Showing posts with label Werner Krauss. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Werner Krauss. Show all posts

08 September 2013

Veit Harlan

Film director and actor Veit Harlan (1899-1964) was one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious filmmakers. His most perfidious film was the anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Süß/Jew Süss (1940) filled with vicious stereotypes of Jews.

Veit Harlan
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7753/1, 1935. Photo: Robertson, Berlin. Collection: Didier Hanson.


Veit Harlan was born in Berlin in 1899. His father was a novelist and two of his brothers were musicians. After studying under Max Reinhardt, he first appeared on the stage in 1915 and, after World War I, worked at the Berlin State Theatre for eleven years.

In 1922 he married Jewish actress and cabaret singer Dora Gerson; the couple divorced in 1924. In 1943, Gerson was killed in Auschwitz, with her family.

Harlan made his film debut in 1925. He played roles in films like the historical comedy Der Meister von Nürnberg/The Master of Nuremberg (Ludwig Berger, 1927), and the comedy Die Hose/The Trousers (Hans Behrendt, 1927) starring Werner Krauss.

Till 1935 he played in some 30 films. Harlan married in 1929 actress Hilde Körber, having three children with her. They divorced in 1938 ‘for political reasons related to the influence of National Socialism’, according to Wikipedia. One of their children, Thomas Harlan, became a writer and director in his own right.

His first direction was the romantic comedy Krach im Hinterhaus/Trouble Backstairs (1934) starring silent film star Henny Porten. It was a success and in the following years Harlan specialized in romantic idylls like Die Kreutzersonate/The Kreutzer Sonata (1937) and Die Reise nach Tilsit/The Trip to Tilsit (1939), a remake of F. W. Murnau’s silent classic Sunrise (1926).

In 1939, Harlan married the star of his film, Swedish actress Kristina Söderbaum. Since 1933, Harlan was a supporter of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). After many of the country's best filmmakers had fled the country, Joseph Goebbels had appointed Harlan in 1937 as one of his leading propaganda directors.

His most notorious film was Jud Süß/Jew Süss (1940), which was made for anti-Semitic propaganda purposes in Germany and Austria. The film was required viewing for all SS members. Set in the 18th century, it claims to be a dramatization of the true story of how a sinister, cunning Jewish financier, Joseph Süss Oppenheimer (Ferdinand Marian), took control of the duchy of Wurttemberg while preying sexually on a pure Aryan maiden (Kristina Söderbaum). The film was a hit and seen by more than 20 million people. In 1943 it received Ufa's highest awards.

Werner Krauss
Werner Krauss. German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. A 3264/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Quick / Ufa.

The First Major European Colour Film

Harlan made the Reich's loudest, most colourful and expensive films. In 1942 he directed the first major European colour film, Die goldene Stadt/The Golden City.

Next he directed the melodramas Immensee (1943) and Opfergang/The Great Sacrifice (1944) which included some very dramatic suicide scenes, further increasing Harlan and Söderbaum’s popularity with the German cinema audience.

Harlan’s megalomaniac epic Kolberg (1945) was the basis for Inglourious Basterds’ pivotal film-within-a-film Stolz Der Nation. One of the last films of the Third Reich, Kolberg was intended as a Nazi propaganda piece to shore up the will of the German population to resist the Allies.

The film is based on the autobiography of Joachim Nettelbeck, mayor of Kolberg in western Pomerania. It tells the story of the successful defence of the besieged fortress town of Kolberg against French troops between April and July 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Kristina Söderbaum
Kristina Söderbaum. German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A  3321/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen / Tobis.

Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

After the war Veit Harlan was charged with participating in the anti-Semitic movement and aiding the Nazis. But he successfully defended himself by arguing that the Nazis controlled his work and that he should not be held personally responsible for its content. However, many former crew members and colleagues contradicted him. In 1949, Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity for his role as director of Jud Süß. The Hamburg Criminal Chamber of the Regional Court (Schwurgericht) acquitted Harlan of the charges; however, the court of the British occupation zone nullified the acquittal.

