The Conrad Veidt Society

The following article was commissioned especially for the CVS website:

by Romano Tozzi and Peter Herzog

(authors of Lya de Putti: Loving Life and Not Fearing Death)

edited by G. Tabarez

Conrad Veidt's untimely death from a heart attack on a Hollywood golf course fifty-five years

ago robbed the world of one of the greatest screen actors of the century. He was only fifty and at the height of his powers. A true star with a magnetic personality and a distinctive speaking voice unlike any other, he had thrilled cinema audiences in every country where movies were shown for more than two decades. Unique and irreplaceable, he will always be remembered and admired by movie lovers and film historians.

When he died in 1943, he left behind two unreleased films -- Casablanca (which became a classic) and Above Suspicion (which is largely forgotten today). Since coming to America after the outbreak of World War II, he had appeared mainly in supporting roles but his charisma and superb acting gifts eclipsed most of the stars he worked with.

Although he began his motion picture career in Germany in the teens under the guidance of celebrated director Richard Oswald, it was his terrifying performance as the monstrous somnambulist Cesare in Robert Wiene's masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), widely distributed throughout the world, that made his name a household word. Still in circulation today, this father of all horror films retains the power to frighten audiences, and Veidt's uncanny characterization, aided by brilliant makeup, leaves an indelible impression on all who see it.

Veidt left Germany in 1933 because he refused to work under Nazi rule. He settled in England, where he enjoyed a large following, and there contributed excellent star performances in a number of worthy films.

An offer from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to support Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor in the memorable 1940 adaptation of Ethel Vance's popular novel Escape brought him to Hollywood for a second time. An earlier visit to this country in the late twenties had not been too successful. The few silent films Veidt made here, with the exception of Paul Leni's elaborate and intriguing The Man Who Laughs (notable for another grotesque makeup job on Conrad's features), did not take full advantage of his talents. But in Escape, as a Nazi general, he and Nazimova, as a former concentration camp prisoner, stole the film from the stars. For the next few years left to him, Veidt continued to shine in wartime melodramas.

Conrad Veidt with Norma Shearer in Escape (1940, MGM)

Today, there is the Conrad Veidt Society, an international fan club, and the artistry of Conrad Veidt is being appreciated by a whole new generation of cinema-goers. Various European archives continue to find and restore long unseen Veidt classics, and have put them back in circulation. One of the most prestigious, and a milestone in Conrad's career, is Joe May's spectacular production Das Indische Grabmal (1922), and we are indebted to Munich's Film Museum for preserving this legendary motion picture. Veidt as a villainous yet tragic Rajah, driven to madness by an unfaithful wife (Erna Morena), contributed a fascinating portrayal. He was ably abetted by the beautiful Hungarian-born actress Lya de Putti; still relatively new to films but on the threshold of international stardom, as an exotic and subtly erotic dancing girl. These two accomplished artists make The Indian Tomb a joy to watch.

Conrad Veidt and Lya de Putti in The Indian Tomb (1921)


Click here for more pictures from The Indian Tomb.

The Great Conny

The Times. Magazine Archives. The Films. The Society. Home. The Life. Nocturne. The Store. Video Clips. Images.