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26 March 2013

Bernhard Wicki

Swiss actor Bernhard Wicki (1919 – 2000) was a star of the German cinema in the 1950’s. After his successful direction of Die Brücke/The Bridge (1959), he directed several international co-productions during the 1960’s.

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. F 120. Photo: Huster.

Bernhard Wicki, Hilde Krahl, Ewiger Walzer
German postcard by DLF. Promotion card for Ewiger Walzer/The Eternal Waltz (1954, Paul Verhoeven).

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by ISV, no. M 9. Photo: Real / Europa-Film / Gabrielle.

Concentration Camp
Bernhard Wicki was born in St. Pölten, Austria in 1919. His father was a Swiss engineer and co-owner of a machine factory, and his mother was Austrian with Hungarian roots. He studied Art History, History and German Literature in Breslau. In 1938, he transferred to the drama school of the Staatliches Schauspielhaus in Berlin under Gustav Gründgens. In 1939, because of his membership in the Bündischen Jugend (a forbidden, non-Nazi youth organization) he was imprisoned for ten months in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was released after an intervention by Gründgens, and moved to Vienna, where he studied acting and directing at the Max Reinhardt Drama School. At Schönbrunn Palace Theatre he played the Urfaust, and had further engagements in Bremen, at the Salzburg Festival, in Basel and Zurich. He married actress Agnes Fink. Before the end of the war, they moved to Switzerland, where they performed at the Schauspielhaus Zürich. There he met author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who became a lifelong friend. In 1940, Wicki had made his film debut as an extra in the Alexander Pushkin adaptation Der Postmeister/The Stationmaster (1940, Gustav Ucicky) starring Emil Jannings and Hilde Krahl. Ten years later, after the end of World War II, he played his second, small part in Der fallende Stern/The Falling Star (1950, Harald Braun) with Werner Krauss. He had his breakthrough in the war drama Die letzte Brücke/The Last Bridge (1953, Helmut Käutner) with Maria Schell. In Ewiger Walzer/The Eternal Waltz (1954, Paul Verhoeven) he portrayed Johann Strauss II. Other films were Das zweite Leben/A Double Life (1954, Victor Vicas) with Michel Auclair, and the war film Kinder, Mütter und ein General/Children, Mother, and the General (1955, László Benedek), starring Hilde Krahl. He appeared as Oberst Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg in Es geschah am 20. Juli/It Happened on July 20th (1955, Georg Wilhelm Pabst), a dramatic reconstruction of the July 1944 attempt by German Army Officers to assassinate Hitler with a bomb and end the war before Germany was totally destroyed. Popular successes were Skandal um Dr. Vlimmen/Scandal surrounding Dr. Vlimmen (1956, Arthur Maria Rabenalt), and the comedy Die Zürcher Verlobung/Getting Engaged in Zürich (1957, Helmut Käutner) starring Liselotte Pulver.

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 1125. Photo: H. Grimm / Rhombus / Süd-Film / Herzog-Film. Publicity still for Gefangene der Liebe/Prisoners of Love (1954, Rudolf Jugert).

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by Ufa, no. FK 3826. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Weisse / Berolina / DFH.

Oscar Nomination
In 1952, Bernhard Wicki saw a photography exhibition of the Magnum agency in Luzern, and he decided to learn photography. He asked director Helmut Käutner to be a camera assistant on the film Monpti (1957, Helmut Käutner) starring Romy Schneider. His first attempt at directing came with the documentary Warum sind sie gegen uns?/Why are they against us? (1958). He became internationally famous with his anti-war film Die Brücke/The Bridge (1959), in which he tells the tragic story of the senseless defense of a bridge by youths (among who Fritz Wepper) at the end of World War IIr. Die Brücke is based on the eponymous 1958 novel by journalist and writer Gregor Dorfmeister (published under the pseudonym Manfred Gregor). The story was based on an actual event, upon the personal report of a surviving veteran who in his own youth experienced a similar situation in World War II. Die Brücke won four awards at the German Film Awards in 1960, and also received several international prizes, notably the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but lost to the French film Black Orpheus. Wicki had a supporting role in another classic, Antonioni’s drama La Notte/The Night (1961, Michelangelo Antonioni) starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti. The film about a day in the life of an unfaithful married couple and their deteriorating relationship, received the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, in 1961. That year, Wicki himself won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the festival for his film The Miracle of Father Malachia/Das Wunder des Malachias (1961, Bernhard Wicki) starring Horst Bollmann. The film is based on the 1938 novel Father Malachy's Miracle by Bruce Marshall and tells the story of a supposed miracle in a West German town that is soon exploited and sensationalized by the media and profiteers. The film won several awards and was the official West German submission to the 34th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The international attention for his films resulted in Wicki’s participation in co-directing the classic war film The Longest Day (1962). Two years later followed The Visit (1964, Bernhard Wicki). This was an international coproduction, distributed by 20th Century Fox, and starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. It was an adaptation from Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 play Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady). A year later followed Morituri/The Saboteur (1965, Bernhard Wicki) about the sabotage of a German merchant ship full of rubber. The film starring Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner, and Trevor Howard, did not do well on its original release, probably at least in part because few people understood its title. In an attempt to be more commercial, the film was reissued as Saboteur: Code Name Morituri, and was nominated for two Oscars.

