Archive for October 20th, 2009

Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser in CasablancaI’ve mentioned before that I really enjoy old movies and probably one of the reasons is the many great character actors who really embellished any story.  One of my favorites is the great character actor, Conrad Veidt, who made his fame as a star in German cinema before fleeing the Nazi regime in 1933.   Probably most of you out there don’t know the name very well, if at all.  But you are no doubt aware of many of the films and characters he has influenced, well past his death in 1943, only a year after his most famous part as the soon to be stereotypical Nazi, Major Strasser, in Casablanca.

Many of the characters he played became stereotypes or  prototypes in the movies after his death.  The haughty, cruel arrogance of Major Strasser became the way to play Nazis in the film world. conrad veidt themanwholaughsThen you have the charming fellow with the lovely smile shown here.  It’s a character, Gwynplaine, he played in American silent film The Man Who Laughs, based on the Victor Hugo book, in 1928.  The cartoonists responsible for the Batman comic book series were so taken with Veidt’s character that they used him as the basis for the Joker, many years pre-Heath Ledger.

Before that Veidt had been a star in post-WW I Germany, starring in the classic  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It is one of the gems of German Expressionist filmmaking and one of the most influential films of all time, conrad veidt caligari posterpaving the way for  future horror films as well as film noir.   Veidt’s character may have even influenced the Goth look of today’s youth.  He played Cesare, the murderous sideshow attraction of Dr Caligari.  Cesare was pretty Goth looking for the time, all dressed in black with darkened eyes and jet black hair.

The image of Viedt’s Cesare was one that I saw many times as kid and a horror movie fan.  I didn’t know who Conrad Veidt was but I recognized his character in the books and magazines I read that traced the history of monster and horror films.  Actually, it wasn’t until I was well into my adult life that I realized that Cesare and Major Strasser were the same man.  That speaks to the versatility of Conrad Veidt.

His influence is also seen in one of the most popular animated films of all time , Disney’s 1992 Aladdin, which is based on the film, The Thief of Bagdad.  Viedt’s character was Jafar, the villainous Grand Vizier.  As in all of his roles he made a huge impression in his characterization that it came to be the gold standard for such roles.  You can even see it in the pure physical similarity.

jaffarJafar-and-Iago-aladdin-270913_445_266As I said, character actors like Veidt, along with the likes of Charles Coburn, Ward Bond, William Demarest and hundreds of others, have really given great texture to many of the best films of all time and their influence lives on today.  The next time you’re watching and enjoying an old movie, keep an eye out for these  wonderful actors.  No doubt they will be there.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: