Shakespeare 400

AW as Edmund in Shakespeare’s ‘König Lear’ (1926.) Photographed by Ursula Richter.
As today is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, it seemed appropriate to mark it with a photograph of AW in the role of Edmund in Shakespeare’s King Lear. This play was staged at the Schauspielhaus in Dresden in November 1926, coinciding with the actor’s thirtieth birthday.  Edmund – the dark and brooding bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, who conspires to betray his father and anyone else who stands in his way – is one of the Bard’s most despised villains.

AW as Andrew Aguecheek in ‘Twelfth Night’ (1930). Photograph by Genja Jonas.
Dresden was the location for a great many of AW’s Shakespearean performances, especially in the early summer of 1930 when his roles included Octavius Caesar in Julius Caesar, Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, or What You Will [photo above] and Gratiano in A Merchant of Venice. He had a deep admiration for Shakespeare and it is a matter of some irony (and no little sadness for the actor) that his emigration to the playwright’s native country meant renouncing such roles: there was little likelihood of a German actor who spoke limited and heavily-accented English being offered Shakespearean roles on the stage in wartime Britain. He would have to wait until he returned to German soil in the 1950s before he could once again speak the bard’s immortal words on stage.

Bear essentials

With barely 24 hours to go before the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, there’s a buzz of anticipation this year over whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio will win his long-awaited Oscar for The Revenant (Iñárritu, 2015.) Much of the discussion about this film has concentrated on the infamous bear scene, during which DiCaprio’s character is badly – and graphically – mauled by a grizzly bear. But haven’t we seen something like this before…?

The cover of ‘Michael Strogoff’ (London: Readers Library, 1927), a tie-in to the silent movie ‘Michel Strogoff’ (Tourjansky, 1926)

Jules Verne’s novel Michael Strogoff: the Courier of the Csar was first published in 1876 and is regarded as one of his finest works. It is a stirring tale, concerning the adventures of Michael Strogoff, who acts as courier for Tsar Alexander II and has to dash across Siberia to warn the Tsar’s brother – governor of Irkutsk – of planned treachery by a local Tartar warlord named Ivan Ogareff. Strogoff encounters various characters on his journey – Nadia, daughter of a political exile, two journalists reporting the war – as well as his mother in Omsk, where he is captured while visiting. Nadia and Strogoff’s mother are forced to watch as Michael is (apparently) blinded with a hot blade by the cruel Tartars, but he later escapes and reaches Irkutsk where Nadia’s father helps defeat the rebellion, before giving Strogoff his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The novel was adapted for the silent screen in 1926, with Ivan Mozzhukhin in the title role – the same actor also played Hermann in an early silent version of The Queen of Spades (Protazanov, 1916), endowing him with the rare distinction of prefiguring AW’s roles in two films.  In 1935, although less than ten years had passed since Tourjansky’s movie, it was decided that the time was ripe for a remake (as I said above, nothing is new in the movies!), taking advantage of the advent of sound and improved technology.

I’ve written elsewhere about certain scenes in the film where AW’s posture evokes the iconography of Saint Sebastian but here I want to focus on his fight with the bear. As readers of this blog are probably aware, the actor was actually a great animal lover, and I’ve collected together a number of postcards and images celebrating this here. The scene perhaps jars less with the actor’s personal attitude when it is understood that Strogoff kills the animal while defending a helpless woman who has fainted in fright at the bear’s feet.

In the novel, the incident occurs in Part I, Chapter XI (pp.76-77 in my copy of the film tie-in shown above) and differs considerably from the screen versions. Here, Strogoff and Nadia are travelling through the forest in the company of the two journalists when ‘a monstrous bears’ bursts out the trees and attacks their horses. Nadia tries to defend the horses with her gun, but Strogoff leaps between her and the animal, knife in hand, and swiftly despatches the bear, executing ‘in splendid style the famous blow of the Siberian hunters.’

