Posts Tagged ‘Conrad Veidt’

My Classic Movie Pick: A Woman’s Face, with Villainous Conrad Veidt

My post today is for the Great Villain Blogathon and it is hosted by 3 wonderful bloggers who also love, love, love classic movies: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit these blog sites to read about all of the great movie villains written about by other movie loving bloggers.

Great Villain Blogathon

A Woman’s Face, made by MGM in 1941, was not MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer’s cup of tea.  Joan Crawford had learned of the Swedish movie version of the stage play.  The play had been written by Francis de Croisset and a screenplay for MGM’s version was to be written by Donald Ogden Stewart.  Ingrid Bergman had starred in the 1938  Swedish film and now Crawford wanted to star in an  American version.  Mayer didn’t like the fact that one of his beautiful stars would have to be “uglied” up for the role since the movie’s plot is about a disfigured woman who turns to a life of  crime since society has  rejected her because of  her deformity.   A Woman's Face movie poster 2 Anna Holm(Crawford) was burned on one side of her face when she was a child.  Her widowed, drunken father accidentally set the house on fire while Anna was asleep.  She was rescued but her father died in the flames.  Throughout her growing up years she felt rejected by society as people would stare at her face or try to avoid her altogether.  Upon reaching adulthood, Anna decides to make money off of the weak and foolish of the world so  she becomes a very good blackmailer. Simultaneously owning a tavern/restaurant in a secluded, wooded area outside of Stockholm proper, she draws in a rich clientele who like to meet at her business for rendezvous away from prying eyes.  It is to this clientele that she finds customers to blackmail.   She is aided by 3 con artists who are under her employ: Bernard Dalvik(Reginald Owen), his wife Christina Dalvik(Connie Gilchrist), and Herman Rundvik(Donald Meek).

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Owens as

Owens as Dalvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

One evening as a loud party of 10 people are preparing to leave, the host of the party wants to put the bill on his tab.  He is told that he’ll have to discuss that with the proprietess.  When this fellow saunters into Anna’s office, he is polite, charming, and very suave.  It is this man, Torsten Barring(Conrad Veidt) who is the main villain of A Woman’s Face and his character will soon have the vulnerable Anna under his spell!  Through my reading about this movie, I came across a snippet that when Veidt was asked to describe his character, Torsten Barring, Veidt smiled and replied that he was  playing  Satan in a tuxedo!

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

In Torsten’s party is Vera Segert(Osa Massen), the  young and beautiful wife of Dr. Segert(Melvyn Douglas).  Dr. Segert wasn’t at Torsten’s party which is how Vera wanted it.  She used the party to flirt with another man the entire evening, and it is soon noticed by Torsten that Vera and this other man have a thing going on.  All of this potential for blackmail is on Torsten’s mind when he meets Anna in her office.  He surprises her as he doesn’t flinch in horror when he sees her face but treats her gallantly, kisses her hand, and her reaction is one of utter shock, that a man would treat her so kindly.

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Seeing Anna's deformity and not shunning her.

Seeing Anna’s deformity and not shunning her.

