Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Godspeed Maximilian Schell

Legendary actor Maximilian Schell died on 1 February 2014 at the age of 83.

Maximilian Schell was born on 8 December 1930 in Vienna, Austria. His father was poet, playwright, and writer Hermann Ferdinand Schell. His mother, Margarethe, ran a drama school. One of his grandfathers was a composer in the Austrian court who knew both Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. Maximilian Schell's sisters, Maria and Immy, and his brother, Carl, would all go into acting. 

In 1938, upon the Nazi's annexation of Austria, Hermann Ferdinand Schell and his family fled Vienna for Zurich, Switzerland.  It was at age 11 that Maximilian Schell first performed professionally as an actor. Mr. Schell attended the University of Zurich and the University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and the History of Art. While at university he continued to appear in stage productions. He also played football professionally and even served as a sports reporter for one of the Zurich newspapers. He left university before completing his doctoral thesis and served in the Swiss Army. After his service he returned to the University of Munich and later attended the University of Basel, Switzerland. He eventually abandoned his studies altogether to pursue acting. He began acting at the Basel Theatre.

Maximilian Schell made his film debut in Kinder, Mütter und ein General in 1955. In the late Fifties he appeared in such films as Der 20. Juli (1955), Reifende Jugend (1955), Ein Mädchen aus Flandern (1956), Die Ehe des Dr. med. Danwitz (1956), Die Letzten werden die Ersten sein (1957), and Kinder der Berge (1958). He made his English language film debut in Young Lions (1958). He made his television debut in th3 1958 telefilm Die Bernauerin. On television in the late Fifties he appeared on Playhouse 90, Desilu Westinghouse Playhouse, Buick-Electra Playhouse, and Alcoa Theatre. He made his debut on Broadway in 1958 in Interlock.

In 1961 Maximilian Schell appeared in his breakthrough role as Hans Rolfe in Judgement at Nuremberg. In the Sixties he appeared in such films as Five Finger Exercise (1962),  Isequestrati di Altona (1962), The Reluctant Saint (1962), Topkapi (1964), Return from the Ashes (1965), The Deadly Affair (1966), Beyond the Mountains (1967), Counterpoint (1967), Das Schloß (1968), and Simón Bolívar (1969). On television he appeared on Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre and a 1968 TV adaptation of Heidi. On Broadway he appeared in the play A Patriot for Me.

In the Seventies he appeared in such films as Pope Joan (1972), Paulina 1880 (1972), Der Fußgänger (1973), The Odessa File (1974), The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), The Day That Shook the World (1975), Cross of Iron (1977), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Julia (1977), Avalanche Express (1979), and The Black Hole (1979).  In the Eighties he appeared in such films as The Chosen (1981), Les îles (1983), Morgen in Alabama (1984), The Rose Garden (1989), and The Freshman (1990). On television he appeared in the miniseries Peter the Great, the TV series Wiseguy, and a television adaptation of Phantom of the Opera.

In the Nineties Mr. Schell appeared in such films as A Far Off Place (1993), Justiz (1993), Little Odessa (1994), The Song of the Lark (1997), Through Roses (1997), Telling Lies in America (1997), The Eighteenth Angel (1998), Vampires (1998), Wer liebt, dem wachsen Flügel (1999), and I Love You, Baby (2000). He appeared on television on The Hallmark Hall of Fame ("Miss Rose White"),  and the telefilms  Stalin, The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years, Young Catherine, and Joan of Arc.

From the Naughts into the Teens Mr. Schell appeared in such films as Festival in Cannes (2001), Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen (2006), and The Brothers Bloom (2008). His last film, Les Brigands, will be released later this year. He appeared on television as Fürst Thorwald in the series Der Fürst und das Mädchen. He played Albert Einstein in an episode of Giganten. He appeared on Broadway in 2001 in Judgement at Nuremberg.

There can be no doubt that Maximilian Schell was an incredible actor. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor playing German Defence attorney Hans Rolfe in Judgement at Nuremberg with good reason. He took a difficult role and gave a bravura performance playing it, possibly one of the best performances in film history. He would give equally impressive performances in The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), Julia (1977), and the TV movie Stalin. Maximilian Schell could be impressive even when the material he was performing was not. The 1980 sci-fi film The Black Hole was hampered by a poor script, yet Maximilian Schell still shined as Dr. Hans Reinhardt (perhaps best described as a latter day Captain Nemo). What is more, Maximilian Schell was very adaptable as an actor. While he is best known for his dramas, he could be quite adept at comedy. He was excellent as master criminal William Harper in Topkapi (1964). Other actors might have a limit to the genres they might play or might be at the mercy of the films in which they were cast, but Maximilian Schell never was. If he ever gave a bad performance, I never saw it.

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