​In the film Der Kurier des Zaren (Eichberg, 1935), the bear attack takes place on board a ship. Strogoff and Nadia (Maria Andergast) are among many passengers watching a group of gypsies on deck, one of whom is goading a ‘tame’ bear to perform tricks for their entertainment. The animal is startled by the magnesium flash on the journalists’ camera, attacks its trainer and breaks free. Strogoff runs forward to save an elegantly-dressed lady (Hilde Hildebrand) who has collapsed in fright, little knowing that she is in fact Zangara, the lover of Ogareff, who will later betray him.

The bear approaches

Out with the knife

No caption required

All over
Der Kurier des Zaren was released on 7 February 1936, with a French language version, Michel Strogoff, following a few days later.  As most readers of this blog will know, AW left Germany in the autumn to travel to Hollywood where he had been contracted to film an English language version, incorporating additional scenes directed by George Nicholls. The resultant concoction was released under the name The Soldier and the Lady as well as The Adventures of Michael Strogoff. Both leading ladies were English actresses then based in Hollywood: Zangarra was played by Margot Grahame (with whom he would work again twenty years later in Saint Joan), with the role of Nadia taken by Elizabeth Allan. They both appear in the re-edited bear sequence, which incorporates additional shots of AW’s combat inserted into the original sequence.
It’s all over in a few moments, thankfully, and – unlike The Revenant scenes – is unlikely to cause audiences to shudder in horror: in several frames, the fact that we’re watching a man in a bear suit is blatantly obvious. Our hero displays his Herculean courage and strength, while the damsel in distress lives to swoon another day (and also to betray her saviour, although he wasn’t to know this at the time.) It’s far from being Anton’s finest moment, nor could the film ever have been in the running for an Oscar – but the Academy’s failure to grant Walbrook any award for his acting during his long career is a staggering oversight that – in my opinion – overshadows their treatment of DiCaprio.

The British Monarchy on Screen (2)

This month saw the publication of The British Monarchy on Screen (Manchester University Press), containing my paper ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ which examine AW’s performance as Prince Albert in the films Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938.) A few months ago I posted a preview of the book, which you can read here. The book has now arrived!

Picture

The first thing to strike the eye is, of course, the change of cover picture, and I must confess to feeling a stab of disappointment in seeing that Anton was no longer on the cover, unlike in the the original proposed version (right.) This photograph of AW and Anna Neagle together in Victoria the Great does however appear within my chapter along with another still from that film showing AW seated at the piano surrounded by young ladies of the royal court. Mine was not the only paper to look at Wilcox’s films, and Professor Steven Fielding’s ‘Heart of a Heartless World: Screening Victoria’ discusses the political aspects of the films in comparison with other screen portrayals of the queen.

Despite inevitable overlaps like the above, an impressively diverse range of films and television programmes come under scrutiny, beginning with Victoria’s early involvement with photography and her depiction in silent cinema – such as the lost Sixty Years a Queen (Barker & Samuelson, 1913) and Queen Elisabeth (Desfontaines & Mercanton, 1912) starring Sarah Bernhardt (below.)


Moving beyond Sarah Bernhardt’s performance, cinematic portrayals of Elizabeth I proved a popular subject for examination. One paper was devoted to Quentin Crisp’s casting in the role in Orlando (Sally Potter, 1993) while another cast a critical eye over a series of film interpretations – Flora Robson in Fire Over England (Korda,1937), Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz, 1939) and The Virgin Queen (Koster, 1955), Jean Simmons in Young Bess (Sidney, 1953), Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (Kapur, 1998) and its sequel Elizabeth: the Golden Age (Kapur, 2007) as well as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (Madden, 1998) – for which she won an Oscar, despite only being onscreen for about eight minutes.

