Margin for Error (1943)

by guest writer

Margin for Error is one of the rarest movies in Otto Preminger’s filmography. Having been rejected by American studios after his first two US films and a fight with 20th Century Fox’s boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, Otto resumed his former profession of stage director in his favourite city, New York. Between his most successful plays was Claire Boothe’s Margin for Error. Originally opening on the 3rd of November 1939, the subject was focused on an anti-Nazi melodrama. Fox had acquired the rights to Boothe’s play and chose Preminger to direct and play the role of the arrogant consul Karl Baumer for an additional fee. Unhappy with the screenwriter Lilie Hayward, Otto hired young journalist and war correspondent Samuel Fuller to work by his side in finishing the script.

Margin for Error is riddled with implausibilities, as the director chose the option of playing the movie as a comedy. And what a comedy it became! Less known even to this day, the film, placed in the German embassy in New York that must be guarded by a Jewish cop, Moe Finkelstein (Milton Berle), fascinates with its sharply dark humour. Otto, having his head shaved, manages to steal every scene with his sneering attitude. His own on-screen appearence helped foster the legend of a ruthlessly tyrannical director, terrorising his actors. The main female character, Sophie, is interpreted by Joan Bennett, Baumer’s American wife who is desperate for a divorce, which catches the eye of the viewer with her costumes and talent.

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