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Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby moira finnie » September 22nd, 2010, 2:20 pm

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Happy Birthday, Erich!!...You don't look a day over 100!

As a lad of 125 today, I'd like to commend your acting, even if I find most of the films you directed pretty heavy sledding. What's that Birthday boy? You're right, Erich, baby, I am a philistine, but I love you in Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Squadron, Sunset Blvd and most of all, The Grand Illusion (1939). The fact that all but the last film are being shown on TCM today makes me glad I got home in time to catch a few minutes of some of them. To see all upcoming Erich von Stroheim movies on TCM, please click here.

I was particularly happy to see The Lost Squadron (1932) once again, featuring your performance as an archetypal Teutonic hard-case director barking commands and being imperious with those extras and the fly boys you have hired to risk their necks for your silly little movie about The Great War. The fact that Joel McCrea (so young!), Richard Dix (a lovelorn flyer) and Mary Astor (object of desire) are among those you torment, is just icing on the cake. Pre-code lovers--don't miss naughty Robert Armstrong's risque salute mid-air. You won't see that one in any mainstream movies after July, 1934.
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Herr von Stroheim in The Lost Squadron

As a treat to celebrate your birthday, here is a link to the page on The Internet Archive where some of your movies, including Foolish Wives (1922), part of Greed (1924), The Wedding March (1928), part of Queen Kelly (1929), The Great Gabbo (1929), The Great Flamarion (1945), and Napoleon (1955) can all be seen for free. Maybe they're not the most pristine images, but holy cats, you were one intense dude on and off camera from all reports.
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What would world cinema be without you? Far more bland and far less sophisticated, that's for sure.
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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby JackFavell » September 22nd, 2010, 5:03 pm

Oh my gosh, Moira! You have helped me immeasurably with your post, because my dvdr cut out about 30 seconds before that mid-air salute.... and I doubted my own senses enough to think maybe I had seen it wrong! Boy, I wish I had gotten the whole movie recorded.

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby charliechaplinfan » September 23rd, 2010, 1:11 pm

Thanks for the link to those movies Moira. I admit to finding the 4 hour Greed to much for me, I love The Wedding March and The Merry Widow. Who knows what was going through his mind with Queen Kelly but the first portion is some of the best work I've seen from Gloria Swanson. His greatest screen appearance for me was in La Grande Illusion, followed by Sunset Boulevard.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby moira finnie » September 23rd, 2010, 3:29 pm

charliechaplinfan wrote:Thanks for the link to those movies Moira. I admit to finding the 4 hour Greed to much for me, I love The Wedding March and The Merry Widow. Who knows what was going through his mind with Queen Kelly but the first portion is some of the best work I've seen from Gloria Swanson. His greatest screen appearance for me was in La Grande Illusion, followed by Sunset Boulevard.

I watched The Merry Widow recently in its entirety and thought that Gilbert was terrific, as were the crowd scenes and the believable mise en scene, though Mae Murray and Roy D'Arcy left me cold and puzzled. Half the time I thought they were kidding or were supposed to be farcical characters by the way that they performed, and the other half of the time I wondered if von Stroheim was being cruel to expose these actors' flaws on film. Was he forced to use these actors by the studio, I wonder? I think it may have just been me, since I realize that the setting and behavior is so remote from my own experience, perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate them. I just couldn't relate to the film other than feeling respect for the amount of care and marshaling of actors and production crew that this mammoth movie must have involved. Perhaps I am spoiled by exposure to subsequent epics and because I found the Lubitsch approach to this material much more fun a few years later in the sound era.

I like The Wedding March too, and was particularly interested in it after reading Fay Wray's warm recollection of the experience of filming her role under the kind and supportive direction of von Stroheim in the actress' autobiography, On the Other Hand: A Life Story. The director's scenes with Wray have a gentle sweetness in that film that gives the movie a humanity that is more fragile and tragic when contrasted with his usual bitter cynicism, (that is, when he isn't fondly recording some decadent weirdness, Old Vienna-style).

That von Stroheim hint of secretly longing for some gentle simplicity may be one of the reasons I like his acting so much. He plays the depraved brute very well--but there is a loneliness, sadness and longing for the past in each of his film roles (especially when he is directed by others) that I think of as very European and quite appealing. That is probably the reason I can tear up just thinking about his poor, crippled commandant in La Grande Illusion as he reaches toward his cherished geranium in that stone fortress.

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Pierre Fresnay (left) with Erich von Stroheim in Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion. That fragile geranium is between them on the windowsill.
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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby charliechaplinfan » September 24th, 2010, 1:27 pm

Now I really want to see La Grande Illusion again, it's so long ago since I saw it, it features another of my favorite European actors, Pierre Fresnay.