Her award reflects something of the iconic prestige that is attached to screen portrayals of royalty – an association that received extensive, and sometimes critical, attention during the conference. One key theme was the way in which both the monarchy and film-makers exploit each other to further their own interests- The Queen (Frears, 2006), for example, was described by David Thomson as ‘the most sophisticated public relations boost HRH had had in twenty years’, while directors such as Herbert Wilcox were equally adept at endowing their promotional materials with symbols of regal status:

 The anthology also focussed on Young Victoria (Vallée, 2009), The King’s Speech (Hooper, 2010) and the TV series The Tudors (2007-10), as well as amateur film, an official documentary of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Australia in 1954, and screenings of royal weddings and their relationship with the fashion industry. There are are a great many angles from which this subject could be approached, and no-one could fault this collection for its breadth of coverage. The ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ chapter encompasses a number of these themes, including the relationship between the actor’s performance, his personal life and previous roles, the political context of the films’ production, the question of historical accuracy (in regard both to intention and execution), and the balance between artistic freedom and co-operation with the monarchy. Considerable work went into my paper on Walbrook – both the spoken version delivered in 2012 and the version that was written up for the printed page – and I am pleased to see how well it complements its companion pieces in the collection. It will be intriguing to see what the response is from readers and reviewers.

Max Gülstorff and Adolf Wohlbrück

Max Gülstorff (1882 – 1947)
Those who have seen Ich war Jack Mortimer (Froelich, 1935) may remember the scenes in which Fred Sponer (AW) meets the parents of his girlfriend Marie Polikow. played by Maria Lojda and Max Gülstorff (below.)

Fred Sponer (AW) and Colonel Polikow (Max Gülstorff) in ‘Ich war Jack Mortimer’ (1935)

Recently the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum – where I have worked as a volunteer for many years – acquired a large album of photographs and press cuttings compiled by Max Gülstorff that had been passed down through his family. It contains 64 large pages of pictures, in between which are loosely pressed a mass of newspaper cuttings, theatre programmes, photographs and other ephemera. I have written a blog post on the album for the museum’s website which you can read here, but I wanted to give a short overview of Gülstorff’s life and the points of intersection with AW’s career.

Max Walter Gülstorff was born on 23 March 1882 in Tilsit, East Prussia, (now the Russian town of Sovetsk) and began working in provincial theatres in his late teens. He moved to Berlin about 1911 and four years later joined Max Reinhardt’s ensemble at the Deutsches Theater. This was around the same time that young Adolf Wohlbrück enrolled at Reinhardt’s drama school which was attached to the theatre, so as a student AW would have had many opportunities to watch Gülstorff perform on stage. There is a photograph in the album of Gülstorff with three other famous members of the company: Emil Jannings, Paul Hartmann and Werner Krauss, all of whom AW worked with either on stage or screen.

He began appearing in silent film in 1916, and one of his earliest roles was playing Uncle Eli alongside Conrad Veidt in Jettchen Geberts Geschichte (Oswald, 1918.) He went on to appear in over forty silent films during the 1920s, using his skill as a character actor to bring life to minor roles such as schoolmasters, professors, doctors and pompous officials, while continuing to appear regularly on stage (below.)

Gülstorff on stage in 1926 with AW’s regular co-star Renate Müller, in Georg Kaiser’s play ‘Zweimal Oliver.’
In November 1930 Gülstorff, AW and Gustaf Gründgens appeared on stage together in Ferdinand Bruckner’s Elisabeth von England. Those wishing to read more about this production can go to my blog post here.
During the 1930s Gülstorff became a familiar face to cinema audiences, appearing in almost seventy films during that decade alone. The album contains promotional film stills from many of these, and even a cursory glance through this section shows that Gülstorff worked with the very best of Germany’s actors and directors, including numerous names familiar from AW’s career such as Adele Sandrock, Gustaf Gründgens, Sybille Binder and Theo Lingen.

Gülstorff with AW in another scene from ‘Ich war Jack Mortimer’ (1935)
In Ich war Jack Mortimer (Froelich, 1935) he played AW’s prospective father-in-law (above) and there is a photograph of Wohlbrück taken around this time on a loose page inside the album. Unlike AW, Gülstorff remained on in Germany during World War Two. He made a couple of films after the war, but died in Berlin on 6 February 1947 at the age of 64 and was buried at the Lichtenrade cemetery.  The full post is available to read here, and the original Gülstorff album is currently on display in the lower gallery of the museum.

