German film actor Bernhard Goetzke (1884 – 1964) was one of the impressive stars of the silent films of Fritz Lang. He appeared in 130 films between 1917 and 1961.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 497/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.
Bernhard Goetzke was born in Danzig, Germany (now Gdańsk, Poland) in 1884. After a private training as an actor he performed in theatres in Düsseldorf, Hagen, Dresden and came during the First World War to Berlin. There he played on many stages and worked under the famous director Max Reinhardt. He started his film career in the 1910’s. In 1917 he appeared with Conrad Veidt in the eerie dream-like Furcht/Fear (1917, Robert Wiene). This was soon followed by leading roles in the mystery Die Japanerin/The Japanese Woman (1919, Ewald André Dupont) opposite Ria Jende, Anita Jo (1919, Dimitri Buchowetzki) featuring Hanni Weisse, and Zwischen Tod und Leben/Between Life and Death (1919, Arthur Wellin) with Alexander Moissi. He had a supporting part in the international box office hit Madame DuBarry (1919, Ernst Lubitsch) starring Pola Negri. A second highlight was Die Brüder Karamasoff/The Brothers Karamazov (1921, Carl Froelich), the first film version of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous novel. He played Iwan Karamazov, and Emil Jannings and Fritz Kortner as his (young and older) brother, the murderer Dimitri. Another huge success was the two-part adventure epic Das indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1921, Joe May), in which Goetzke appeared as a sinister Yogi opposite Olaf Fönss and Mia May. His sharply featured face, high forehead and low-lying eyes as well as his long, slim form made him one of the most impressive appearances of the silent cinema.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1517/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Hanns Schwarz.
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 677/2. Photo: Verleih E. Weil & Co.
Bernhard Goetzke’s most notable film performance was his title role of Death in Fritz Lang’s Der müde Tod/Destiny (1921, Fritz Lang). He worked again for Lang in Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler/Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang) the first in Lang's series of thrillers around the criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse (Rudolph Klein Rogge). He also played Volker von Alzey in Lang‘s epic fantasy Die Nibelungen (1924, Fritz Lang). Then he played the leading role of engineer Kramer in Gerhard Lamprecht‘s social drama Die Verrufenen/Slums of Berlin (1925, Gerhard Lamprecht) with Aud Egede Nissen, and also starred in the sequel Die Unehelichen/Children of No Importance (1926, Gerhard Lamprecht). In that same year Alfred Hitchcock directed him in the leading role of his romantic thriller The Mountain Eagle (1926), which was shot in München (Munich). He played a Kentucky shopkeeper in love with a teacher (Nita Naldi). When she refuses him, he accuses her from molesting his mentally ill son. Hitchcock also wrote the drama Die Prinzessin und der Geiger/The Blackguard (1925, Graham Cutts) with Goetzke and in the title role Walther Rilla. In Italy Goetzke played in the historical epic Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii/The Last Days of Pompeii (1926, Carmine Gallone, Amleto Palermi) with Victor Varconi. In France he co-starred in the crime film Vivre/To Live (1928, Robert Boudrioz) with Elmire Vautier. In France he also played father Faria in a silent adaptation of Alexandre Dumas Père’s Monte Cristo (1929, Henri Fescourt) starring Jean Angelo. He had his last leading role in Salamandra/Salamander (1929, Grigori Roshal), one of the first German-Soviet co-productions. It was a Socialist Realist distortion of Dr. Paul Kammerer's experiments in the inheritance of acquired character(istic)s: the conjecture that certain changes which the environment produces in an individual may spontaneously appear in the next generation.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3526/1, 1928-1929. Photo: S. Brill, Paris.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1279/1, 1927 - 1928. Photo: Riess.
When the sound film arrived, Bernhard Goetzke joined the fate of many of his colleagues and his film career went into decline. During the sound era, he only appeared in supporting roles. In the interesting SciFi film Alraune/Daughter of Evil (1930, Richard Oswald) he played one of the men who fall for the vamp Alraune, played by Brigitte Helm. In this sound version, Helm gives a different interpretation of the same part she had in the silent version two years earlier. She not only portrays Alraune, the artificially created girl who brings down men by the dozen but also her mother, a prostitute who agrees to take part in an experiment of artificial insemination. He reunited with his former director Lamprecht and co-star Aud Egede Nissen for Zwischen Nacht und Morgen/Between Night and Dawn (1931, Gerhard Lamprecht), but his role was only a minor one. In Finland he played his last lead role as an old hunter in the drama Erämaan turvissa (1931, Kalle Kaarna, Friedrich von Maydell). From then he played supporting or bit parts in dozens of run-of-the mill films. Among the more interesting films are the Jules Verne adaptation Der Kurier des Zaren/The Czar's Courier (1936, Richard Eichberg) starring Adolph Wohlbrück (aka Anton Walbrook) as Lt. Michael Strogoff, and the pro-Irish propaganda film Der Fuchs von Glenarvon/The Fox of Glenarvon (1941, Max W. Kimmich) with Olga Tschechova. He also played a small part in the notorious propaganda film Jus Süss/Jew Süss (1941, Veit Harlan). His roles at the time were so small that his performances sometimes were not even credited. After the war Goetzke only appeared in two films of the East-German DEFA studio, as a poor farmer in the classic children’s fantasy Das kalte Herz/The heart of Stone (1950, Paul Verhoeven) with Lutz Moik, and as a priest in the biography Semmelweis - Retter der Mütter/Dr. Semmelweis (1950, Georg C. Klaren). He focused on his stage career, and till his death he was an ensemble member of the Staatlichen Schauspielbühnen Westberlins (the State Theaters of West Berlin). His final screen appearance was a bit role in the TV film Elisabeth von England/Elizabeth of England (1961, Hanns Korngiebel) featuring Elisabeth Flickenschildt. Bernhard Goetzke died in 1964 in Berlin.
Prologue to Das indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1921). Source: sbratt50 (YouTube).
Sources: Volker Wachter (DEFA Filmsterne), Wikipedia (English and German), and IMDb.