Born September 17th 1904 Olomouc Czech Republic
Died September 30th 1972 Woodland Hills California
Ulmer was born in Olomouc, in what is now the Czech Republic. As a young man he lived in Vienna, where he worked as a stage actor and set designer while studying architecture and philosophy. He did set design for Max Reinhardt’s theatre, served his apprenticeship with F. W. Murnau, and worked with directors including Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan, inventor of the Schüfftan process. He is also claimed to have worked on Der Golem (1920), Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). There is no evidence to support this.
Ulmer came to Hollywood with Murnau in 1926 to assist with the art direction on Sunrise (1927). In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, he also recalled making two-reel westerns in Hollywood around this time.
For our purposes it was his work as the director of The Black Cat for Universal in 1934 that we see as significant. It turned out to be Universal’s biggest hit of the season.
There were however a few problems in his private life as he had begun an affair with the wife of independent producer Max Alexander, nephew of Universal studio head Carl Laemmle. Shirley Alexander’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Ulmer led to his being exiled from the major Hollywood studios.
He therefore spent most of his directorial career making B movies at Poverty Row production houses. His wife, now Shirley Ulmer, would act as script supervisor on nearly all of his films and she wrote the screeenplays for several. Their daughter, Arianne, appeared as an extra in several of his films.
There were however odd flourishes where he had sufficient budget, namely, The Strange Woman (1946) and Ruthless (1948). The former, featured a strong performance by Hedy Lamarr and is regarded by many to be one of his best films. In 1951 he directed the low-budget science-fiction film The Man from Planet X, which has become a bit of a cult classic. He directed his last film, The Cavern (1964), in Italy.
Ulmer died in 1972 in Woodland Hills, California, after a crippling stroke. He is interred in the Hall of David Mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, CA. His wife, Shirley, is interred nearby. Commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death, a three-day symposium of lectures and screenings was held at New York City’s New School in November 2002. In 2005, researcher Bernd Herzogenrath uncovered the address where Ulmer was born in Olomouc. A memorial plaque commemorating Ulmer’s birth home was unveiled on September 17, 2006, on the occasion of Ulmerfest 2006, the first European academic conference devoted to Ulmer’s work.
1964 The Cavern
1961 Journey Beneath the Desert
1960 Beyond the Time Barrier
1960 The Amazing Transparent Man
1959 The Perjurer
1959 The Naked Venus (as Ove H. Sehested)
1957 Daughter of Dr. Jekyll
1955 The Naked Dawn
1955 Murder Is My Beat
1954 The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships
1952 Babes in Bagdad (US version)
1951 Escape If You Can
1951 The Man from Planet X
1950 So Young So Bad (uncredited)
1949 The Masked Pirate
1947 Carnegie Hall
1946 The Strange Woman (as Edgar Ulmer)
1946 Her Sister’s Secret
1946 The Wife of Monte Cristo
1945 Club Havana
1945 Strange Illusion
1944 Minstrel Man (uncredited)
1943 Turbosupercharger: Flight Operation (Documentary)
1943 Turbosupercharger: Master of the Skies (Documentary)
1943 Swing High
1943 Isle of Forgotten Sins
1943 Girls in Chains
1943 My Son, the Hero
1942 The Man with a Conscience
1942 The Last Command (unconfirmed, uncredited)
1941 Another to Conquer (Short)
1940 Cloud in the Sky (Documentary short)
1940 Goodbye, Mr. Germ (Short)
1940 Americaner Shadchen
1939 Let My People Live (Documentary short)
1939 Moon Over Harlem
1939 The Light Ahead
1939 Cossacks in Exile
1938 The Singing Blacksmith
1938 La vida bohemia (uncredited)
1937 Green Fields
1937 Natalka Poltavka
1935 Nine to Nine (as Edward George Ulmer)
1934 Thunder Over Texas (as John Warner)
1934 The Black Cat
1933 Mr. Broadway (unconfirmed, uncredited)
1933 Damaged Lives
1930 People on Sunday