L’Affaire Maurizius (Duvivier, 1954)

I’m posting this on the 119th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Wohlbrück, which took place in Vienna on 19 November 1896. Although born in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it is accurate to describe him as a German actor, given that his father was German and he lived for over thirty years in Germany before his emigration in 1936.  Despite obtaining British nationality in 1947, the focus of Walbrook’s postwar career shifted increasingly towards Europe: much of his work in the 1950s and 1960s lay with studios and theatres in France and Germany. Today I’m going to write about an often-overlooked film, L’Affaire Maurizius (1954), which provided him with one of his darkest and most unusual roles. Although the film is based on a 1924 novel by German-Jewish author Jakob Wassermann (1873-1934), its themes resonated powerfully with the situation in post-war Europe when many people wanted to leave the past behind.
Told partly in flashback, the film opens with young Etzel (Jacques Chabassol), the sixteen- year old son of prosecutor Wolf Andergast (the great Charles Vanel), stumbling across an episode from his father’s past that would maybe best have been left buried. Andergast has no interest in revisiting the past, for he built his career upon the successful conviction of Léonard Maurizius (Daniel Gélin) for the murder of his wife Elisabeth (above.)
After talking to Léonard’s elderly father, however, Etzel learns that the guilty verdict was secured on the strength of the witness testimony of Grégoire Waremme (AW.) Pierre Paul Maurizius tells Etzel that his son had been a close friend of Grégoire’s since 1934, and this betrayal of friendship made no sense. Many people suspected there was a cover-up, but neither Andergast nor the court were interested in the truth. All they wanted was a successful conviction. It seems that Andergast’s career was built on a lie, and an innocent man has been condemned to life imprisonment.

AW and Daniel Gélin during the filming of ‘L’Affaire Maurizius.’ The two men had worked together a few years earlier
in ‘La Ronde’ (Ophuls, 1950)
We are shown fragments of the past, learning about the complex three-way relationship between Maurizius and Elizabeth, a widow some years older than he, and her younger sister Anna (Eleonora Rossi Drago.) Events on the night of the murder are confused, but during the trial Waremme makes an impressive appearance in court. AW is, of course, a superb orator, as his monologues in Blimp and 49th Parallel demonstrate. Here he gives Waremme the voice of authority, speaking before the court with dignity,  his face impassive. Waremme tells the court that he is an art critic, living in Bern but born in Vitebsk on 8 October 1900. This was of course just a few weeks before AW’s notional birthday – since the 1930s his year of birth was consistently given as 1900, suggesting that he was four years younger than he actually was.

My German poster for the movie
Meanwhile the idealistic young Etzel borrows money and sets out to discover the truth about the ‘the Maurizius affair.’ Waremme is now a professor of languages in Zurich, living in a boarding house – the Pension Bobike, 14 Augustinerstrasse. He has turned his back on the past, adopting the pseudonym of Professor Warshauer, and hiding his face beneath a beard and dark glasses. Etzel also adopts a new persona, finding an excuse to approach the professor by claiming to be a clerk named Edgar Mohl who needs English lessons before travelling to America. He wins the trust of Waremme, and discovers him to be a kind and gentle old man – further confusing the idea that he had given false witness out of some sinister motive.

Waremme is no fool, however, and his suspicions about Etzel’s identity are aroused when the young lad starts telling him about his desire to be a cowboy in America.  Back in Bern, Wolf Andergast is shocked to hear that his son has set off in search of Waremme, and decides the time has come to make an unofficial prison visit to see Maurizius. Sooner or later, the truth must come out – but at what cost….?

It’s a bleak and pessimistic movie in many ways, and very different in tone from the film in which Duvivier had directed AW over two decades earlier, Die fünf verfluchten Gentlemen [the German language version of Les cinq gentlemen maudits] which was filmed in North Africa in the early summer of 1931. (See the photos with Camilla Horn here.) Apart from a few exterior shots in Bern, L’affaire Maurizius was filmed in a studios in Boulogne during the autumn and winter of 1953 –  hence AW’s thick coats! As part of AW’s filmography it is often overlooked and underrated, undeservedly so in my opinion.  Why not celebrate his birthday by wandering off the well-worn paths to explore Anton’s range and versatility as an actor?