Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

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Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by moira finnie »

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This Saturday, January 22nd marks the date in 1893 that the superb actor, Conrad Veidt was born. In honor of that anniversary, I thought perhaps we might begin a thread devoted to this protean artist.

On Jan. 31st, TCM at 5:15AM ET will be broadcasting The Spy in Black (1939), an early effort by Powell and Pressburger made just before the outbreak of WWII. The film, which is set in a remote coastal village during the First World War, remarkably shows sympathy and understanding for a German character, played to the hilt by Veidt. His role as a submarine captain turned spy hiding in the house of a local school teacher (Valerie Hobson, who is excellent) was one of the first films I saw that made me realize what a remarkable actor Conrad Veidt really was. Just watching him in one early scene when, after months of privation--he sees and smells butter for the first time again, was a lesson in acting. I hope that if others like this film or any other Veidt movies, they will comment here too.

I know that one member of the SSO, our own Paula, is a member of The Conrad Veidt Society and has contributed to their website, which can be seen at the link below, (though parts of it are apparently undergoing long term reconstruction, there is a wealth of detailed info there)
http://thethunderchild.com/ActorSites/ConradVeidt/

Most often remembered for his stranger roles such as the characters he played in silent classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Hands of Orlac, Waxworks, and The Man Who Laughs, Veidt had a unique ability to portray the most menacing characters with memorable moments of sympathy, compelling a viewer to feel an unusual amount of empathy for what is grotesque or evil in human nature.

In the sound era, more of his off-screen personality crept into his portrayals. His villains as well as heroes were blessed with his gentle voice, sardonic demeanor and surprising humor that came into play along with his superb ability to control his own gestures and presence on screen in such British and American films as Casablanca, A Woman's Face, Contraband, I Was a Spy, All Through the Night and the wondrous The Thief of Bagdad. While his movies do show up on TCM from time to time, the fact that he is remembered primarily as that menacing Nazi Maj. Strasser in Casablanca is ironic. In real life, Veidt was a vehement anti-Nazi, who was married to a woman who was half-Jewish, which eventually led him to move to Britain and later the US. Having been allowed to become a British citizen, Veidt made his personal fortune available to the British government. He also sheltered children who were evacuated from the London Blitz in his Hampstead home and purchased thousands of pounds worth of Christmas presents for the children who sought shelter in the London Underground in this same period.

Sadly, Veidt died at only 50, dropping dead on a golf course in 1943, a loss to film, and from all reports to humanity.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by Ann Harding »

Oh I love Conrad Veidt. 8) :D The Spy in Black is a delicious spy story where Conrad flirts with lovely Valerie Hobson.

This is what I wrote on SSO recently about it:
Yesterday, I revisited The Spy in Black (1938, M. Powell & E. Pressburger), a delightful war picture with a difference. We are in 1917, in the Orkney Islands, Hart (Conrad Veidt) who is the captain of a German U-Boat, is sent on a secret mission to the Orkney Islands. There, he meets Frau Thiel (Valerie Hobson) a German spy who replaced the local schoolmistress. From the start, he is spellbound by the lovely spy. And they both wait for a renegate British officer, Lt Ashington (Sebastian Shaw) who will give them crucial informations on the British fleet. The film has got some sparkling dialogue between Veidt and Hobson crackling with double-entendre. The story is full of twists and turns with some utlimate surprises in the last reel. Some supporting characters bring some great comic relief: the local parson furious to see his joint of lamb over-cooked or the Reverand (fiancee of Miss Burnett) who arrives with a huge gramophone on the island. The film's hero is the German captain played with huge charm by Conrad Veidt. Really a lovely picture!
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by JackFavell »

drool

that is a beautiful photo of Conrad Veidt who is one of my favorites.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by charliechaplinfan »

What a lovely man, I never knew about his personal generosity. I'm honoured that he chose to be a British citizen.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by MikeBSG »

I really enjoy his version of "The Student of Prague" (1926). I saw that on VHS and was very impressed by the whole film, not just Veidt's performance.

