They called him “Uncle Carl”. For some of the employees at Universal Pictures that’s because he was their actual family member. But for many others, this diminutive entrepreneur was a well-respected man and a boss with a gigantic heart. This documentary is an illuminating guide to this gentle and helpful soul, and a testament to his important and enduring legacy.
TV writer and producer-turned-documentarian, James L. Freedman was unfamiliar with Laemmle’s world before starting this project, but has done a fabulous job of researching and mining the archives. Carl Laemmle was born Karl Lämmle in Laupheim Germany in 1867. He immigrated to the U.S. as a young man with very little money in his pockets. He became a big success story and while he assimilated into his new home, he never forgot about his German roots. This was proven during the Second World War when Laemmle sponsored hundreds of Jewish families, enabling them to go and live in the States to escape the Nazis. Laemmle was a benevolent man.
This film is an inspirational one because it tells Laemmle’s rags-to-riches story. It also shows how determined a character he was. In the early 20th century the film industry was dominated by Thomas Edison because he had invented the motion picture camera. Edison was hell-bent on monopolising the industry and wound up suing Laemmle for breaching patent laws. Laemmle however, had a can-do attitude and he fought every case and won. In doing so, a media mogul was born.
Freedman interviews some of Laemmle’s descendants, film historians and various industry experts. Film critic, Leonard Maltin appears as well as director, Peter Bogdanovich. They celebrate the many firsts that Universal Pictures can boast about. Hollywood stars can thank Carl for giving actors their due credit. The Universal Studio tour was another brainchild of Laemmle’s, it enables people to come and watch films being made on a studio lot.
Laemmle was a trailblazer in so many ways. He employed female directors not long after women’s suffrage. He was also responsible for Universal making the Oscar-winning, anti-war film, All Quiet on the Western Front. (But it’s too bad that this was eventually co-opted by the likes of Hitler and the Nazis). Laemmle was also responsible for the ground-breaking, Imitation of Life, a sobering look at U.S. race relations.
A lot of people may not be familiar with the name “Carl Laemmle” but they would be familiar with his work. This documentary ensures that he gets his own due credit and makes us appreciate things like Universal Pictures’ early days. This includes their having made the Dracula and Frankenstein films, among others. Carl was also responsible for spotting and supporting talent. Laemmle hired Waltz Disney and Stan Laurel, plus many more.
Carl Laemmle was an incredible man and this documentary will restore your faith in humanity. This mogul had an illustrious career in films and was a godsend for many Jewish families in their hour of need. Carl Laemmle is ultimately a multifaceted celebration of this progressive individual and his many firsts and accomplishments. By the time the credits role, this kindly hero may even start to feel like your very own Uncle Carl…
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Carl Laemmle screens as part of the Jewish International Film Festival. For more information head HERE.