30 March 2014

Raimund Harmstorf

Athletic German actor Raimund Harmstorf (1939-1998) became famous as the protagonist of the German TV miniseries Der Seewolf/The Sea Wolf (1971), based on Jack London's novel. During the 1970s, he starred in more Jack London adaptations, in several Spaghetti Westerns and in another successful TV series, Michael Strogoff (1975), based on Jules Verne's adventure novel.

Raimund Harmstorf
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg, no. 5340. Photo: Lisa / Constantin / Reiter. Publicity still for Der Schrei der schwarzen Wölfe/Cry of the Black Wolves (Harald Reinl, 1972).

Jack London and Jules Verne

Raimund Harmstorf was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1939. He was the son of a doctor.

Harmstorf started a sports career and specialized in the decathlon. He then studied medicine, and later studied  music and performing arts at the Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Hamburg.

From the mid-1960s on, he performed in small parts in TV productions. One of his first films was Siegfried und das sagenhafte Liebesleben der Nibelungen/Maidenhead (Adrian Hoven, David F. Friedman, 1971), an ‘adults only’ retelling of the legend of Siegfried in which he was credited as Lance Boyle.

He had his breakthrough as the evil-minded Captain Larsen in the TV series Der Seewolf/The Sea Wolf (Wolfgang Staudte, a.o., 1971), based on Jack London's novel. The series made him very popular among TV audiences, especially with the ladies.

He then acted in two more Jack London adaptations,  Ruf der Wildnis/The Call of the Wild (Ken Annakin, 1972) with Charlton Heston and Der Schrei der schwarzen Wölfe/Cry of the Black Wolves (Harald Reinl, 1972) with Ron Ely.

In Italy he appeared in the adventure film Zanna Bianca/White Fang (Lucio Fulci, 1973), starring Franco Nero. It was another telling of Jack London's tale of a prospector and his loyal sled dog as they battle avaricious villains during their search for gold.

The film gained a great commercial success and generated the official sequel Il ritorno di Zanna Bianca/Challenge to White Fang (Lucio Fulci, 1973) with the same cast, and several non-official sequels.

Later Harmstorf co-starred with Terence Hill and Miou-Miou in the comic Spaghetti-Western Un genio, due compari, un pollo/A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (Damiano Damiani, 1975). The opening scene was directed by Sergio Leone, who also produced the film. It was the last Western that Leone worked on. He was disappointed in the final outcome and chose to remain uncredited. Thanks to the popularity of Terence Hill, the film was quite successful at the European box office. However, it was very negatively received by critics, and has not gained a higher reputation over time.

Harmstorf then starred in another very popular TV series, Michael Strogoff: Der Kurier des Zaren/Michel Strogoff (Jean-Pierre Decourt, 1975), based on Jules Verne's classic adventure novel. He was unforgettable as the handsome hero with a secret mission in an old Russia threatened by Kozaks and frozen rivers, wearing woolly hats and serious faces.

Harmstorf returned to Italy to co-star with Giuliano Gemma in another Spaghetti Western, California Addio/California (Michele Lupo, 1977) which was generally well received by critics and a success at the Italian box office.

The following year, he had a supporting part in the WWII action Quel maledetto treno blindato/The Inglorious Bastards (Enzo G. Castellari, 1978), starring Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson, which was remade by Quentin Tarantino in 2009.

Harmstorf co-starred with Bud Spencer in the action comedy Lo chiamavano Bulldozer/They Call Him Bulldozer (Michele Lupo, 1978). He followed it with another Bud Spencer vehicle, Uno sceriffo extraterrestre - poco extra e molto terrestre/The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid (Michele Lupo, 1979).

Vintage postcard. Photo: publicity still for Michel Strogoff/Michael Strogoff (Jean-Pierre Decourt, 1975).

Suicide and Media Scandal

In the 1980’s, the film career of Raimund Harmstorf halted.

He appeared in the French film L'empreinte des géants/The Imprint of Giants  (Robert Enrico, 1980) with Serge Reggiani.

In 1983, he co-starred in the French-German spy-film S.A.S. à San Salvador (Raul Coutard, 1983) based on one of the 175 popular spy novels by Gérard de Villiers. Former Tarzan Miles O'Keeffe starred as Malko, am Austrian count in need of cash on a CIA mission. The film failed at the box office. 

In Germany, Harmstorf often appeared in TV series, like the Krimi Der Alte/The Old Fox (1982-1983). He also appeared in some minor German and Italian features, like the crime drama Thunder (Fabrizio De Angelis, 1983) with Bo Svenson.

South Africa was the location for the Canadian TV series African Skies (1991–1994), in which he co-starred with Catherine Bach and Robert Mitchum.

For one of his last films, The Wolves (Steve Carver, 1995), he returned to the Alaskan wilderness, once again playing the bad guy.

The end of Harmstorf’s life was full of tragedies. His fish restaurant Zum Seewolf  in Bad Durkheim went bankrupt, he was affected by Parkinson's disease and he became weakened by a regimen of heavy medication.

His illness and vulnerability were exploited by the tabloids. In 1998 he committed suicide by hanging himself in his home in Marktoberdorf, Germany.

His death caused a scandal and German tabloids were investigated. German police consequently stated that Harmstorf's suicide had been substantially promoted by certain articles. In particular Bild was blamed because it had already published Harmstorf's suicide on its main page before his actual death.

Raimund Harmstorf was 58.

German trailer for Der Seewolf/The Sea Wolf (Wolfgang Staudte, a.o., 1971). Source: HHMaster92 (YouTube).

Trailer California Addio/California (Michele Lupo, 1977). Source: The Spaghetti Western Database (YouTube).

Sources: Stephanie d’Heil (Steffie-line) (German), Tom B. (Westerns All’Italiana), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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