"The Spy in Black" is a wonderful film. I love how the suspense is built throughout the film, with first Veidt having the upper hand, then the British, then Veidt, and so forth.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by moira finnie »

I have seen The Student of Prague on youtube, Mike, though the quality of the upload was so poor it was distracting. I do love the doppelganger theme that runs through the movie and Veidt's career.

Here is a spectacularly edited video of The Thief of Bagdad (1940), prepared by a Veidt fan, Monik, who also has a new website devoted to him found here.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOz_R4SJkeQ&feature=player_profilepage[/youtube]
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by Ann Harding »

Image (Great portrait par E. Steichen)
For your enjoyment, here is a excerpt of Françoise Rosay's memoirs (translated by me) where she reminisces about meeting Conrad Veidt in Hollywood in the late 20s.

At Emil Janning's, I met very often Conrad Veidt. I still remember him very clearly as he was a great artist. As a human being, he was strange, odd. He gave me a terrible fright, the first day. We were in Jannings' double living-room as I was looking at the room, I suddenly saw a door surrounded by curtains with a terrifying head that made abominable faces at me. It was the way Conrad Veidt had found to present himself. He drank quite a lot, he rather liked drugs, he mostly loved women, beautiful girls. He was odd, odd, the best of men certainly. He was very much in love with a beautiful girl whom I trained. She was very beautiful but untalented. I'll say frankly that Conrad also loved men, once in a while. He was extremely kind, but when he had relied too heavily on some substance, he became odd again… Curiously, Gussy Holl, Emil Janning's wife, had been previously Conrad Veidt's wife and she loved him a lot. She said he was a bit eccentric, but she admired him and loved him sincerely. Gussy Holl was an intelligent, decided and elegant woman who had been very successful in German cabarets. She sang wonderful songs apparently, but unfortunately I never heard her perform. She also had a daughter from a close relative of the Kaiser. It gave her some kind of aristocratic veneer. Her daughter, who was around 18 at that time, was called 'Boubie'. Anyway, everybody called her that way. It was a tall girl, pretty large; she looked like a police constable. It was a mistake to call her 'boubie', baby…
One day, as I was alone with Gussy Holl, I asked her directly
-But why did you divorce from Conrad Veidt?
-I'll tell you. I excused a lot of his failings and whims because I loved him. But one day he did something to me that I couldn't forgive. I was singing that evening at the cabaret. I left him home and he told me: "I invited a few friends; we'll dine while we wait for you." And it just so happened I had received a new dress from Paris. That evening, after work, I arrived home and what do I see? All these gentlemen dressed as women. And Conrad had put on my Paris dress. At this point, I divorced!

Françoise Rosay: La Traversée d'une vie (ed. Robert Laffont, 1974)
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by moira finnie »

That's priceless, Christine. Thank you for translating it. No one I've come across has said that Veidt wasn't a bit eccentric, and in the Weimar Republic that penchant for pan-sexuality was certainly present. Gussy Holl and Veidt, from what I understand, continued to be friendly after the divorce. When Emil Jannings and she were living rather extravagantly in America in the late '20s, her ex-husband and his second wife would often attend their parties, surrounded by other Europeans. I would love to see the lost Murnau film, Desire aka Sehnsucht (1921), one of the six movies that he reportedly made with Gussy, who was a few years older than Veidt. Gussy must have had eclectic tastes herself, going from Veidt to Jannings, though perhaps she was intrigued by talent and success?? Besides, Jannings wouldn't have fit in any of her dresses. (Did I say that?)
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Greta Garbo, Emil Jannings and Gussy Holl, the former wife of Conrad Veidt in Hollywood around 1928

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A floppy haired young Veidt with (possibly) Gussy Holl in the Murnau film, Sehnsucht (1921).


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A very young image of Veidt.

Of course, Veidt's appearance in 1919's Anders als die Andern (aka Different from the Others) portraying homosexuals as human beings worthy of respect in that brief period when censorship was lifted following WWI is a landmark film that would still be controversial for some. You can see this film (in the fragments that still exist) in a restored version here.

