|An American Tragedy|
|Directed by||Josef von Sternberg|
|Screenplay by||Samuel Hoffenstein|
|Based on|| An American Tragedy |
by Theodore Dreiser
|Produced by||Josef von Sternberg|
|Starring|| Phillips Holmes |
|Music by|| John Leipold |
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
An American Tragedy (1931) is a pre-Code drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg. It was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film is based on Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel An American Tragedy and the 1926 play adaptation. These were based on the historic 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette at Big Moose Lake in upstate New York. 
The novel would again be adapted in the 1951 Paramount release A Place in the Sun .
Paramount Pictures purchased the film rights for Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel An American Tragedy for $150,000. The widely acclaimed Russian director Sergei Eisenstein was hired to film an adaptation, with Dreiser's enthusiastic support. When Eisenstein was unable to procure studio approval for his "deterministic treatment," reflecting a Marxist perspective, he abandoned the project.  
Paramount, with $500,000 already invested in the film, enlisted Josef von Sternberg to develop and direct his own film version of the novel. Dreiser was guaranteed by contract the right to review the script before production, and complained bitterly that the Sternberg-Hoffenstein interpretation of his novel's themes "outraged the book." When the film was completed, it was clear that the Sternberg screenplay had rejected any interpretation attributing protagonist Clyde Griffiths' antisocial behavior to a capitalist society and a strict religious upbringing, but rather located the problem in "the sexual hypocrisy of the [petty-bourgeois] social class."  As Sternberg acknowledged in his memoirs: "I eliminated the sociological elements, which, in my opinion, were far from being responsible for the dramatic accident with which Dreiser concerned himself."  
Dreiser sued Paramount Pictures to suppress the film but lost.  
Film historian John Baxter wrote that An American Tragedy "met with mixed critical success. The New York Times called it 'emphatically stirring," the New York Daily News wrote it is 'intensely dramatic, moving, superbly acted', but many other papers, recalling Dreiser's protest, found the film less intense that the original novel, which is undoubtedly the case." 
Marxist film critic Harry Alan Potamkin commented on "Sternberg's failure to understand Dreiser's larger thematic purpose: Before the story opens [Sternberg presents] repeated shots of water disturbed by a thrown object. And throughout the picture the captions are composed upon a background of rippling water. Sternberg saw the major idea of the matter [theme] in the drowning. How lamentable!" 
The film fared poorly at American theaters but was well-received among European moviegoers. 
John Baxter identifies a thematic element in the struggle for human control over their destinies:
Throughout Sternberg's films we see fictional worlds where an individual's established identity and position in the social order is so fragile as to be essentially illusory. In An American Tragedy, the beautifully articulated sequence of the police capturing Clyde Griffiths succinctly illustrates Sternberg's sense that life is dominated by forces so far beyond human control as to have an ultimately natural, even cosmic dimension. 
Critic Andrew Sarris singles out the following scene for its thematic significance:
The one key scene in the film takes place in the factory where Phillip Holmes (Clyde) arranges the seduction of Sylvia Sidney (Roberta). He has forced her to capitulate by threatening never to see her again. She hands him a note when he passes by the assembly line where she is working. Holmes furtively opens the note in a secluded spot where his expression cannot be seen by the factory girls, and a smile of triumph flickers across his normally phlegmatic features. Since he is seen at [a cinematically] objective distance, he is irrevocably guilty at that very moment for his sexual presumption. 
The Docks of New York is a 1928 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, Betty Compson, and Olga Baclanova. The movie was adapted by Jules Furthman from the John Monk Saunders story The Dock Walloper.
Morocco is a 1930 American pre-code romantic drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, and Adolphe Menjou. Based on the novel Amy Jolly by Benno Vigny and adapted by Jules Furthman, the film is about a cabaret singer and a Legionnaire who fall in love during the Rif War, and whose relationship is complicated by his womanizing and the appearance of a rich man who is also in love with her. The film is famous for a scene in which Dietrich performs a song dressed in a man's tailcoat and kisses another woman, both of which were considered scandalous for the period.
Thunderbolt is a 1929 American Pre-Code proto-noir film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, Fay Wray, Richard Arlen, Tully Marshall and Eugenie Besserer. It tells the story of a criminal, facing execution, who wants to kill the man in the next cell for being in love with his former girlfriend.
An American Tragedy is a 1925 novel by American writer Theodore Dreiser. He began the manuscript in the summer of 1920, but a year later abandoned most of that text. It was based on the notorious murder of Grace Brown in 1906 and the trial of her lover. In 1923 Dreiser returned to the project, and with the help of his wife Helen and two editor-secretaries, Louise Campbell and Sally Kusell, he completed the massive novel in 1925. The book entered the public domain in the United States on January 1, 2021.
Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American filmmaker whose career successfully spanned the transition from the silent to the sound era, during which he worked with most of the major Hollywood studios. He is best known for his film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s, including the highly regarded Paramount/UFA production, The Blue Angel (1930).
The Last Command is a 1928 silent film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and written by John F. Goodrich and Herman J. Mankiewicz from a story by Lajos Bíró. Star Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1929 ceremony for his performances in this film and The Way of All Flesh, the only year that multiple roles were considered. In 2006, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for the National Film Registry. The supporting cast includes Evelyn Brent and William Powell.
The Blue Angel is a 1930 German musical comedy-drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and starring Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Kurt Gerron. Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller and Robert Liebmann – with uncredited contributions by Sternberg – it is based on Heinrich Mann's 1905 novel Professor Unrat and set in an unspecified northern German port city. The Blue Angel presents the tragic transformation of a respectable professor to a cabaret clown and his descent into madness. The film is the first feature-length German full-talkie and brought Dietrich international fame. In addition, it introduced her signature song, Friedrich Hollaender and Robert Liebmann's "Falling in Love Again ". It is considered to be a classic of German cinema.
Underworld is a 1927 American silent crime film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Clive Brook, Evelyn Brent and George Bancroft. The film launched Sternberg's eight-year collaboration with Paramount Pictures, with whom he would produce his seven films with actress Marlene Dietrich. Journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht won an Academy Award for Best Original Story.
Macao is a 1952 black-and-white film noir adventure directed by Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray and starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, William Bendix, and Gloria Grahame.
A Woman of the Sea, also known by its working title Sea Gulls, is an unreleased silent film produced in 1926 by the Chaplin Film Company. It is one of only two lost Charlie Chaplin films, having been destroyed by Chaplin himself as a tax writeoff.
The Salvation Hunters is a 1925 American silent drama film which marked the directorial debut of the 31-year old Josef von Sternberg. The feature stars Georgia Hale and George K. Arthur, and would bring Sternberg, "a new talent", to the attention of the major movie studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures. Film Mercury included The Salvation Hunters in its ten-best list for the films of 1925.
The Devil Is a Woman is a 1935 American romance film directed and photographed by Josef von Sternberg, adapted from the 1898 novel La Femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs. The film was based on a screenplay by John Dos Passos, and stars Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero, Edward Everett Horton, and Alison Skipworth. The movie is the last of the six Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations for Paramount Pictures.
Phillips Raymond Holmes was an American actor. For his contributions to the film industry, he was posthumously given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
Dishonored is a 1931 pre-Code romantic spy film about a female spy for Austria-Hungary during World War I. It was co-written, directed, and edited by Josef von Sternberg for Paramount Pictures. The costume design was by Travis Banton. The film stars Marlene Dietrich, Victor McLaglen, Gustav von Seyffertitz, and Warner Oland.
Sergeant Madden is a 1939 film noir forerunner directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Wallace Beery. The supporting cast in this dark police crime drama, noted for its imaginative and evocative cinematography, includes Tom Brown, Laraine Day, Alan Curtis, and Marc Lawrence.
Anatahan (アナタハン), also known as The Saga of Anatahan, is a 1953 black-and-white Japanese film war drama directed by Josef von Sternberg. The World War II Japanese holdouts on Anatahan also inspired a 1998 novel, Cage on the Sea.
Crime and Punishment is a 1935 American drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg for Columbia Pictures. The screenplay was adapted by Joseph Anthony and S.K. Lauren from Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1866 novel of the same title. The film stars Peter Lorre in the lead role of Raskolnikov.
The Exquisite Sinner is a 1926 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and adapted by Alice Duer Miller from the novel Escape by Alden Brooks. Starring Conrad Nagel and Renée Adorée, the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM) never given a general release. No known print of the film has been recovered to date. Later that same year a second feature film Heaven on Earth, directed by Phil Rosen was released with the same cast and same sets, but a different screenplay. Rosen's version performed poorly at the box office. Sternberg reported, "the result was two ineffective films instead of one.” The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1921-30 by The American Film Institute.
An American Tragedy is an opera in two acts composed by Tobias Picker, with a libretto by Gene Scheer. This was Picker's fourth opera, written four years after the debut of Thérèse Raquin. Based on the 1925 Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy, the opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and premiered in New York City on December 2, 2005. It received its West Coast premiere by the Santa Monica College Opera Theater in 2010, and was produced at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2014.
The Drag Net, also known as The Dragnet, is a 1928 American silent crime drama produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures based on the story "Nightstick" by Oliver H.P. Garrett. It was directed by Josef von Sternberg from an original screen story and starring George Bancroft and Evelyn Brent.