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. S 596. Photo: Gabriele / Rank Film / Real Film.

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 171. Photo: Constantin.

Bernhard Wicki
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H., Minden/West., no. 1924. Photo: Bayer / Divina / Gloria Film. Publicity still for Weil du arm bist, musst du früher sterben (1956, Paul May).

Golden Palm
After the financial failure of Morituri, Bernhard Wicki returned to acting. He often appeared on TV such as in the mini-series Affäre Dreyfuss/The Dreyfuss Affair (1968, Franz Josef Wild) as Emile Zola. He played a role in the West-German western Carlos (1971, Hans W. Geißendörfer) starring Gottfried John and Anna Karina, Ace Up My Sleeve (1976, Ivan Passer) starring Omar Sharif, and appeared in the art house hit Die linkshändige Frau/The Left-Handed Woman (1978, Peter Handke) produced by Wim Wenders. Wicki directed the West German drama Die Eroberung der Zitadelle/The Conquest of the Citadel (1977, Bernhard Wicki), which was entered into the 27th Berlin International Film Festival. He had a small role in Despair (1978, Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Dirk Bogarde, and played Romy Schneider’s father in the science fiction film La Mort en direct/Death Watch (1980, Bertrand Tavernier). Four years later he had a supporting part in Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders) starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski. The film won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Other films include Frühlingssinfonie/Spring Symphony (1983, Peter Schamoni) starring Nastassja Kinski, Eine Liebe in Deutschland/A Love in Germany (1983, Andrzej Wajda) with Hanna Schygulla, and Killing Cars (1986, Michael Verhoeven) with Jürgen Prochnow. Wicki’s last direction was Das Spinnennetz/Spider's Web (1989, Bernhard Wicki) based on the novel by Joseph Roth. In this film he shows the risk of entanglement of the German bourgeoisie in extreme right-wing ideology and anti-Semitism in the Weimar Republic. Since 1990, Wicki was a patron of the International Film Festival in Emden-Norderney. His later films as an actor include Erfolg/Success (1991, Frans Seitz) with Bruno Ganz, Prinzenbad (1993, Richard Blank) and Das Geheimnis/The secret (1994, Michael Schottenberg). Bernhard Wicki died in 2000 in Munich, Germany. He was married twice. First to actress Agnes Fink, and after her death to actress Elisabeth Endriss. After Wicki’s death, a fund was started in 2001 and named after him in Munich, the Bernhard Wicki Memorial Fund. Since 2002, it has awarded a film prize, The Bridge, considered a peace prize. A further prize was endowed in 2006 with 15,000 euros, a prize given in the city of Emden since 2000. In the documentary Verstörung - und eine Art von Poesie/Distraction - and a kind of poetry (2007), Elisabeth Wicki-Endriss portrayed the life and work of Bernhard Wicki.


Unofficial trailer Die Brücke/The Bridge (1959). Source: Filmidiote (YouTube).


Trailer The Visit (1964). Source: OldHollywoodTrailers (YouTube).


Trailer Das Spinnennetz/Spider's Web (1989). Source: Arild Rafalzik (YouTube).

Sources: Wikipedia (English and German) and IMDb.

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