Recently I read a transcript of an unpublished interview from the period when Veidt was working in America in the '40s. In it "Connie" describes his propensity for excess in the teens and twenties, which he shrugged off as youthful foolishness, but philosophically hoped he had learned to curb these tendencies in himself, hinting that his tastes were more conservative by then. He was, of course, charming to the interviewer, who I am not sure fully understood his references.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

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from Le joueur d'echecs, or The Devil is an Empress
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by pvitari »

Indeed, Conrad Veidt is a huge favorite of mine. I even did some interviews with producers of DVDs starring Veidt... they're somewhere online but I need to go find where they are. Then I'll post the links.

Meanwhile, in Connie news:

Conrad Veidt fan Monica has started a wonderful new website for him, at http://conradveidt.wordpress.com/

David Cairns has chosen an intertitle from The Indian Tomb for his regular Sunday intertitle column at his Shadowplay blog:

http://dcairns.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/the-sunday-intertitle-death-of-a-princess/

Also, Veidt will be celebrated with screenings of his films at this year's Restored Film Festival (Il Cinema Ritrovato) in Bologna (July 25-August 2). The following was included in an English language announcement about the festival sent to me by a friend:

Conrad Veidt, from Caligari to Casablanca
After years of research, this year’s festival will be the one which finally pays tribute to Conrad Veidt, the great actor of silent German film, the sublime mask of expressionism. The “strange creature” of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari lent his long face with throbbing veins to Wiene, Oswald, Pabst and Leni in various films of the 20s (we will be showing Orlacs Hände and The Man Who Laughs to name a few), before leaving Nazi Germany in 1934 and starting an English career that reached its apex with director Michael Powell (The Thief of Baghdad). Veidt’s career and life came to an end in America, where he acted in a few militant anti-Nazi films but is best known for his role as Major Heinrich Strasser, shot dead in the final scene of Casablanca.

Also, this tidbit of info from the film festival staff:
"We are also still on the lookout for a film directed by Conrad Veidt in 1919, Wahnssin."

Now that would be a fabulous discovery if they can find it!

Here is the link to the Festival's page, which as far as I can tell is just in Italian:

http://www.cinetecadibologna.it/cinemaritrovato2011
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

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Conrad Veidt was the subject of a blog this week:

http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/01/26/conrad-veidt-i-am-a-wanderer/
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by knitwit45 »

As usual, Moira, a wonderful essay on a now little known actor.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

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Passing of the Third Floor Back is actually number one on my list of "Conrad Veidt movies I wish they'd release on DVD." I believe there is a restored version... perhaps at the BFI archive? I have an old VHS tape that is really pretty dire.

David Cairns wrote a fine piece about the film at the Mubi: http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/562

Moira, thanks for including a link to Monica's new Veidt site. :)

Kino had plans to release several Veidt films on DVD but they seem to have evaporated. I'll see if I can find any news.
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

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pvitari wrote:Passing of the Third Floor Back is actually number one on my list of "Conrad Veidt movies I wish they'd release on DVD." I believe there is a restored version... perhaps at the BFI archive? I have an old VHS tape that is really pretty dire.


There is a commercially produced R1 DVD that can be found here. I don't know if it is restored, though the public domain version found here is watchable.

pvitari wrote:David Cairns wrote a fine piece about the film at the Mubi: http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/562

I mentioned that earlier review as sparking my interest in this film within the text of the blog article. He's a great writer.

I hope you are right about the Kino plans. Since they have restored what the Nazis didn't destroy of Anders Als Die Andern, which can be seen here, it would be great if more of his movies were available. The list of Veidt movies currently available through Kino can be found here.

Thanks, for the info, Paula
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Re: Conrad Veidt on TCM: More Than Major Strasser

Post by moira finnie »

Paula! I was able to find your interview with Bret Wood about his work as the producer of The Man Who Laughs DVD for Kino. You can find it at the link below. I wish that the links for much of the Conrad Veidt Society weren't so scattered since GeoCities went under, though the Internet Archive seems to have some pages stored. Do you think that their site will ever get back together?

http://www.gildasattic.com/bretwood.html
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