In 1951, Harlan sued for an injunction against Hamburg politician Erich Lüth for publicly calling for a boycott of Unsterbliche Geliebte/Immortal Beloved (1950). The District Court in Hamburg granted Harlan's suit and ordered that Lüth forbear from making such public appeals. However, the lower court decision was ultimately overturned in 1958 by the Federal Constitutional Court because it infringed on Lüth's right to freedom of expression. This was a landmark decision because it clarified the importance of the constitutional civil rights in disputes between individuals.

Harlan made a total of nine films between 1950 and 1958, including Anders als du und ich/Different from You and Me (1957), with Christian Wolff, a feature film on homosexuality, a topic which was still highly taboo at this time.

In 1958, Veit Harlan's niece, Christiane Susanne Harlan, married filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who was Jewish. She is credited by her stage name Susanne Christian in Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957). They remained married until Kubrick's death in 1999.

Veit Harlan died in 1964 while on vacation in Capri. He was 64. Two months before his death he had become Catholic. Susanne Körber, one of his daughters from his second wife Hilde Körber, converted to Judaism and married the son of Holocaust victims. She committed suicide in 1989.

 In 2001, Horst Konigstein made a film titled Jud Suss - Ein Film als Verbrechen?/Jud Suss - A Film As a Crime? The documentary Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss (Felix Moeller, 2008) explores Harlan's motivations and the post-war reaction of his children and grandchildren to his notoriety.

Christian Wolff. Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 4268. Photo: Arca / Cinepress.

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), John Simkin (Spartacus Educational), New York Times, Wikipedia and IMDb.

19 June 2011

Werner Krauss

German stage and film actor Werner Krauss (1884 - 1959) became a worldwide sensation as the demonic Dr. Caligari in the classic of the German expressionist cinema, Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). He appeared in several silent masterpieces, but his magnificent film career was later overshadowed by his appearance in one of the most notorious propaganda films of the Third Reich.

Werner Krauss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 263/2, 1919 - 1924. Photo: Alex Binder/Decla.

Werner Krauss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin- Wilm., no. 770. Photo: Eberth, Berlin.

Worldwide Sensation
Werner Johannes Krauss (Krauß in German) was born in Gestungshausen, Germany, in 1884. He was the son of a clergyman. He ran away from home and joined a travelling theatre company. In Berlin he became a film actor. Among his first films were Die Pagode/The Pagoda (1914, Joe May), Nächte des Grauens/A Night of Horror (1916, Richard Oswald, Arthur Robison) with Emil Jannings, Hoffmanns Erzählungen/Tales of Hoffmann (1916, Richard Oswald) and Opium (1919, Robert Reinert) with Conrad Veidt. In 1916, he met the noted theatre director Max Reinhardt and went to work for him. Krauss had been trained to do exaggerated gestures for the stage, and the German expressionist cinema was but a short stylistic step further for him. In 1919, he became a worldwide sensation for his demonic portrayal of Dr. Caligari in Robert Wiene's Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Dr. Caligari is a a sinister hypnotist who travels the carnival circuit displaying a somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Veidt). In one tiny German town, a series of murders coincides with Caligari's visit. Krauss was just 35 at the time he appeared in the film, but his heavy makeup made him seem older. Doug Tomlinson at Film Reference: “In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Krauss epitomizes the German Expressionist performance aesthetic which would dominate the next decade: an obvious external expression of interiority. Throughout the central part of the film, Krauss hobbles through nightmare sets, his crippled walk an expression of a crippled mind, his dark and menacing facial and body makeup of the rot within, his sparse and erratic white hair of his overall decrepitude. His posture, rounded inward to symbolize mystery and enclosure, refuses the spectator any sympathetic identification. At the film's end, when Caligari is shown to be the head of an asylum and the film the rantings of an inmate, Krauss expressionistically softens all aspects of posture and characterization to appear the epitome of benevolence.“

Werner Krauss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1613/1, 1927 - 1928 . Photo: Atelier Domker, Berlin.

Werner Krauss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1613/2, 1927 - 1928. Photo: Atelier Badekow-Grósz, Berlin.

