as a silent film; the silent version is the only known extant version. It was the final film directed by Leni before his death from blood poisoning on September 2, 1929.Response by critics to The Last Warning varied, with many praising its performances and cinematography, though several commented on its incoherent plot, and others criticized its integration of sound, feeling it presented optimally as a silent film. In 2016, Universal Pictures selected the film for restoration, using elements from two different prints owned by the Packard Humanities Institute and the Cinémathèque Française.

The Man Who Laughs (1928 film)

The Man Who Laughs is a 1928 American silent romantic drama film directed by the German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni. The film is an adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel of the same name and stars Mary Philbin as the blind Dea and Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine. The film is known for the grim carnival freak-like grin on the character Gwynplaine's face, which often leads it to be classified as a horror film. Film critic Roger Ebert stated, "The Man Who Laughs is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film."The Man Who Laughs is a Romantic melodrama, similar to films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). The film was one of the early Universal Pictures productions that made the transition from silent films to sound films, using the Movietone sound system introduced by William Fox. The film was completed in April 1927 but was held for release in April 1928, with sound effects and a music score that included the song, "When Love Comes Stealing," by Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack, and Ernö Rapée.

The Mystery of Bangalore

The Mystery of Bangalore (German: Das Rätsel von Bangalor) is a 1918 German silent film directed by Alexander Antalffy and Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, Gilda Langer and Harry Liedtke.

The Platonic Marriage

The Platonic Marriage (German: Die platonische Ehe) is a 1919 German silent drama film directed by Paul Leni and starring Mia May, Georg Alexander and Albert Paulig. An impoverished noblewoman marries a woman he finds unattractive simply to get his hands on her money. However, he gradually finds himself falling in love with her.

Leni also worked as art director, designing the film's sets.

The Rosentopf Case

The Rosentopf Case (German: Der Fall Rosentopf) is a 1918 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Lubitsch, Trude Hesterberg and Margarete Kupfer.It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Paul Leni and Kurt Richter.

The Wife of Forty Years

The Wife of Forty Years (German:Die Frau von vierzig Jahren) is a 1925 German silent drama film directed by Richard Oswald and starring Diana Karenne, Vladimir Gajdarov and Sig Arno. The film's art direction was by Paul Leni.

Tragedy of Love

Tragedy of Love (German: Tragödie der Liebe) is a 1923 German silent film directed by Joe May and starring Mia May, Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich.The film's sets were designed by the art directors Erich Kettelhut, Paul Leni and Erich Zander.

Waxworks (film)

Waxworks (German: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) is a 1924 German silent fantasy-horror film directed by Paul Leni. The film is about a writer (William Dieterle) who accepts a job from a waxworks proprietor to write a series of stories about the exhibits of Caliph of Baghdad (Emil Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt) and Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss) in order to boost business.

Although Waxworks is often credited as a horror film, it is an anthology film that goes through several genres including a fantasy adventure, a historical film, and a horror film through its various episodes. This film would be director Paul Leni's last film made in Germany before he went on to make The Cat and the Canary (1927) in the United States.

Films directed by Paul Leni

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