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?

The British Monarchy on Screen

AW as Prince Albert and Anna Neagle as Queen Victoria in ‘Victoria the Great’

Today I had my first glimpse of the cover of The British Monarchy on Screen, the forthcoming collection of conference papers that will include my own contribution, ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes: Anton Walbrook as Prince Albert in Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938.)’

This was presented as a paper at The British Monarchy on Screen conference which took place at Senate House, University of London on 23 November 2012, and was accompanied by clips from the two films mentioned above, as well as from Walzerkrieg (1933) – in which AW stars as Johann Strauss – showing a waltz scene at the court of Queen Victoria. Below are some of the other images used to illustrate my paper:

The ISBN has been confirmed as 978-0-7190-9956-4 but it looks like the book won’t be published until February 2016. In addition to my paper, there are some fantastic contributions covering a range of topics, including Dr Steven Fielding on ‘The heart of a heartless political world: screening Victoria’  (which also discusses the two AW films), Professor Ian Christie on  ‘A Very Wonderful Process’: Queen Victoria, photography and film at the fin de siècle’, Victoria Duckett on ‘Her Majesty moves: Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Elizabeth, and the development of motion pictures’ plus studies of more recent screen portrayals of monarchy such as The Queen (Frears, 2006), the Showtime cable TV series The Tudors (2007-2010) and The King’s Speech (Hooper, 2010.)

Most critics agreed that Neagle’s performance was eclipsed by that of her on-screen husband – an impression supported by much of the publicity material, including this post-war German programme.

An issue that arose several times during the conference was the way that the monarchy and film-makers use each other’s power for their own gain: royalty looks to prestige films to enhance public image, while cinema promotional materials (such as this advert) display lavish regalia suggesting the seal of royal approval.

A wedding scene from ‘Sixty Glorious Years’

song at twilight – 48 years ago today

Portrait of AW, from ‘Duett im Zwielicht’ theatre programme, 1966
AW died on 9 August 1967 at the home of his old friend Hansi Burg, where he was convalescing after a heart attack suffered on stage some four months earlier. Although the play, Noel Coward’s Duett im Zwielicht (Song at Twilight) was then running at the Kleine-Komödie in Munich, it had actually opened in December 1966 at the Renaissance-Theater in Berlin, so today I am posting a couple of photographs from the original theatre programme and some contemporary press cuttings. 
This caricature shows the three lead actors – AW (Sir Noel Latymer, a famous writer nearing the end of his life), Heli Finkenzeller (Hilde Latymer, his wife) and Friedel Schuster (Carlotta Gray, a former lover.) The play was first produced in London in April 1966, with AW’s roles performed by Noel Coward himself, and Hilde and Carlotta played by Irene Worth and Lilli Palmer respectively.  The play had been translated into German by Martin Dongen and was directed by Viktor de Kowa – who had co-starred with AW and Hansi Burg’s father, Eugen Burg, in Der Stolz der 3 Kompanie (Fred Sauer, 1932.)

The distinctive art deco frontage of the Renaissance Theater, a former club and cinema, it opened as a theatre in 1922.
Among the press-cuttings I have reviewing the opening night of Duett im Zwielicht at the Renaissance Theater is a favourable one by Dora Fehling in Der Telegraf , who was impressed by AW’s ability to elicit sympathy for Latymer’s unattractive character: a difficult task, she admitted, but on in which the actor succeeded. Heinz Ritter went further, describing AW’s distinguished appearance in his green smoking jacket, and praising his ability to soften Latymer’s abrasive nature with an air of Schnitzler-like resignation, making the character understandable to the audience and providing him with a poignant sense of tragedy.  Ilse Urbach was less impressed by AW’s performance, however, finding too much of the grand old silent-film star about him. Perhaps she would have been kinder had she realised that this grand old man had only a few months left to live. May he rest in peace.