Friday, September 20, 2013

Conrad Veidt – Master of Horror and The Man You Loved to Hate

The face you loved to hate so well in film, was in fact another person altogether.

I remember his career backwards, like in some character in an avant-garde film, since I generally saw his last roles first.  As a kid, I remember him first as the sneering Nazi officer Major Strasser in Casablanca.  Conrad Veidt was a strident anti-Nazi took pains to get roles to show how vile the Nazis were to a pre-war audience.  I also remember him as Jaffar, the evil vizier in The Thief of Bagdad with those powerful hypnotic eyes.

From there my remembrance jumps to Veidt as the somnolent puppet of the Doctor in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, although the first few times I saw the movie, I didn’t know him.  Well that is somewhat out of backwards sequence, but who said memory was linear or for that matter, of time but made up of associations.  Heaven knows free association has led me down some interesting path.  Much of my blog posts are an amalgamation of memory, associations, and serendipity.

From here I had to find some biographical data on Conrad Veidt, because I only knew his as a series of characters, not as a person.  I was pleased to find that he personally was the antithesis of nearly every role he ever played.  Not only was he actually good guy, but a man who tried to reverse the flow of history in his own way. 

He was blacklisted in prewar Nazi Germany due to his politics and for being married to a Jew, his third wife Llona.  They fled Germany in 1933 to escape persecution and became a British citizen in 1939.  He loaned his considerable fortune to the British Government and donated large amounts of his film salaries to help with the British war effort during WWII

As an interesting near-miss, he was in the running for playing the dreaded Count in Dracula, but lost the role to Bella Lugosi in 1931.  Of interest to most of my blog readers is that Veidt  played in horror films and psychological thrillers over the years before he became a much more subtle monster in Casablanca. 

Not bad for a guy who just fell into acting.  He died of a heart attack in 1943, not living long enough to see the end of Hitler’s regime, but did his own part in resistance.  Check out the links below for information about his films.  Conrad Veidt is not well known in the United States as an actor in early horror and science fiction film and I hope that I can change that perceptive of an actor that is largely forgotten. 
Here is a partial list of Conrad Veidt’s works
Around the World in Eighty Days (1919)  A silent film I have never seen.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) as Chesare
The Head of Janus (Der Januskopf) (1920) A film based on Dr Jeckl and Mr Hyde
The Hands of Orlac (Orlacs Hände) (1924)  Transplanted hands kill
Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) (1924)
The Man Who Laughs (1928)  He was a sort of proto-Joker character
King of the Damned (1935) Movie about Devil’s Island
The Thief of Bagdad (1940)  he played Jaffar
Casablanca (1942)  You remember him as Maj Strasser
Some of Conrad Veight’s masterworks are available on YouTube: 
 The Man Who Laughs (part 1/11)
Links of interest about Conrad Veidt