One of the earliest and most prolific contributors to the German film industry, writer/ director Joe May was in charge of his own production company as early as 1914. May helped to establish the reputation of filmmaker Fritz Lang, who contributed scripts to several early May-directed productions. Though a leading light at Berlin's UFA studios, May's films were not always highly regarded by contemporary critics, who complained that he spent too much time making "entertainments" rather than masterpieces. May's best efforts were the pioneering "reality bites" Homecoming (1928) and Asphalt (1930).
Forced to flee Germany after Hitler rose to power, May headed to Hollywood where, after directing the impressively moody Confession (1937), he was consigned to the "B" unit at Universal pictures. Some of his Universals were quite good, notably The Invisible Man Returns (1940) and House of the Seven Gables (1940), but May's disillusionment with Hollywood began evincing itself via lethargic pacing and sloppy storytelling. The man who once effortlessly commanded thousands of extras in The Indian Tomb found it impossible to control the on-set shenanigans of the Dead End Kids (Huntz Hall, Billy Halop et. al.) while filming You're Not So Tough (1940) and Hit the Road (1941). Oddly, one of May's best directorial efforts was his last and least typical: Johnny Doesn't Live Here Any More (1944), a sprightly screwball comedy which gave a major leg-up to the career of Robert Mitchum. In addition to directing, May wrote the screenplays for such Universal programmers as The Invisible Woman (1941) and The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler (1943). Retiring from active filmmaking in 1950, Joe May spent his declining Hollywood years managing the trendy Blue Danube restaurant.