Probably the most resourceful director of the American cinema, Edgar G. Ulmer carved out a reputation for making stylish, strange and often innovative films while being shackled to budgets that were, by Hollywood standards, microscopic. Working outside the major studio system had its drawbacks but Ulmer accepted the lack of production resources in exchange for a much greater degree of creative freedom. Ulmer used this freedom to explore his personal interests and to bend, almost to the breaking point, the conventions of genre filmmaking.
Carnegie Hall (1947) is an epic-length cinematic love letter to classical music from one of America’s most important, if elusive and enigmatic, directors. Fans and scholars who celebrate Edgar G. Ulmer as a heroic outsider artist tend to focus their attention on his most impoverished productions – they fit better into the preferred storyline that he was a brilliant filmmaker whose talents were best expressed far from the cookie-cutter mentality of mainstream studio-driven Hollywood. There is another reading of his life, better suited to the facts but far less romantic: he was a sometimes difficult person who suffered the consequences of some poor career decisions and some plain ol’ bad luck. Carnegie Hall, certainly one of the most singular and distinctive films of the 1940s, is yet sadly overlooked. Critics and historians who wish to use Ulmer’s biography as a way to ennoble his smaller films have no use for it, while the ranks of those who would use his bigger films as a way of better understanding his biography are fairly thin in number.