Gustav Ucicky

Active - 1922 - 1952  |   Genres - Drama, Historical Film, Romance

Share on

Biography by Bruce Eder

Gustav Ucicky was one of the more successful and respected directors in Austria and Germany from the 1930s through the dawn of the '60s. Proficient in numerous genres, he was at his best in drama. Ucicky was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1898 and, by sheer chance, entered the movie business at the age of 17. One day in 1916, he and his friend Karl Hartl turned up at Sascha Films (the first large movie studio in Vienna) looking for work -- and were hired. Ucicky was employed as a camera assistant, which meant that, in his first months, he did little more than haul cameras and film canisters around the lot. He eventually became a camera operator and gained experience working in documentaries before shooting his first feature in 1919. Over the next five years, he worked on some of the studio's most prestigious movies, including Sodom and Gomorrah(1922), and worked with some of the top directorial talent of the day, including Mahail Kertesz, later better known in Hollywood as Michael Curtiz. In 1927, Ucicky moved to the director's chair on a series of productions and seemed to have a good future in front of him in Austria -- especially after the release of Café Elektric (1927) -- when the death of the studio's founder, Count Sascha Kolowrat, and the subsequent bankruptcy of the company forced him to shift his career to Germany. By 1929, he was under contract to UFA in Berlin and was part of the first wave of directors there to embrace talking pictures. Beginning with Hokuspokus (1930), he quickly moved into the front rank of young directors, generating a string of popular, successful films. His 1933 drama Flüchtlinge was a huge hit in Germany, in addition to being well received in America, despite its propagandistic story about a German official (Hans Albers) who helps to rescue a group of his countrymen from the brutality of the Soviet Union and return them to their homeland. Ucicky was one of the top directors at UFA throughout the mid- and late '30s, working with major stars, including Emil Jannings (in Der Zerbrochene Krug [aka The Broken Jug], 1937).

After the German takeover of Austria in 1938, Ucicky returned to Vienna and became a mainstay of Vienna Film, the government-sponsored production company that was intended to shoot propaganda movies on behalf of the German Reich. Instead, under Hartl's guidance and with the help of Ucicky and other Austrian nationals, they quietly sabotaged virtually every effort from Berlin to generate Nazi propaganda, making serious dramas, movies on Viennese and Austrian historical subjects, and romances. Ucicky achieved renown for Der Postmeister (aka The Stationmaster, 1940), which won an award as Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival, and among his subsequent movies, Heimkehr (1941) was also honored at the Venice festival. His films were among the most respected and successful in the output of Vienna Film during the early '40s. As late as 1940, he was still a respected name among New York critics, with his drama Mutterliebe (aka Mother Love) receiving high praise for his direction. Like most of his colleagues, his career came to a standstill in the years immediately after the war, as economic conditions and the four-power occupation of Vienna made production extremely difficult. It wasn't until 1948 that Ucicky re-emerged with a film entitled, appropriately enough, Nach dem Sturm (aka After the Storm). He continued making successful films, including many that were released internationally, such as Die Hexe (aka The Witch, 1954), right up until his death from a heart attack in 1961. Ucicky's last finished movie was Das Erbe von Björndal (aka The Heritage of Bjorndal) -- at the time of his death, he was preparing a film entitled Das Letzte Kapitel (aka The Last Capital), which was completed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner.