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16 April 2012

Paul Henckels

German actor Paul Henckels (1885 - 1967) appeared in over 230 films, often as a supporting actor. He played in films by famous directors like Fritz Lang, Jacques Feyder and G.W. Pabst. He also worked as a stage actor, a stage and film director and as a theater manager.

Paul Henckels
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3443/1, 1941 - 1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Henny Porten
Paul Henckels was born in Hürth, near Köln (Cologne), Germany in 1885. His father was the industrialist and painter Paul Abraham Henckels and his mother was the actress Cäcilia Warszawska. Paul studied from 1905 till 1907 at the Hochschule für Bühnenkunst at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. He made his first stage appearance in August von Kotzebue’s Die deutschen Kleinstädter/The German small-towns (The small German towns), and was a great success in the title role of Schneider Wibbel (Tailor Wibbel), written in 1915 by his school buddy Hans Müller-Schlösser. The great Max Reinhardt invited him in 1920 to come to Berlin. In 1921 Henckels was the co-founder and the artistic director of the Schlosspark-Theater in Berlin. Here he appeared in 1922 as Molière’s Der Geizige (The Miser). He later would work for the Volksbühne, the Deutschen Theater and many other Berlin stages. From 1936 till 1945 he was engaged at the prestigious Preußischen Staatstheater in Berlin under intendant Gustaf Gründgens. In 1921 film star Henny Porten discovered him for the cinema and he made his film debut in Das Geheimnis der sechs Spielkarten, 5. Teil – Das Herz König/The Secret of the Six Cards, part 5 - King of Hearts (1921). Among his other silent films are INRI (1923, Robert Wiene), Thérèse Raquin (1928, Jacques Feyder), Der Biberpelz/The Beaver Fur (1928, Erich Schönfelder) opposite La Jana, Geschlecht in Fesseln/Sex in Bondage (1928, Wilhelm Dieterle) and § 173 St.G.B. Blutschande/Culpable Marriages (1929, James Bauer). When the sound film was near at hand he was enthusiastic about the idea of a talking picture. He worked at the ‘practice of the sound film actor’, and directed a short film Paul Graets als Berliner Zeitungsjunge/Paul Graets as a Berlin Paperboy (1929). The early sound film offered him leading parts in such films as Skandal um Eva/Scandal Around Eva (1930, Georg Wilhelm Pabst) starring Henny Porten, Er und sein Diener/He and His Servant (1931, Steve Sekely) and Flachsmann als Erzieher/Flachsmann as Educator (1930, Carl Heinz Wolff) opposite Charlotte Ander. And he directed himself in Schneider Wibbel/Tailor Wibbel (1931, Paul Henckels).

Paul Henckels
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3684/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier/Tobis.

Paul Henckels
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. 3919/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Prenzel, Berlin.

Cranky and Stubborn Fellows
Typical for Paul Henckel's film characters is their accent and humour from the Rhineland region. He often played cranky and stubborn fellows. Among his films were Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse/The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang), Ein idealer Gatte/An Ideal Husband (1935, Herbert Selpin) starring Brigitte Helm, Ave Maria (1936, Johannes Riemann) with opera star Beniamino Gigli, Napoleon ist an allem Schuld/Napoleon is to Blame for Everything (1938, Curt Goetz), Der Maulkorb/The Muzzle (1938, Erich Engel) and Zwei in einer großen Stadt/Two in a Big City (1942, Volker von Collande). Unforgettable was his character Professor Bommel in Die Feuerzangenbowle/The Red Wine Punch (1944, Helmut Weiss). This is the second film version of Heinrich Spoerl's novel about pupils playing various tricks and jokes on their teachers. The twist in the story is the leader of the pack, the major cause of the teachers' headaches: Johannes Pfeiffer (Heinz Rühmann) is not a real pupil at all. He is a successful playwright with a PhD. One evening at the pub his friends discover that he never went to a school but was educated privately. Their stories of their boyhood years persuade him to see for himself and 'be a boy again'. The film was made in 1944, so it is a bit astonishing that the Nazi censors were prepared to pass a film with such an anti-authoritarian message. Die Feuerzangenbowle is very well made and today enjoys a cult status in Germany.

Paul Henckels
German collectors card by Star Revue. Photo: Karl Bayer / Divina / Gloria.

Stereotypical Characters
Paul Henckels’ first post-war film was Wozzeck (1947, Georg C. Klaren), based on the famous play by Georg Büchner. In this early DEFA production he played a cold and cynically experimenting doctor. His later roles were more stereotypical characters. To his last films belong Pension Schöller (1952, Georg Jacoby) starring Camilla Spira, Staatsanwältin Corda/Prosecutor Corda (1954, Karl Ritter), Kirschen in Nachbars Garten/Cherries in the Neighbour’s Garden (1956, Erich Engels), and Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull/Confessions of Felix Krull (1957, Kurt Hoffmann) featuring Horst Buchholz. He focussed on his stage work and did recital tours, performing Wilhelm Busch and German classics. During the 1950’s and 1960’s he also appeared often on TV, like in Die fröhliche Weinrunde/The Cheerful Wine Bout with singer Margit Schramm, and in Nachsitzen für Erwachsene/Detention for Adults as a professor, who explained interesting phenomenons for a class with four adults (among them was film actor Hans Richter). In 1962 he was awarded the Filmband in Gold for his longtime and important contributions to the German cinema. Paul Henckels died in 1967 in Kettwig, now Essen. He was married with actress Thea Grodtzinsky. His first wife was Cecilia Brie, a former actress, with whom he had three children.


Scene from Ave Maria (1936). Beniamino Gigli, off-camera, sings the last part of Di Quella Pira, while his manager Amadeo, played by Paul Henckels, reads his fan mail and checks out the female admirers in the audience. Source: Weiche Wotan (YouTube).


Another scene from the German version of Ave Maria (1936). Käthe von Nagy plays the French chanteuse Claudette. Here in a Paris nightclub (actually filmed in Berlin) she sings Das Herz von Paris and Ich liebe dich. Watching her are opera manager Amadeo (Paul Henckels) and two blonde fans of his client Tino Dossi (Beniamino Gigli). Source: Weiche Wotan (YouTube).


Clip from Die Feuerzangenbowle/The Red Wine Punch (1944). Source: Wilhelm Schmitz (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Stephanie D'heil (Steffi-line.de) (German), Wikipedia (German), Filmportal.de, and IMDb.

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