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06 November 2012

Axel von Ambesser

Axel von Ambesser (1910 - 1988) was one of the best known actors, directors and writers of post-war Germany.

Axel von Ambesser
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. 3688/1. Photo: Wesel / Berlin Film.

Axel von Ambesser
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3251/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Quick / Ufa.

Two Men With Identical Names and a Shared Fate
Axel von Ambesser was born Axel Eugen Alexander von Oesterreich in Hamburg, Germany in 1910. Following the advise of his father, a merchant originally hailing from St. Petersburg, he changed his name to 'Axel von Ambesser'. Although, not classically trained as an actor, the theatre-crazy Ambesser was given parts at the Hamburger Kammerspiele. He worked from 1930 on as a stage actor in Germany and Austria, often cast as the young hero, charming suitor and comic relief. From 1936 to 1941 he was a company member of the prestigious Deutsche Theater in Berlin. He made his film debut with a small part in Der Gefangene des Königs/The King's Prisoner (1935, Carl Boese). In the next years followed successful productions like Salonwagen E 417/Lounge Car E 417 (1939, Paul Verhoeven), Das Herz der Königin/The Heart of a Queen (1940, Carl Froelich) starring Zarah Leander, and Frauen sind keine Engel/Women Are No Angels (1943, Willi Forst) with Marte Harell. Das Mädchen Juanita/The Girl Juanita (1945, Wolfgang Staudte) could not be finished because of the end of World War II. It was edited with material from the archives and released in West Germany in 1952. In 1944 Wolfgang Staudte shot another film with Von Ambesser called Der Mann, dem man den Namen stahl/The Man Whose Name Was Stolen. This satire was finished, but didn't pass the censorship and parts of it seemed to be lost in the war. After the war, Staudte once again undertook to film the story. As he used Von Ambesser again, it is believed that parts of the 1944 film were used, and other sequences re-shot three years later. Die seltsamen Abenteuer des Herrn Fridolin B./The Adventures of Fridolin was finally released in March 1948. It is a witty dry comedy about two men with identical names, who for some strange reason have been listed by the official bureaucracy as one. So they obviously have to share each-others fate to some extent. According to Filmportal.de, recently Der Mann, dem man den Namen stahl/The Man Whose Name Was Stolen has been rediscovered, almost 70 years after the film was made.

Axel von Ambesser
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3820/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Hämmerer / Wien Film.

Axel von Ambesser
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3820/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Hämmerer / Wien Film.

The German Voice of Charlie Chaplin
After the war, Axel von Ambesser was an ensemble member at the Münchner Kammerspiele before he became a freelancing actor in the late 1940's. He also started writing and directing, and in some cases, he directed himself as the lead of his own plays. In the cinema, he acted in Tanzende Sterne/Dancing Stars (1952, Géza von Cziffra) and Gustav Adolfs Page/Gustav Adolph's Page (1960, Rolf Hansen), or was a commentator in Kommen Sie am Ersten/Come on First(1951, Erich Engel) and Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein/Operation Caviar (1961, Géza von Radványi) starring O.W. Fischer. His voice was the ‘German voice’ of Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux (1947, Charles Chaplin). Von Ambesser also wrote the German translation for this film. In the 1950’s he often worked as a writer for stage, cabaret, film and television and was even the ‘most played of the living authors of the German language’. In 1953, he made his debut as film director with the comedy Drei, von denen man spricht/Three of which we speak. He directed hits like Der Pauker/The Crammer (1958) and Der brave Soldat Schwejk/The Good Soldier Schweik (1960) based on the novel by Jaroslav Hašek, both starring Heinz Rühmann. Schwejk won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Other popular films were his Der Gauner und der liebe Gott/The Crook and the Cross (1960) starring Gert Fröbe, Kohlhiesels Töchter/Kohlhiesel's Daughters (1962) starring Liselotte Pulver and the Father-Brown-detective Er kanns nicht lassen/He Can't Stop (1962) again starring Heinz Rühmann. His last work for the cinema was Die fromme Helene/The Pious Helene (1965), for which he worked as a director, writer as well as an actor. From the mid-1960's on, he worked for television. In the early 1980's, Axel von Ambesser mostly retired from TV but continued to work in the theatre. In 1985, he published his memoirs, and was awarded the Filmband in Gold, for his 'continued outstanding individual contributions to the German film over the years'. Axel von Ambesser died in 1988. He was married with actress Inge von Oesterreich-Ambesser from 1935 till his death. His daughter Gwendolyn von Ambesser works like her father both as a director, author and actress.


Heinz Rühmann in Der Pauker/The Crammer (1958), directed by Axel von Ambesser. Source: Gooderik (YouTube).


The song Nimm Du sie, die Susi from Kohlhiesels Töchter/Kohlhiesel's Daughters (1962, Axel von Ambesser). Source: Klarinettenqueen (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (German), Filmportal.de and IMDb.

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