I've read what Fay Wray had to say about erich Vom Strohiem, it's at odds with almost any other accounts and onscreen with her he's gentle and romantic, it opened my eyes to him as an actor, I thought of him as a director who was sometimes cast as the German in films about the First World war. He was another director who started work with DW Griffith.
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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby TalkieTime » September 24th, 2010, 2:16 pm

In the run-up to showing the 1999 restoration of Greed, TCM showed the six minute long promo describing the restoration process. That promo is especially interesting in that Eric Von Stroheim's son, Josef Von Stroheim, participates in the promo.
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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby JackFavell » September 24th, 2010, 3:06 pm

Moira, that was a lovely post. Von Stroheim as an actor is a walking anachronism. In almost every role he seems to be living (at least partly) in a past that is totally gone. In that past day and age, people were not forced to make the cruel decisions he has had to make. He is either turned cruel by these decisions, or he can only watch in horror at his own participation in the new world. He usually invests his roles with a smidgen of sympathy, but I find him to be fascinating in his humanity in every acting role he had. Generally, you know that his character doesn't have long to be in this world - the world has passed him by, and he is simply marking time here. Even in The Lost Squadron, where he is an awful character, you still feel some sympathy for the squirming rat at the end.

I think of
Sunset Boulevard
The Lost Squadron
Five Graves to Cairo

and especially
The North Star

in which he was terrific as the guilty doctor. Probably the best thing in the picture. I haven't seen La Grande Illusion. (I know, I know. I even own it. You can banish me from the SSO if you like!)

I agree about The Merry Widow, it is a little uncomfortable watching Mae Murray go from comedy to melodrama, in a role that she is clearly too old to play. She definitely has something, a spark that makes you look at her, but ....The camera lavishes attention on her tear stained face and upturned, bee-stung lips way too much. Gilbert on the other hand is subtle, just incredible to watch - if you focus on him, the movie really becomes a hundred times better - I love the scene where Von Stroheim leaves the camera on Gilbert's face, and you see the tears form in his eyes! He's a MARVELOUS actor - I still think (perhaps with the exception of Lon Chaney) he was the quintessential and best silent film actor.

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby Joe Macclesfield » August 24th, 2014, 9:05 pm

Moira Finnie wrote: "...but there is a loneliness, sadness and longing for the past in each of his film roles...that I think of as very European and quite appealing." Moira, that nails it nicely. I've loved the man for over thirty years. My favourite von Stroheim performance? THE GREAT FLAMARION.
"...Then as a bee, which among weeds doth fall,
Which seem sweet floures with lustre fresh and gay,
She lights on that, and this, and tasteth all,
But pleasd with none doth rise and sore away..."

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby JackFavell » August 25th, 2014, 10:49 am

Hi Joe!

Looking back at this thread, I just wanted to post an update. I've now seen La Grande Illusion...twice. And now that I have, Stroheim seems so much more soulful to me. Next up will be The Great Flamarion.

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby Joe Macclesfield » August 25th, 2014, 5:45 pm

Hi JF! My brother Jim and I watched LA GRANDE ILLUSION two or three months ago. A restored print. Beautiful. Jean Renoir stated in his memoirs that von Stroheim had to study his German lines, like a school boy learning a new language. I read that von Stroheim didn't know FRENCH when he made this film. I suspect that therein may lie a misunderstanding. Hope you enjoy FLAMARION. It's a belter!
"...Then as a bee, which among weeds doth fall,
Which seem sweet floures with lustre fresh and gay,
She lights on that, and this, and tasteth all,
But pleasd with none doth rise and sore away..."

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby JackFavell » August 28th, 2014, 6:30 am

Thanks Joe! Judging from the reviews here at the SSO, I suspect Flamarion will be a big hit with me. :D

So many classic film directors felt the need to embellish or completely hide their backgrounds - I'm thinking this was almost a pre-requisite for becoming a great director or at least a big presence in Hollywood. At first, thinking about it, I thought it was a European trait, but then I realized there are an awful lot of yankee directors who told tall tales as well. Telling a story well may start with a childlike need to lie about one's past.

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Re: Erich von Stroheim is 125 Years Young Today!

Postby CineMaven » August 30th, 2014, 4:23 pm

JackFavell wrote:Thanks Joe! Judging from the reviews here at the SSO, I suspect Flamarion will be a big hit with me. :D


I've resisted "La Grande Illusion" for years. So of course after finally seeing it, I was totally bowled over by it! But I can't wait for you to see "The Great Flamarion" reviewed here. There IS a poignancy to Von Stroheim...furrowed brow, shaved head like Curly of The Three Stooges. And he's wonderful to watch. But the movie also belongs to that vixen Mongo did a nice write-up about six years ago: MaryBeth Hughes. Yeah. She's a baaad girl.

It's not an "A"-production, but I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.
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