The curious career of Maximilian Schell

ID_PI_GOLBE_SCHELL_AP_001Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

The curious career of Maximilian Schell ended last month when he died at the age of 83. Maximilian Schell was most famous for playing Nazis. But he spent the other half of his career playing Jews. After the Second World War, there was no shortage of film and television roles for German-speaking actors. An actor could play, for instance, the classic psychopathic wartime Nazi; the quiet concealed postwar Nazi; the subversive Nazi; the sympathetic confused Nazi; the hilarious bumbling Nazi. The world could not satisfy its hunger for watching Nazis onscreen. We wanted to see them cross-examined, punished, caught in the act. We wanted to bear witness to them, see them doing anything at all – shine their shoes, perform the most unexceptional tasks. We wanted to see the Jews too – brave, downtrodden and then, in later years, compromised, lost. Maximilian Schell had everything the roles required – he was dashing, intense, German-speaking, with a talent for portraying seductive emotional violence.

Maximilian Schell’s acting obsession began with his first film Children, Mothers, and a General (1955), in which Schell played a Nazi deserter fleeing from the Russian front.

Schell made a second film in 1955 called The Plot to Assassinate Hitler, with a small role as a co-conspirator in the plot. Schell would debut in Hollywood as a Nazi soldier in the 1958 film The Young Lions (which starred a platinum-blonde Marlon Brando, also a Nazi). He would go on to perfect his Nazi personas in The Condemned of Altona (1962) – as a disturbed Nazi war criminal living in the basement of his family’s mansion – and inCounterpoint (1968), as a music-loving Nazi general who forces an imprisoned conductor to create a symphony for his captors.

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