Torsten soon has Anna working for him in the blackmailing game.  She goes to his lavish apartment at first just for business and assignments but soon Torsten pours on more charm and Anna finds herself falling in love with him.  Veidt, in real life, had piercing blue eyes and he used them to great effect in his acting.  Crawford was so impressed by his skills that she said in her later years that she had rarely met another actor who had shown such dramatic skills and depth as Veidt.     Torsten next tells Anna that a big prize awaits them.  He has the love letters that Vera Segert had foolishly sent to the man at the party Torsten hosted.  Torsten arranges for Vera Segert to go to Anna’s 3 con artist employees to beg for the letters and to get an idea of how much money it will cost her to get them back.  Anna then goes to Vera’s home at an agreed to time that evening with the letters.  Anna demands more money from Vera for the letters.  Vera hotly refuses and then cruelly shines a light on Anna’s face, exposing her deformity.  Anna then unloads a slapfest on Vera’s face and unexpectedly, Dr. Segert arrives home.   He thinks Anna is an intruder, intent on swiping his wife’s jewels and Vera begs him to just let Anna go.  He notices Anna’s scars and tells her that he is a skilled plastic surgeon and he thinks he could take her scars away.  He shows her books of successfully treated patients and Anna does agree to and does have the surgery.  It is a long, two year process but Anna and Dr. Segert persevere and develop an admiration for one another.  He for her survival skills in a cruel world and she for his compassion for his fellow man.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Anna delights in showing Torsten her new face.  She feels like a brand new woman as she is now beautiful.  Torsten seems happy for her but then he tells her about his extended family.   His aged Uncle Magnus Barring(Albert Bassermann) is very wealthy and has sadly decided to leave all of his fortune to a 4 year old grandson, Lars-Erik(Richard Nichols).  It is at this point in the film where Veidt’s Torsten becomes truly mad, in a stealthily,  quiet  way.  No screaming or tantrums are thrown.  He just sidles up to Anna and quietly explains to her his plan.  He tells Anna that he will recommend her to his Uncle Magnus for a governess job for little Lars-Erik.  Then, after a time, Anna will kill Lars-Erik and he, Torsten, will be the only one to inherit his uncle’s fortune.  Anna is in shock over this information, but doesn’t react hastily.  She seems to know that her love for this man is now over, but that if she lets on that it is, he’ll probably try to kill her. too.  So, reluctantly, Anna agrees to being a new governess for Lars-Erik.

Torsten intoning to Anna  his evil plot to inherit the money.

Torsten intoning to Anna his evil plot to inherit the money.

After several months have gone by working in Uncle Magnus’s household, Anna has grown to be quite fond of the old man and her charge, Lars-Erik.  A birthday celebration has been planned for Uncle Magnus, a weekend-long event and to Anna’s dread, Torsten arrives at the party in time to scoop her into his arms on the dance floor, to kindly snarl in her ear his questions as to why Lars-Erik is still alive?  To add to the stress Anna is now under, Dr. Segert also arrives for the party.  He is delighted to see Anna again and they share a dance or two.  She discovers that he is in the process of divorcing his unfaithful wife, Vera.  Anna and the doctor have a growing attraction to one another which adds to the noirish aspects of this drama: does Anna tell the man she is falling in love with about her life as a blackmailer, about her relationship with Torsten, and also reveal the evil plan to kill a child in order to inherit a fortune?  Would that new man even want to be around her if he knew about anything from her past?  Will Torsten keep reminding Anna to kill the child and if she doesn’t, will he take the matter into his own hands?

I won’t reveal the answers to these questions as I want you, the readers of this blog, to seek this film out!  It has aired from time to time on TCM so keep your eyes alert to their monthly schedules to see if it will be airing sometime this year.  A Woman’s Face is availabe to buy at Amazon, but it is in a Joan Crawford 5-dvd set and it’s pricey.  It is available in a European dvd that is lower-priced and in VHS format, which is even lower in cost, but VHS?  I want to add that in the cast is the always awesome Marjorie Main as a grumpy housekeeper, so watch for her when you do see the movie.

The villain of the film, Conrad Veidt, had a successful and interesting acting career.  He died too young, at the age of 50, suffering a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles in 1943.  Born and raised in Germany, he served in the German Army in WWI, rising to the rank of NCO.  Becoming very ill during the war, he was sent to a war hospital on the Baltic coast and received a letter from a girlfriend, Lucie Mannheim.  She had just been hired to work with an acting company based in Libau, Latvia.  Intrigued, he put in for a transfer to Libau and the Army agreed, stipulating that he work to entertain the troops.  When the war ended, Veidt moved to Berlin to study acting in earnest.  His skills paid off as he became a popular and busy actor in the German silent movie industry.  Probably his most famous role at that time was as the sleepwalking Cesare in 1920’s  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  With his success in Germany, it was time to make a try in Hollywood, and he did, famously appearing in 1928’s The Man Who Laughs.  Some even believe that Veidt’s “look” for this film inspired the look for one of Batman’s villains, The Joker.

