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Joined Max Reinhardt's theater company in Berlin after WWI and appeared in numerous silent films from 1921. Dieterle began directing two years later, starring in many of his own features, including his first, 1923's "Der Mensch am Wege." (His costar--in her debut leading role--was Marlene Dietrich.)
Dieterle moved to Hollywood in 1930, working for Warner Bros. for a decade and starting out with a stunning series of medium scale "A" films and plenty of fine programmers. Indeed, although he made more "important" films later, some historians rate Dieterle's finest period as between 1931 and 1934. His moving "The Last Flight" (1931) was one of the definitive portraits of the "lost generation" of the 1920s, "Jewel Robbery" (1932) was imitation Lubitsch frippery of a very high order, and "Fog Over Frisco" (1934) has developed a cult following for its incredibly fast pace and technical bravura in telling a fairly standard crime story.
As his successes continued, Dieterle became more of a prestige director, proving himself particularly adept at adding vigor to dignified biopics ("The Story of Louis Pasteur" 1935, "The Life of Emile Zola" 1937, "Juarez" 1939). His 1939 adaptation of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939) for RKO was easily the finest adaptation to date of the classic Victor Hugo story, and Dieterle scored with another winning adaptation when he made the marvelous "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941) from the Stephen Vincent Benet tale. From 1942 to 1957 he worked for numerous studios before briefly returning to Europe to make several films, and there was a gradual decline in the general quality of his work. Easily Dieterle's finest film from his later period was the delicate yet beautifully handled romantic fantasy "Portrait of Jennie" (1948), but he also did well with the Ginger Rogers-Joseph Cotten wartime romance "I'll Be Seeing You" (1944). Dieterle's wife, Charlotte Hagenbruch, scripted several of his early German productions.
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