The Good German: The Life and Legacy of Conrad Veidt

Today and tomorrow, Jessica at Comet Over Hollywood is hosting Gone Too Soon, a blogathon dedicated to those shining stars of Old Hollywood who burned out far too quickly and left in their wake a dark void. I have chosen to honor German-born actor Conrad Veidt (1893-1943), who died suddenly of a heart attack on a Hollywood golf course at the too-young age of 50. It is really I who is honored to write about such a remarkable man, a unique talent and compassionate soul. Veidt has long been one of my favorite actors – perhaps one of my favorite people period in history – yet one who is considered relatively obscure by classic standards. Despite having 119 film credits to his name, Veidt too frequently gets overlooked as a character actor, one whose niche is too specific to interest the classic film community en masse. It is only when one probes deeper into these misconceptions of Veidt’s career that one finds just how versatile and successful a performer he really was.

To some, he is remembered as a horror icon. To others, he serves as the prime figurehead of the German Expressionist era in film. To most of us in the United States, he is the quintessential Nazi bad guy. And to a few, he is known as a pioneer of early progressive filmmaking, a humanitarian hero who risked his life and career to fight for what he believed was right, and one of Adolf Hitler’s most vocal foes. How can someone who means so many different things to so many people be too obscure?


Different from the Others (1919)

Image Source: Kino International

Synopsis: Brilliant concert violinist Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt) is only too happy to take on young music student Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) as his pupil. The two men find they have more than a love of music in common, and are soon spending all their time together. However, behind Körner’s polished façade lies a terrible secret: according to the law of the land, he is nothing more than a lowly criminal, guilty of the crime of feeling love for his own sex. Will Körner allow himself to be continuously blackmailed by the sleazy Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel) in order to keep his predilection hidden? Or will he openly accuse Bollek of extortion and take him to court – knowing that his own crime may be revealed in the process?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

If we’re going to start from the very beginning (a very good place to start), let’s go ahead and state the obvious: depictions of gays, lesbians, or otherwise non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary folks were considered highly taboo in mainstream film until pretty recently. A lot of the time, if you’re looking for queer themes in classic film, you’re going to have to sift through a lot of subtext and coded images to find what you’re looking for – and even then, you may be accused of seeing something that may not really be there at all. This is not the case with Richard Oswald‘s Different from the Others (German title Anders als die Andern), which the director co-wrote with the brilliant German sexologist and gay rights advocate Magnus Hirschfeld. (Seriously, look up some of his work; he was truly a pioneer.) Produced during the Weimar Republic during the brief period after World War I when censorship was temporarily lifted in all German media, Different from the Others is noteworthy as one of the earliest, if not the first, unequivocally sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality in the history of cinema. Sadly, it comes as no surprise that it exists today only in a fragmented state, as many prints of the film – along with Magnus Hirschfeld’s entire library – were destroyed as examples of leftist “decadence” when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Fortunately, a collaboration between Kino International and Filmmuseum München has led to a beautiful restoration of the surviving segments and a bold reconstruction of the rest. The film is also given extra context in the intertitles, and any missing portions are described using notes gleaned from contemporary advertisements for the film. (more…)

Friday Glam Spam: Conrad Veidt

Conrad Veidt

(January 22, 1893 – April 3, 1943)

Image Sources: Damian Blake (1); Truus, Bob & Jan (2, 3); Doctor Macro (4); (5, 6)