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22 September 2011

Roland Varno

There's a new edition of the Netherlands Film Festival in the city of Utrecht (21 - 30 September 2011) and meanwhile EFSP presents the unofficial Dutch Film Star Postcards Festival. Today's post is about Dutch-born actor Roland Varno (1908 - 1996), best known for his role as one of the schoolboys in the German classic Der blaue Engel/The Blue Angel (1930). Varno appeared in several German and Dutch films of the early 1930’s and he also worked in Hollywood as a character actor, mainly in B-pictures.

Roland Varno
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5802/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Roland Varno, Het meisje met de blauwe hoed
Dutch postcard by M.B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Filma. Publicity still for Het meisje met de blauwe hoed/The Girl With the Blue Hat (1934, Rudolf Meinert). Collectie: Egbert Barten.

Enny Meunier and  Roland Varno in Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by M.B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam), no. 10. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Film. Still for Malle gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer).

Sleazy Shows
Roland (sometimes Rolant) Varno was born in Utrecht in 1908. At the end of the 1920’s he went to Berlin to work in the film industry and soon he won leading parts in the films Zwischen vierzehn und siebzehn - Sexualnot der Jugend/Between 14 and 16 - Sexual Needs of Youth (1929, E.W. Emo) and Jugendtragödie/Youth Tragedy (1929, Alfred Trotz). His next role was in the German classic Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel (1930, Josef van Sternberg), which made Marlene Dietrich an international star. He played one of the pupils of Emil Jannings who secretly frequent Dietrich’s sleazy shows in The Blue Angel cabaret. Varno had another supporting role in the popular Heinz Rühmann comedy Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht/Looking for His Murderer (1931, Robert Siodmak).

Greta Garbo, Roland Varno, As You Desire Me
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 186/4, 1931- 1933. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for As You Desire me (1932, George Fitzmaurice).

Lien Deijers, Roland Varno, Dolly Bouwmeester
Dutch postcard for the Dutch film De Sensatie der toekomst (1931, Dimitri Buchowetzki and Jack Salvatori).

The Sensation of the Future
In the Paramount studio in Joinville in France he played in De sensatie der toekomst (1931, Victor Buchowetzki, Jack Salvatori) a Dutch version of the French production Magie Moderne/Modern Magic (1931, Dimitri Buchowetzki). He starred with Lien Deyers and Dolly Bouwmeester in this SF detective film about the new phenomenon television - the 'sensation of the future'. After this early Dutch sound film he traveled to Hollywood but there he found only bit roles in films like Arsène Lupin (1932, Jack Conway) and the Greta Garbo vehicle As You Desire Me (1932, George Fitzmaurice). Varno returned to the Netherlands in 1934 to appear as a girl-shy soldier in the comedy Het meisje met den blauwen hoed/The Girl with the Blue Hat (1934, Rudolph Meinert), co-starring with Truus van Aalten and Lou Bandy. Then he starred in another Dutch comedy Malle gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer) with Enny Meunier, Louis Borel and Johan Kaart.

Roland Varno, Truus van Aalten, Dries Krijn en Lou Bandy in Het meisje met de blauwe hoed
Dutch postcard by M. B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Filma. Still for Het meisje met den blauwen hoed/The Girl with the Blue Hat (1934).

Tony van den Berg, Roland Varno, Het meisje met de blauwe hoed
Dutch postcard by M. B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Filma.Still for Het meisje met den blauwen hoed/The Girl with the Blue Hat (1934).

Truus van Aalten, Roland Varno in Het meisje met de blauwe hoed
Dutch postcard by M. B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Filma. Still for Het meisje met den blauwen hoed/The Girl with the Blue Hat (1934).

Bit roles
Roland Varno returned to Hollywood but for years he only found bit roles, often uncredited. In 1939 he played a spy in a short film by Fred Zinnemann, While America Sleeps (1939). More supporting roles followed in the Nelson Eddy musical Balalaika (1939, Reinhold Schünzel), the war drama Mystery Sea Raider (1940, Edward Dmytryk), another war drama Underground (1941, Vincent Sherman) and the western Valley of Hunted Men (1942, John English). He had his first major screen credit in The Return of the Vampire (1944, Lew Landers), starring Bela Lugosi and Nina Foch. Varno was fluent in several languages and during WW II, he was placed in the Office of Strategic Services and appeared in several propaganda movies, including The Unwritten Code (1944, Herman Rotsten). In this offbeat, better-than-average war drama Ann Savage and Tom Neal were top-billed, but Varno was the central character. He played a Nazi spy who sneaks into the U.S., hoping to release hundreds of German prisoners. Other career highlights were the wartime drama Hostages (1943, Frank Tuttle) with Luise Rainer and William Bendix and the film noir My Name Is Julia Ross (1945, Joseph H. Lewis) starring Nina Foch. His linguistic versatility came in handy after the war and made him a popular performer in radio programs across the country. In the 1950’s he was also often seen as a guest star in TV series. He made his last movie appearance in Istanbul (1957, Joseph Pevney) starring Errol Flynn and Cornell Borchers. Several years into his retirement, Varno's language skills again came in handy on the set of the highly touted miniseries War and Remembrance (1988). Roland Varno died in 1996 in Lancaster, California. His son is the Emmy nominated sound editor Martin Varno.

Roland Varno, Annie van Duyn, Johan Kaart, Enny Meunier, Louis Borel, Jopie Koopman, Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by Loet C. Barnstijn Film, no. 2. Photo: still for Malle Gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer). Collectie: Egbert Barten.

Annie van Duyn, Enny Meunier, Johan Kaart jr., Roland Varno in Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by M.B. & Z, no. 3. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Film. Still from Malle gevallen (1934, Jaap Speyer).

Roland Varno, Louis Borel & Johan Kaart
Dutch postcard by M.B. & Z, no. 4. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Film. Still from Malle gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer).

Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by M. B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam), no. 6. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Film. Still for Malle gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer).

Roland Varno, Enny Meunier in Malle Gevallen
Dutch postcard by M. B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam), no. 9. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Film. Still for Malle gevallen/Silly Situations (1934).

Roland Varno, Johan Kaart, Annie van Duyn, Louis Borel, Jopie Koopman, Enny Meunier, Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by Loet C. Barnstijn Film, no. 11. Photo: still for Malle Gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer). Collectie: Egbert Barten.

Roland Varno, Johan Kaart, Annie van Duyn, Enny Meunier, Adriaan van Hees, Malle gevallen
Dutch postcard by Loet C. Barnstijn Film, no. 14. Photo: still for Malle Gevallen/Silly Situations (1934, Jaap Speyer). Collectie: Egbert Barten.

Sources: Sandra Brennana (Rovi), Wikipedia and IMDb.