Bernhardt went into films casually but soon established himself sufficiently to be given one of the first German sound films: Die Letzte Kompanie. After being arrested by the Gestapo, in 1934 he went to France and in 1935 to England where he also produced The Dictator (35, Alfred Santell and Victor Saville).
He returned to France, but in earlv 1940 he reached America under contract to Warners. By 1950, he was freelancing and his work went into a steady decline— to the dull from the odd.
His Warners films are a mixed bag of assignments, inconsistent but with the occasional sparkle. The Lady With Red Hair is a flamboyant theatrical biopic with Miriam Hopkins as Mrs. Leslie Carter and Claude Rains as David Belaseo. Conflict is an implausible psychological thriller with a tame ending, but lustrous to look at and with an atmospheric studio ravine down which Bogart, in fedora and trench coat, hobbles to discover his nemesis. Devotion is a portrait of the Bronte family, absurdly romantic, but interesting for de Havilland as Charlotte, Ida Lupino as Emilv, and Arthur Kennedy as Branwell. Possessed is a Joan Crawford picture with an unexpectedly smart idea of mental illness.
Best of all is A Stolen Life, a Bette Davis melodrama with the gimmick that she plays twin sisters. The trick photography is delightfully cunning and the whole mood close to hysteria. Payment on Demand, again with Davis, was a thriller done with clever flashbacks and some ingenious lighting that relied on transparent sets—an innovation that Bernhardt claims as his own. In the 1950s he managed to make Rita Hayworth tedious as Miss Sadie Thompson, and moved from one colored costume romance to another.
Bernhardt is a slight talent, best at what he called “a certain romantic, brooding mood.” Some of his German silents touch on that: Die Waise von Lowood is a version of Jane Eyre; Der Mann de r den Mord Beging is a thriller set in Constantinople, starring Conrad Veidt, “with eternal danger behind it, and beautiful women, and elegance.”