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

As talking movies came into the forefront and silents went away, Veidt had trouble learning to speak English and his accent was deemed too heavy so it was time to return to Germany.  Veidt’s career continued there until he and his second wife, Illona Prager, a Jewish woman, moved to England to avoid the grasp of the rising Nazis.   In England, Veidt continued his acting career and improved his ability to speak the  English language.  I have seen some of the films he made in England and he got to play the heroes, which was a refreshing view of Veidt.  He played a Jewish man in 1934’s Power, playing Josef Oppenheimer,  who in 1730’s Germany,  helped a  duke rise in power, and in the process made a way for himself to leave the Jewish ghetto behind.  Then, when the duke tries to harm a member of Oppenheimer’s family, it’s revenge time.   In 1935 he starred in Passing of the Third Floor Back, which some kind soul has put on Youtube!  Veidt plays a mysterious and yet kind man, almost a messianic figure, who only wants to help the fellow boarders at a rooming  house he has moved to.  In 1939, he was the lead in The Spy in Black.  It was called U-Boat 29 for U.S. audiences.  Veidt plays U-Boat Captain Hardt , WWI is the time frame.  He is to meet a spy on the Orkney Islands, who turns out not to be what she seems.  Veidt is a conflicted man in this piece, not an out and out villain, falling in love with the spy who isn’t who she is pretending to be.  Valerie Hobson plays the spy and this was an early Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger creation.  It was back to playing a villain in 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad.  A technicolor masterpiece from the Korda brothers.   Veidt plays the evil Jafar and I really think the Disney animators used his image in creating the Jafar for their version of the story.  Veidt was very tall and slendor which seems to be the inspiration for the animated  Jafar.

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

After this film, Veidt tried Hollywood again.  With WWII raging, he stipulated that if he played Nazis, that he play baddies, no conflicted Nazis with a hint of goodness.  His most  famous Hollywood film is 1942’s Casablanca, where he plays with great relish the villainous Major Strasser, out to catch any freedom fighters trying to leave Casablanca.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

It has been quite fun for me to read about Conrad Veidt for this blogathon.  He was a very skilled actor who could play the villain with the best of them, using his piercing gaze and his voice to smoothly convey his manipulative form of evil that his characters just seemed to wear like an aura around them.  In closing, I’ll post this neat video tribute to Veidt as Torsten Barring in A Woman’s Face, found on Youtube.   In fact, there are a ton of clips of Veidt’s work over the years, both silent movie scenes as well as talkies, so plan on putting your feet up and getting comfortable if you decided to view all that Youtube has for viewing Veidt’s scenes.

Studio publicity shot for A Woman's Face

Studio publicity shot for A Woman’s Face

My Classic Movie Pick: The Thief of Bagdad

Two years ago I saw that The Thief of Bagdad was to air on Turner Classic Movies, so I thought I’d view it as I had never seen that movie before.  When it was over, all I could say was Wow!  In doing more research about this 1940 Technicolor wonder from Great Britain, I wasn’t too surprised to read that both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola agreed to do  voice commentary about the movie  on the dvd that was released by Criterion Collection in 2008.  The late film critic Roger Ebert was also a huge fan of this film.   As I watched, I also noticed that some of the characters looked like their animated counterparts in Disney’s Aladdin.  I would hazard a guess  that Disney had their animators study this movie prior to beginning their work on Aladdin.
Distributed by London Films, under the guidance of producer Alexander Korda, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan,  The Thief of Bagdad stars Sabu(teen actor from India) as Abu, Conrad Veidt(great German actor) as the villain, Jaffar, John Justin as Prince Ahmad,  June Duprez as the Princess, and Rex Ingram as the Genie of the Lamp.   The Thief of Bagdad movie poster 1

What left me with that wow feeling after viewing this film was:  all of the action and adventure teamed with  great special effects, an intelligent plot for a pure fantasy story, lush technicolor, beautiful scenic designs, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar and Sabu as Abu.  Veidt is wonderfully conniving and creepy as the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar.  He wants to steal Prince Ahmad’s kingdom for himself, and that also means taking away the Princess, Ahmad’s true love.  Sabu, ( an Indian actor discovered at the age of 13 and who went on to star in British and American films in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s) has fun with the role of a plucky adventurer, only out for his own protection and betterment before he meets Prince Ahmad, and together, they plan to get the kingdom back and save the Princess from Jaffar.  I only had two minor criticisms with the film:  Prince Ahmad and the Princess(we don’t learn her first name, she’s just referred to as her title throughout the entire film!)  John Justin, as Prince Ahmad, does an ok job of it, he just seems a bit stiff at times.  I also hated his pencil-thin mustache! It looked like one a 14 year old boy would try to grow.  At the end of the movie, it had been shaved off and I kept wishing it would have never made an appearance to begin with!  June Duprez is beautiful and it’s easy to see why Ahmad falls in love with her and Jaffar desires her, but she doesn’t have a lot to do in the movie beyond looking beautiful and/or distressed.

