31 May 2013

Lydia Potechina

Russian character actress Lydia Potechina (1883 – 1934) fled to Germany in 1919, but returned to the Soviet Union in 1932. In between she was popular character actress in the Weimar cinema, who worked with renowned directors like Fritz Lang.

Lydia Potechina
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5093. Photo: Verleih Mondial / National.

Moving And Imaginative Places
Lydia Potechina was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1883. Around 1900 she attended the Imperial Theater School in her hometown. She went on to perform for the Russian stages for years. During the Russian revolution, Potechina emigrated to Germany in 1919. In Berlin, she started to work in the booming film industry. First she played small parts in silent films like Die entfesselte Menschheit/The unleashed humanity (1920, Joseph Delmont) starring Eugen Klöpfer and Paul Hartmann, and Die Verschwörung zu Genua/The Genoa Conspiracy (1921, Paul Leni) with Hans Mierendorff and Erna Morena. In 1921 she appeared in a supporting part in the silent classic Der müde Tod/Destiny (1921, Fritz Lang). Lang structured his film, full of special effects, as a frame tale with three stories within the story. Cineanalyst at IMDb: “the narrative has its faults; the frame narrative is great, but only the last of the three episodes within was entertaining - for its light and magical treatment. In the film, a girl's young lover dies, and Death offers her three tries to resurrect his life. The episodes are flimsy at times, but some impressive imagery and powerful performances by Lil Dagover and Bernhard Goetzke make up for much of that. Additionally, the exotic Arabian, historical Venetian and Chinese settings for the three inner episodes are well rendered, surely, but it's the haunting graveyard scenes and the meetings with Death, especially the room of candles scenes, that I'll remember. They're not merely exotic; they're otherworldly - the atmospheric, moving and imaginative places I want movies to take me.” In Germany, the film was poorly received at first, with critics complaining that it was not 'German' enough, Douglas Fairbanks purchased the American rights, to delay its general American release while he copied the effects of the Persian segment for his The Thief of Baghdad (1924). The film was successful in the US, and would influence international directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel. Potechina worked again with Fritz Lang on Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler/Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang). This was the first film in the Doctor Mabuse series, about the Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) who featured in the novels of Norbert Jacques. Bruce Eder at AllMovie: “The first of three adaptations of the Norbert Jacques' novels by the renowned director, the film also provided Lang's wife and screenwriter Thea Von Harbou a canvas on which to explore and expand her own work. The subject matter, a cat-and-mouse game between a master criminal (with considerable scientific - or, more properly, pseudo-scientific) knowledge at his disposal, and a top law enforcement official, was intrinsically absorbing in Lang's hands, especially as these characters were portrayed by Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Bernhard Goetzke; their duel would go on to influence the plots of comic books and feature films for a generation to come and longer, right into the twenty-first century in the form of the James Bond movies.”

Lydia Potechina
Austrian postcard. Iris Verlag, no. 822. The cross was probably added by a collector after she died.

An Exceptional Expressiveness
Lydia Potechina had her first co-starring role in Fräulein Raffke/Miss Raffke (1923, Richard Eichberg) as the mother of Lee Parry. Thomas Staedeli at Cyranos: “The actress Lydia Potechina belongs to the most interesting appearances of the German silent movies. She wasn't one of these teenagers who disported on the screen but justified her acting existence with an exceptional expressiveness.” She worked with another master of the Weimar cinema, Ewald André Dupont on the silent drama Die grüne Manuela/The Green Manuela (1923, E.A. Dupont). She appeared in a supporting role in the silent historical adventure film Pietro der Korsar/Peter the Pirate (1925, Arthur Robison) starring Paul Richter, Aud Egede Nissen and Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and had another character role in the Asta Nielsen vehicle Athleten/Athletes (1925, Friedrich Zelnik). In her films, she often played roles as the mother or the mother-in-law. Silent German films in which she played such parts were Leidenschaft (1925, Richard Eichberg) with Otto Gebühr, the delightful romantic comedy Ein Walzertraum/A Waltz Dream (1925, Ludwig Berger) with Willy Fritsch, Manon Lescaut (1926, Arthur Robison) featuring Lya de Putti, Familie Schimeck - Wiener Herzen/The Schimeck Family (1926, Alfred Halm, Rudolf Dworsky) as the mother of Olga Tschechova, Heimweh (1927, Gennaro Righelli) starring Mady Christians, and the thriller Die Todesschleife/Looping the Loop (1928, Arthur Robison) starring Werner Krauss. At the time she was very busy. In 1927 she could be seen in 14 films and in 1928 in 11, but these were generally forgettable genre films and were not in the same league as the classic films in which she had appeared five years earlier. Interesting was Der weiße Teufel/The White Devil (1930, Alexandre Volkoff) starring Ivan Mozzhukhin. Sound changed the European film industry completely and was a disaster for many foreign actors. However, Potechina played for the Ufa in such sparkling comedies as Bomben auf Monte Carlo/The Bombardment of Monte Carlo (1931, Hanns Schwarz) starring Hans Albers and Anna Sten, and Ich bei Tag und du bei Nacht/I by Day, You by Night (1932, Ludwig Berger) with Käthe von Nagy. In her final film, Der Diamant des Zaren/The Diamond of the Czar (1932, Max Neufeld) featuring Liane Haid, Potechina played a false Grand Duchess. That same year, Lydia Potechina returned to Russia, now the Soviet Union. Two years later, she died in Moscow in 1934, only 50. She was married to the Ufa producer Max Pfeiffer.

Lydia Potechina
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5093. Photo: National Film / Verleih Mondial. Signature by Lydia Potechina.

Sourceas: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Bruce Eder (AllMovie), Cineanalyst (IMDb), AllMovie, Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.

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