The Conrad Veidt Society

 He was the most riveting screen actor of his generation: tall, militarily erect, with a classic profile, a cruelly voluptuous mouth, eyes that could charm, seduce or terrify with a mere glance. His colleagues were always somewhat in awe of him. His intensity in performance often proved contagious. Joan Crawford, who co-starred in two Hollywood films with him remembered, "Mr. Veidt's acting helped greatly to inspire me. I had never seen an actor with such concentration and purpose in his acting." George Cukor, who directed the better one of those two films, A Woman's Face (1941), recalled, "He always looked like the wickedest man in the world, you know, but off-screen he was really very gay and funny. He did everything with great gusto."

 And Robert Morley, who was once a dialogue director on one of Veidt's British films, said that "(he) was a master at delivering lines and had been delivering them in the same way for years. He always spoke rather fast and softly when everyone else spoke loudly. On the screen this seemed most effective." The description hardly does its subject justice, for Veidt's expertly stage-trained voice possessed an hypnotically insinuating quality that was just as effective as his commanding physical presence. Just listen to him in The Thief of Bagdad as he purrs his curse that turns Sabu into a dog and blinds Ahmed (John Justin)("...and you will walk in the country of the blind until I hold her in my arms!"), or when he attempts to seduce the Princess (June Duprez) with his supernatural powers and then hesitates (", I have powers that would force you to my will, but I want more than their magic can bring..."), conjuring a storm at sea ("Lift yourselves, Winds of Heaven!"), or at his most insidious, coolly predicting the Sultan's fate ("Her embrace will thrill you, as no other woman has, or...ever...will...").

  Conrad Veidt, born one hundred years ago this January 22*, was a Berliner where he became an actor as a teenager studying under the great Max Reinhardt, and entered the movies in 1917 after being invalided out of the army. He created a sensation with his portrayal of the sinister somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, and remained a star ever since, being often in demand for roles calling for either a wildly poetic intensity or a demonic power. After a brief sojourn in Hollywood in the late twenties (catch his scene-stealing performance in The Beloved Rogue opposite John Barrymore), Veidt returned to Germany after the coming of sound, only to leave again with the advent of the Third Reich (his wife, Lily, was Jewish, and he detested the Nazis, scrawling "JUDE" on the race questionnaire every film artist was obliged to sign).

  Veidt spent most of the rest of the 1930s in the British cinema and eventually became a naturalized citizen. In retrospect, it's intriguing how fond British audiences were of him since he often played suavely monocled German officers and spies (most effectively in Michael Powell's The Spy in Black in 1939). The British fan magazines doted on him, and he even wrote for them on occasion, expressing among other things, a long-nurtured ambition to play Sigmund Freud, a project no British studio was prepared to risk.

  Of course, it's his Hollywood career for which he is best remembered in this country, and particularly the two Warner Brothers outings in which he contended most effectively with Humphrey Bogart (All Through The Night and the classic Casablanca). The famous auction scene in the former also provided a chance for Veidt to indulge his skill at slipping in delightful flashes of comedy in an otherwise straight melodrama. he gets an even better opportunity to do this in his last film, Above Suspicion (1943), in which for once, he gets to play a good guy, constantly showing up in the nick of time to help would-be spy Joan Crawford out of her latest jam.

A great many of Veidt's films are available on video, including laser discs of Caligari, The Beloved Rogue, The Spy in Black, and, of course, Casablanca. Many of the British and German films are available from small companies such as Sinister Cinema (The Passing of the Third Floor Back and F.P.1 Does Not Reply), Nostalgia Home Video (The Last Performance), LS Video (The Hands of Orlac and the very rare 1926 version of the supernatural classic, The Student of Prague), Henwood (I Was A Spy and Contraband), and others too numerous to mention. There are also at least two biographies in the works, and a third by J.C. Allen currently published by Boxwood Press, as well as a fan club, the Conrad Veidt Society.

Randolph Man teaches film at the College of Santa Fe's Garson Communications Center.

*This article appeared in THE Magazine, January/February 1993 issue.

Photo by Edward Steichen, 1929

"Are you a Magician...?"

"I have some skill."

Women Fight...For Conrad Veidt!

by Randolph Man

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