The film takes us to ancient Bagdad and Prince Ahmad is bored.   His Grand Vizier, Jaffar, sees this as an opportunity to get Ahmad out of the palace and to just take the kingdom for himself, so he convinces the Prince to put on the clothes of a beggar and to go out and mingle with the commoners, to see what they think of the Prince’s recent rulings.  While the Prince wanders around the city, asking for people’s opinions of the Prince, Jaffar successfully has Prince Ahmad accused of stealing and has him arrested and thrown into the dungeon, to be executed at sunrise.  A young thief, Abu, has also been thrown into the dungeon, but he sneakily steals the guard’s key to the cell and he and Ahmad are able to escape and they make their way to Basra.

Ahmad and Abu getting ready to tour Basra.

Ahmad and Abu getting ready to tour Basra.

Jaffar suggesting Prince Ahmad go out and meet the citizens of Bagdad.

Jaffar suggesting Prince Ahmad go out and meet the citizens of Bagdad.

In Basra, Ahmad  meets the Sultan’s beautiful daughter, the Princess,  as she is strolling in her garden.  It is love at first sight and unfortunately, Jaffar has arrived in Basra to meet the Sultan(Miles Malleson) and arrange his own marriage to the Princess!  Jaffar knows that the Sultan is childish and he presents the Sultan with a mechanical horse that when one sits on it, it will turn into a real flying horse!  After taking the horse out for a spin, the Sultan agrees  that Jaffar can marry his daughter.   The Princess learns of her engagement to Jaffar and runs away.  Ahmad and Abu meet up with Jaffar, who casts a spell on them both: Ahmad is now blind and Abu is now a dog and the spell won’t be broken until Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.

Jaffar is determined to steal the Princess from Ahmad!

Jaffar is determined to steal the Princess from Ahmad!

It's love at first sight for Ahmad and the Princess!

It’s love at first sight for Ahmad and the Princess!
The Flying Horse that seals Jaffar's marriage deal with the Sultan's daughter.

The Flying Horse that seals Jaffar’s marriage deal with the Sultan’s daughter.

The Princess, meanwhile has been caught to be sold as a slave in a local market and unbeknownst to her, she is bought by Jaffar.  Upon reaching his mansion, she falls into a deep sleep that even Jaffar can’t wake her from.  Ahmad and Abu find her with the help of Halima(Mary Morris), Jaffar’s servant, who is jealous of the Princess and she tricks Ahmad into waking her.  Ahmad and Abu flee when Jaffar appears and later, Halima tricks the Princess into going on Jaffar’s boat by telling her there is a doctor on board who can cure Ahmad’s blindness.  Jaffar is actually on the boat and he tells the Princess about the curse and she reluctantly lets Jaffar hold her in his arms and immediately, Ahmad can see and Abu is not a dog anymore.

Jaffar telling about his curse on Ahmad and how it can be lifted.

Jaffar telling about his curse on Ahmad and how it can be lifted.

The rest of the movie is Ahmad and Abu’s adventures in trying to rescue the Princess and deal with the treacherous Jaffar.  There will be an ancient temple statue with a”seeing eye” ruby gemstone that Abu must retrieve and he will also have to deal with a giant spider!  Abu  will meet a Genie(delightfully played by Rex Ingram), and there will be  a magic carpet, and Jaffar has a murderous statue to present to the Sultan.

Abu on a magic carpet ride.

Abu on a magic carpet ride.

Genie meets Abu, his new master.

Genie meets Abu, his new master.

The Thief of Bagdad is a wonder of a film and enjoyable for the entire family to watch.  As I mentioned earlier in my post, it is available to purchase through Criterion Collection on Amazon.com, Netflix added it to it’s list in 2012, and some kind soul has put the entire movie up on Youtube.  Turner Classic Movies also airs it from time to time.  Seek it out, and say “Open Sesame!” for a great family film to view.

We love happy endings!!

We love happy endings!!

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