28 May 2016

Helmut Griem

Handsome and suave German actor Helmut Griem (1932-2004) had a long standing career as stage actor but he is also known for his international film and television work. He is best remembered for the classic musical Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). As the elegant, fabulously decadent baron Max he has trysts with both Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and Brian Roberts (Michael York).

Helmut Griem
German postcard with autograph.

The Damned

Helmut Griem was born in Hamburg in 1932. He planned to be a journalist, but, after studying literature, science and philosophy, he developed an interest in acting, and made his stage début with a role in N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker (1956).

Throughout his career Griem would be primarily a stage actor, appearing at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, the Burgtheater in Vienna, the Staatliche Schauspielbühnen in Berlin, the Munich Kammerspiele, and finally in the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, also in Munich.

He started playing in films in 1960. His debut was Fabrik der Offiziere/The Factory of SS Officers (Frank Wisbar, 1960) with Horst Frank.

The next year he appeared in Bis zum Ende aller Tage/Girl from Hong Kong (Franz Peter Wirth, 1961), Barbara - Wild wie das Meer/Barbara (Frank Wisbar, 1961) with Harriet Andersson, and the comedy Der Traum von Lieschen Müller/The Dream of Lieschen Mueller (Helmut Käutner, 1961) featuring Sonja Ziemann. That year he won the Bambi Award,  the oldest media award in Germany. In 1976 he would win his second Bambi.

In the following years he played in European productions such as the Italian war film Oggi a Berlino/East Zone, West Zone (Piero Vivarelli, 1962) and the French production À cause, à cause d'une femme/Because, Because of a Woman (Michel Deville, 1963) starring Jacques Charrier and Mylène Demongeot.

In 1969 Griem had his international breakthrough as the sexy, seductive and thoroughly power hungry SS officer Aschenbach in Visconti's La caduta degli dei/The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969). This film about the dramatic collapse of a wealthy, industrialist family during the reign of the Third Reich, starred Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Charlotte Rampling and Helmut Berger. Three years later Griem appeared again opposite Berger in Ludwig (Luchino Visconti, 1972) about the mad and tragic king of Bavaria.

Helmut Griem and Akiko Wakabayashi in Bis zum Ende aller Tage (1961)
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag. Photo: Bavaria / NERO / NDF / Lilo. Publicity still for Bis zum Ende aller Tage/Girl from Hong Kong (Franz Peter Wirth, 1961) with Akiko Wakabayashi.

Bisexual Baron

Helmut Griem's most famous role is the rich, bisexual Baron Maximilian von Heune in the Oscar winning Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). Reviewing Cabaret in Monthly Film Bulletin, John Russell Taylor noted: "Helmut Griem as Max manages just the right ironical throwaway charm and erotic confidence to convince us that he could have captivated both sexes with equal ease."

He also played memorable parts opposite Brian Keith in The McKenzie Break (Lamont Johnson, 1970), opposite Senta Berger in Die Moral der Ruth Halbfass/Morals of Ruth Halbfass (Volker Schlöndorff, 1972), opposite Hanna Schygulla in Ansichten eines Clowns/The Clown (Voytech Jasny, 1975), opposite Jacques Perrin in Il deserto dei tartari/The Desert of the Tartars (Valerio Zurlini, 1976), and opposite Romy Schneider in La passante de Sans-Souci/The Passerby (Jacques Rouffio, 1982).

In these films Griem represented the archetypal arrogant, duplicitous and sometimes downright ruthless German. One of his biggest international films was Voyage of the Damned (Stuart Rosenberg, 1976), the true story of a ship full of Jewish refugees from Germany who are refused entry to a succession of foreign ports, just months before the outbreak of war.

In the early 1980s he also appeared in small but interesting German films, including Malou (Janine Meerapfel, 1981), Stachel im Fleisch/A Thorn in the Flesh (Heidi Genée, 1981), and the biography Caspar David Friedrich - Grenzen der Zeit/Boundaries of Time: Caspar David Friedrich (Ulrich Schamoni, 1986).

On TV he appeared in the mini-series Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980) and starred in the NBC series Peter the Great (Marvin J. Chomsky, Lawrence Schiller, 1986), portraying the formidable Tsar's lifelong friend and 'right hand' Alexander Menshikov, alongside Maximilian Schell.

Griem stopped acting in film in the late 1980s but continued to appear on German television and on stage. In the theatre he also worked as a director of such plays as Entertaining Mr. Sloane (by Joe Orton), Long Day's Journey into Night (Eugene O'Neill), and Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller) in which he also played Willy Loman himself. His last film was Brennendes Herz/Burning Heart (Peter Patzak, 1995) with Dominique Sanda and Werner Herzog.

Helmut Griem died in 2004 in a hospital in Munich, Germany. He was 72.

Trailer of The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969). Source: troz2000 (YouTube).

Trailer of The McKenzie Break (Lamont Johnson, 1970). Source: MovieZoneAustralia (YouTube).

Trailer of Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). Source: Warnervod (YouTube).

Trailer of Il deserto dei tartari/The Desert of the Tartars (Valerio Zurlini, 1976). Source: Danios 12345 (YouTube).

Sources: Tom Vallance (The Independent), Brian Pendreigh (The Herald), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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