Tuesday, November 11

German Actors I Hardly Knew

I suppose it was the war that kept German actors from gaining the kind of popularity in America that some other Europeans achieved... especially  those in England, Italy and France.  Of course there was always Dietrich to shoot that theory down but I still cannot recall many back in the sizzling sixties that we're discussing.  But here are three who did capture my attention, albeit briefly.

Horst Buchholz was a sexy and pouty bad boy who always got my complete attention because he demanded it.  He could steal scenes from the best of them, making it difficult to watch anyone else when he was around.  He was known as the James Dean of German cinema.

His mother was a Dane and he never knew his real father.  He took the Buchholz name from his stepfather, a shoemaker.  In his teens he discovered a love of acting and felt his good looks would enable him to gain entry into that world.  He began with work on the stage and radio but soon gravitated to films.  He earned the James Dean comparison because his early German films, all quite popular, showcased him as a rebellious teen. 

He spoke several languages as a young adult and in the years to come he would often dub his own voice for a foreign release.  His first English-language film was the British-made Tiger Bay (1959) in which he murders his girlfriend which is witnessed by a very young Hayley Mills.   In the next two years he would make three films that would forever cement his international fame.

First up was 1960s The Magnificent Seven, as the most colorful of the bunch, a green, would-be Don Juan.  He and Brynner and McQueen would be the only three of the seven left standing at the finale of this western classic. The next year came his dreamboat role of the lusty but flaky Marius in the glorious Fanny opposite Leslie Caron. That same year he turned in a gold-medal comedy performance opposite James Cagney in One, Two, Three.

He was well worth watching as Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi in Nine Hours to Rama but the film was not a success. He returned to Germany and continued to make films throughout Europe of which none were as successful as his earlier work.  He did a great deal of television on the continent as well.

Engaged briefly to Romy Schneider, he was married to French actress Myriam Bru for 42 years.  They largely lived apart, she in their Paris home and he in their Berlin home.  He would later say the arrangement was due in large part to his relationships with men.  He and Bru would have a daughter and a son, the actor Christopher Buchholz.  Horst Buchholz died in Berlin at age 69 in 2003 from pneumonia.


Curt Jurgens gathered a great deal of fame in Europe due to his stately, sometimes menacing but always imposing 6'4" physique.  He had a good face but I always loved his mellifluous voice.  He was widely used in war films but could easily be found in romantic roles as well.

He was born in Munich in 1915 to a trader and a teacher.  He would dive into journalism right out of school but his first wife (of five), an actress, talked him into joining her profession.  Lucky us.  He would first learn his profession on a Vienna stage and would, in fact, always consider himself first a stage actor.  He would ultimately become an Austrian citizen, fed up with his own country after the war and after internment in a camp, because he was politically unreliable.

He made many films in Europe without really attaining worldwide recognition.  That largely changed in 1956 when he starred opposite Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman.  The following year he made his first American movie, The Enemy Below, an exciting war film opposite Robert Mitchum.  Jurgens and Dorothy Dandridge had sexy roles in the slave trader opus Tamango and Debbie Reynolds went gaga over him in This Happy Feeling.  He was perfectly cast as Ingrid Bergman's lover and protector in the excellent Inn of the Sixth Happiness

He was one of many fine actors in the superior war film, 1962s The Longest Day.  He sparked more interest for me in 1963 in two films, Disney's The Miracle of the White Stallions with Robert Taylor and Lilli Palmer and as opposite from that as one could get, the sordid Of Love and Desire with Merle Oberon and Steve Cochran.

He was in one of my favorite 60s adventure films, Lord Jim (1965), creepy as a man connected with the devil in The Mephisto Waltz with Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset (1971) and was a great Bond villain in 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me.

As it was for him in the beginning of his career, in his later years he returned to European films and the stage.  He would die in 1982 at age 66 in Vienna of a heart attack.

Born in Berlin in 1928, Hardy Kruger was a Hitler Youth who grew up to be regarded as one of Germany's premier actors.  He would make fewer American films than the two listed above and is therefore less known than they are in America.

He made his film debut in 1944, while still a teenager, but was soon drafted into the German army, which he says he hated, until he was captured by American forces.  Hate it or not, his prototypical blond and blue-eyed German looks would find him cast year after year as a German soldier in films.  After the war and his release, Kruger was rediscovered for the movies by prolific British film distributor, J. Arthur Rank, who influenced his being cast in a trio of English-language films.  Interestingly, he was not cast as a German, but simply a foreigner. 

I saw him for the first time in 1962 during my foreign-language movie phase, in the romantic French film, Sundays and Cybele, and was quite taken with him.  But I think it was but a week or two later that I saw him in his first American film, Hatari, costarring John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, about a group of friends who capture African animals for zoos.  Kruger would buy the compound used in the film.

In 1965 he made my favorite film of his, The Flight of the Phoenix.  He plays a man who says he is an airplane designer and can rebuild their plane that has crashed in the Sahara.  He and Jimmy Stewart, at serious odds in the film, turned in marvelous performances.  Two years later he was the nemesis of Montgomery Clift (his last film) in The Defector.

In 1969 he made The Secret of Santa Vittoria, a confectioner's delight of a film about Italian villagers who hide thousands of bottles of wine from German soldiers who have come to their village looking for the wine.  It starred Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.  Kruger was the head Nazi and his one scene doing verbal battle with Magnani was the highlight of the picture for me. 

He essentially retired after the 1989 TV miniseries, War and Remembrance, but then made a TV movie in 2011.  He and  his third wife live between homes in Germany and California.  Both his son and daughter are actors.

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