A Smorgasbord of Visual Delights
Werner Krauss’ heavy, declamatory technique was perfect for such roles as Bottom in Ein Sommernachtstraum/A Midsummer Night's Dream (1924, Hans Neumann) and Jack the Ripper in Das Wachsfigurenkabinett/The Wax Works (1924, Paul Leni) opposite Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt. He also played Iago in a 1922 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello (1922, Dimitri Buchowetzki). Hal Erickson writes at Rovi (formerly the All Movie Guide): “Even without the benefit of sound, the 1922 German adaptation of Othello seems more operatic than Shakespearean. This may be due to the casting of Emil Jannings, to whom restraint and subtlety were strangers. Werner Krauss, of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame, is on hand as the duplicitous Iago. Appearing as the unfortunate Desdemona is Lea Von Lenkeffy, better known as Lya de Putti. Produced on an elaborate scale, Othello may not be true to the letter of Shakespeare, but is undeniably a smorgasbord of visual delights.” Krauss was again prominently featured in such silent masterpieces as Varieté/Jealousy (1925, Ewald André Dupont), Herr Tartüff/Tartuffe (1925, F.W. Murnau) based on the classic Molière play, and Der Student von Prag/The Man Who Cheated Life (1926, Henrik Galeen). He also worked internationally. In France he appeared as the obsessed Count Muffat in Jean Renoir's version of Emile Zola's Nana (1926, Jean Renoir). Totally submissive to the demands of the exploitative Nana, he ultimately disgraces himself by barking, sitting, rolling over, and playing dead like a dog. His utterly degraded character is reflected in his lumpish posture. By 1926, Krauss had worked with such major directors as F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, Lupu Pick, E. A. Dupont, Richard Oswald, Paul Leni, and Jean Renoir. He was one of the leading German film actors of his time, but his obsessed and evil characters had become a cliché.

Werner Krauss
Big German card by Ross Verlag, Berlin. Photo: Tobis Sascha foto.

Werner Krauss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. A 3264/1, 1941 - 1944 . Photo: Foto Quick/Ufa.

Actor of the State
When Adolf Hitler came to power, Werner Krauss clutched the Nazi ideology firmly to his bosom. He only incidentally played in films such as the charming Burgtheater/Burg Theatre (1936, Willi Forst) with Olga Tschechova. He was made an Actor of the State by Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, and subsequently played the roles of two stereotypical Jewish characters – Rabbi Loew and Sekretar Levy – in Veit Harlan's notoriously antisemitic Jud Süß/Jew Süss (1940, Veit Harlan). Hal Erickson writes in his review of the film at Rovi: “Lion Feuchtwangler's novel Jud Süss was originally about a powerful ghetto businessman who believes himself to be a Jew. Süss's ruthless business practices result in the betrayal of an innocent girl, for which he is arrested and sentenced to be hanged under the anti-Jewish laws of the 18th century. While he waits to be executed, Süss discovers he is not Jewish. Rather than turn his back on the people of the ghetto with whom he'd grown up, Süss courageously refuses to declare his 'Aryan' status, even though it means he will die on the gallows. The Feuchtwangler book was designed in roundabout fashion to strike a blow against anti-Semitism. But when Jud Süss was filmed in Germany at the behest of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1940, its original message was twisted and perverted into an argument in favor of 'ethnic cleansing'. As played by Werner Krauss, Süss is not only genuinely Jewish, but also an amalgam of every vicious caricature ever concocted by the anti-Semitic propagandists of the past two centuries. With hooked nose and greasy beard, Krauss portrays Süss as a whining, wheedling, hand-wringing subhuman rapist.” Krauss also played Shylock in an extreme production of The Merchant of Venice staged at Vienna's Burgtheater in 1943. After World War II, all associated with Jud Süss were plagued with recriminations for their participation, which drove Krauss out of the country for more than three years. Leading German democrats registered emphatic opposition to public appearances by him. In June of 1954, one of West Germany's highest decorations was ceremoniously conferred on him by West Berlin's cultural and education chief. The actor appeared in only three more films before his death. His final film was the heimatfilm Sohn Ohne Heimat/Son Without a Homeland (1955, Hans Deppe). Werner Krauss died in relative obscurity in Vienna, Austria in 1959. He was married to Marie Bard who died in 1944.

Trailer Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Source: Tim Casey 76 (YouTube).

Scene from Geheimnisse einer Seele/Secrets of a soul (1926, G.W. Pabst). Source: Cinefania (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (Rovi), Doug Tomlinson (Film Reference), Katzizkidz (Find A Grave), Wikipedia, and IMDb.