30 October 2011

Ivan Desny

French-German actor Ivan Desny (1922 - 2002) was a cosmopolitan film star with a truly European film career that spanned four decades. In the years after the war he appeared in British, French, Italian and German films before he became one of the protagonists of the Neue Deutsche Welle - the German New Wave of the 1970’s.

Ivan Desny
German postcard by UFA/Film-Foto (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft, Berlin-Tempelhof), no. CK-151. Photo: Arthur Grimm/UFA.

Blackmailing Social Climber
Ivan Desny was born as Ivan Nikolai Desnitzky in Peking (now Beijing), China, in 1922. He was the son of a Russian diplomat and a Swedish mother. As a child he lived in in Teheran, Washington, Paris and Brisbane. It was his bad luck to be in Paris when the Nazis marched in. He spent the war in a German labor camp along with thousands of other Russian expatriates. After the war he broke up his law studies and followed acting classes in Paris. He made his stage debut at the famous boulevard theatre Théâtre de la Michodière under Pierre Fresnay. He drifted into French films, first as an extra and as a costume and set designer, then as the leading man in the lost film La fleur de l'âge/The Flower of Youth (1947, Marcel Carné) with Anouk Aimée and Arletty. The shooting of the film started several times, and was halted for censorship reasons (the project was banned by the Ministry of Justice) and harsh shooting conditions, and finally it was abandoned. All material was inexplicably lost in the 1950’s. Desny then appeared in Bonheur en location/Happiness on Location (1949, Jean Wall), and soon started an international career. In London he appeared as the blackmailing social climber Emile l'Angelier in Madeleine (1950, David Lean) with Ann Todd. In France he starred in La putain respectueuse/The Respectful Prostitute (1952, Charles Brabant, Marcello Pagliero), based on the play by Jean-Paul Sartre, and in Italy in La signora senza camelie/The Lady Without Camelias (1953, Michelangelo Antonioni) with Lucia Bosé. Then he went to Germany to appear as a Russian Army officer in Berlin after the war in Weg ohne Umkehr/No Way Back (1953, Victor Vicas, Beate von Molo). The film won two German film awards and a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film.

Ivan Desny
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Wanne-Eickel, no. A 1321. Photo: Inter West-Gloria/Looschen. Publicity still for Herr über Leben und Tod/Master Over Life and Death (1955, Victor Vicas).

Ivan Desny
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 393.

Cosmopolitan Ladykiller
In the following years Ivan Desny became popular as a cosmopolitan ladykiller with his goatee and a foreign accent. He starred opposite Maria Schell in Herr über Leben und Tod/Master Over Life and Death (1955, Victor Vicas), opposite Elisabeth Müller in André und Ursula/ André and Ursula (1955, Werner Jacobs), and opposite Sonja Ziemann in Mädchen ohne Grenzen/A Girl Without Boundaries (1955, Géza von Radványi). He also appeared in the masterpiece Lola Montès (1955, Max Ophüls) with Martine Carol. Then he played leading parts in two hits by Falk Harnack, Anastasia – die letzte Zarentochter/Anastasia: The Czar's Last Daughter (1956) and Wie ein Sturmwind/Tempestuous Love (1957). His partner in both films was Lilli Palmer. He also appeared in the Hollywood version of Anastasia (1956, Anatole Litvak) starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. Other films in which he played were Une Vie/One Life (1958, Alexandre Astruc) starring Maria Schell and Pascale Petit, Le miroir à deux faces/The Mirror Has Two Faces (1958, André Cayyatte) with Michèle Morgan and Bourvil, and the crime film Heiße Ware/Hot Stuff (1959, Paul May) with Margit Saad. He also appeared in Hollywood productions like the award winning Song Without End (1960, Charles Vidor) about the affairs of composer Franz Liszt played by Dirk Bogarde, and the Disney film Bon Voyage! (1962, James Neilson) about the one-of-a-lifetime vacation in Paris of Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman.

Ivan Desny, Susanne Cramer
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 3305. Photo: Arthur Grimm/CCC-NF-Film. Spanjersberg was the Dutch licency holder for Ufa/Film-Foto (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft, Berlin-Tempelhof).

Ivan Desny
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 13. Photo: Inter West-Gloria/List-Looschen.

Neue Deutsche Welle
During the decline of the German cinema in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Ivan Desny focused on stage and television work. In the theatres he often appeared with Nadja Tiller. Meanwhile he showed up in small roles in such international pictures as La bataille de San Sebastian/The Battle of San Sebastian/Guns for San Sebastian (1968, Henri Verneuil) with Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson, Mayerling (1968, Terence Young) with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve, and Little Mother (1973, Radley Metzger), based on the life story of Evita Peron. In the early years of the popular Krimi TV-series Tatort (1971-1973), he regularly appeared as the mysterious Mr. Sievers, the brain after many criminal activities, who seemed untouchable. Then he was discovered by the young directors of the Neue Deutsche Welle. Rainer Werner Fassbinder gave him a part in Welt am Draht/World on a Wire (1973) and in his masterpieces Die Ehe der Maria Braun/The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) starring Hanna Schygulla, and Lola (1981) starring Barbara Sukowa. Desny also had a part in Fassbinder’s monumental TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). Klaus Lemke cast him in his TV film Sylvie (1973), and Wim Wenders engaged him for Falsche Bewegung/False Movement (1975). Other films in which he appeared were the Sci-Fi film Who? (1973, Jack Gold) with Elliott Gould, the thriller Touch Me Not (1974, Douglas Fithian) with Lee Remick, Paper Tiger (1975, Ken Annakin) with David Niven, Die Eroberung der Zitadelle/The Conquest of the Citadel (1977, Bernhard Wicki), Bloodline (1979, Terence Young) with Audrey Hepburn, and Malou (1980, Jeanine Meerapfel) with Ingrid Caven. In 1980 the Frenchman Desny was awarded the German award Filmband in Gold for his longtime and outstanding attributions to the German cinema. Among his later films were Flügel und Fesseln/The Future of Emily (1985, Helma Sanders-Brahms) with Brigitte Fossey and Hildegard Knef, the Anton Checkhov adaptation Hôtel de France (1987, Patrice Chéreau), the thriller Quicker Than the Eye (1989, Nicolas Gessner) with Ben Gazzara, the biography God afton, Herr Wallenberg - En Passionshistoria från verkligheten/Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg (1990, Kjell Grede) starring Stellan Skarsgård as the mysterious WW II hero Raoul Wallenberg, La Désenchantée/The Disenchanted (1990, Benoit Jacquot), and André Téchiné’s dramas J'embrasse pas/I Don't Kiss (1991) with Emmanuelle Béart , and Les Voleurs/Thieves (1996) with Catherine Deneuve. In 2002 Desny got a lot of criticism for appearing in a magazine article as a healed cancer patient (which he wasn’t) and for advertising a controversial and in Germany forbidden anti-cancer compound, Galavit, as a miracle cure. That same year Ivan Desny died of pneumonia in Ascona, Switzerland. He had appeared in over 150 films.

American trailer for the French spy film OSS 117 Is Not Dead (1956, Jean Sacha). Source: Our Man in Havana (YouTube).

Trailer for Die Ehe Der Maria Braun/The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978). Source: Video Probrava (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (Rovi),, Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

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