The Conrad Veidt Society

  He also offered to help Felicitas' mother, Frau Radke, of whom he was very fond, assistance in leaving Germany.  However, Frau Radke declined.  A proud, strong-willed woman, who was attached to her home country, she declared that "no damned little Austrian Nazi corporal" was going to make her leave her home!  She reportedly survived the war, but none of the Veidts ever saw her again.

   Once Conrad and Lily had taken up residence in England, Conrad began immediately receiving film offers and embarked on a productive period for the next seven years until he left for America.  He also later became a British citizen and remained extremely loyal and supportive of England, contributing heavily to their war effort out of his own pocket.

  And even after he left England on business in mid 1940, concerned over the plight of children cooped up in London air raid shelters during the blitz, he decided to try cheer up their holiday. Through his attorneys in London, Veidt donated enough money to purchase 2,000 one-pound tins of candy, 2,000 large packets of chocolate and 1,000 wrapped envelopes containing presents of British currency.  The gifts went to children of needy families in various air raid shelters in the London area during Christmas 1940.

  The air raid shelter marshal wrote back to the Veidts thanking them for the gifts.  Noting Conrad's unusual kindness, he stated in his letter to them, "It is significant to note that as far as is known to me, you are the only member of the Theatrical Profession who had the thought to send Christmas presents to the London children."

  After getting settled in his new home in England, a pleasant brick house in the London suburb of Hampstead, Conrad promptly went to work in ROME EXPRESS (1933) for Gaumont-British Studios.  ROME EXPRESS was the first film made at the newly renovated Shepard's Bush studios.  It was a well-made, tightly plotted film which became the forerunner of such train mysteries as THE LADY VANISHES (1935) and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974).  ROME EXPRESS co-starred Veidt with Cedric Hardwicke, Donald Calthrop, Gordon Harker and Esther Ralston.

  ROME EXPRESS was followed by the classic THE WANDERING JEW (1933), and I WAS A SPY (1933).

  In late 1933 and early 1934, Veidt participated in the production of his last German film, WILLIAM TELL (1934).  Considerable location photography was necessary in Germany and during this production, Veidt was contacted by British-Gaumont about appearing in JEW SUSS, a film based on the powerful and controversial book of the same name about the 18th century persecution of jews in Germany.

  The prospect of Veidt's appearance in JEW SUSS considerably upset Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and a concerted effort was made throughout the location filming for WILLIAM TELL to convince Veidt to decline to appear in JEW SUSS.

  Veidt firmly insisted he would accept the role and, finally, on the last day of filming on WILLIAM TELL, after the last takes, security police took Veidt into custody and brought him to a nearby town, where he was placed in a rundown little hotel as a "guest of the state."  It was no more than house arrest.

  The hotel room was small, depressing and had bars on the windows, and Conrad was not allowed to make telephone calls or write letters.  The one exception was an odd letter he was allowed to write to Gaumont-British which immediately alerted them that something was wrong.

  The letter was in Veidt's handwriting but the words were not his.  From it's uncharacteristic stiffness and formality, it was obvious to his wife and associates that the letter had been dictated to Veidt.  Enclosed with the letter was a certificate from a German doctor stating that "Herr Veidt was too ill to work or to travel and that his return to England would be delayed indefinitely."

  What followed was weeks of daily harassment by the Nazis in attempt to dissuade Conrad from appearing in JEW SUSS and concerted diplomatic attempts by the British to secure his release.  In response to their queries, the British authorities were merely told over the phone by German bureaucrats that Veidt was ill and could not travel.

  Each day, the routine Conrad went through was like something out his later films in Hollywood.  He would be brought into a large, ornate office with the gauleiter (Nazi district leader) seated behind a large desk. On the walls were swastika banners and a conspicuous portrait of Adolf Hitler.

  The gauleiter would raise his hand in the standard Nazi salute and shout "Heil Hitler!"  Veidt would only answer quietly "Guten Morgan" (Good Morning) without returning the salute and then there would follow brief, superficial small talk.  Afterward, the gauleiter would then ask Veidt if he had changed his mind about appearing in the objectionable production of JEW SUSS and Veidt would calmly and firmly reply that he hadn't.

  The gauleiter would then almost throw a fit and scream for the guards to take Veidt away.  The performance would be repeated at any time of the day and night, particularly when Veidt was trying to sleep.

  To his credit, Conrad displayed the physical and moral strength to resist the Nazi threats and harassment throughout his ordeal.

  Finally, the British succeeded in getting permission to send a doctor to examine Veidt in his hotel room.  When the doctor informed the British authorities that there was nothing physically wrong with the actor, the Nazi scheme collapsed.  Under extreme diplomatic pressure, the oddly publicity-conscious Nazis released Veidt, who immediately left for England, never to return to Germany.

  Veidt later made JEW SUSS, which was released and exhibited on schedule despite vehement diplomatic protests of the Germans, who were afraid that the film would draw too much attention to their current persecution of jews.  One of the costliest films produced in England up to that time, JEW SUSS was a resounding critical and financial success.

  Following JEW SUSS, Conrad appeared in the uneven BELLA DONNA (1934), along with Cedric Hardwicke, Mary Ellis, John Stuart and Jeanne Stuart.  The story concerned the romantic triangle between a beautiful woman (Mary Ellis), her husband (Hardwicke) and a mysterious, handsome Egyptian (Veidt).  The wife plots to poison her husband so she can enjoy her Egyptian lover.  Based on the well-known book of the same name, the film suffered from a weak screenplay but was rescued considered by strong performances by Hardwick and Veidt.

  THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK (1935), made the next year, offered Veidt what he later told his friends and associates was his most difficult and challenging role.

  One of Veidt's own personal favorites, THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK was a fantasy set in a boarding house in London.  The residents there are having their problems with the cold-hearted landlord (Frank Cellier).  And then, almost supernaturally, a saintly, Christ-like stranger comes upon the scene and helps the residents solve their problems and find peace.  The film was an extremely well-done representation of a struggle between good and evil.

  The film was so well done and Veidt's acting so effective that he got what he later described as the "greatest fan mail I have ever received."  The mail was not just great in volume but great in its fervent response to Veidt's acting and the film's message.

  "You have made life worthwhile for me again!" one letter declared.  Another letter stated, "Thank you for your marvelous performance, Mr. Veidt.  You have renewed my faith."  Conrad later said that he had never received mail which moved him so much emotionally.

  Critics were enthusiastic, too.  One reviewer wrote "Veidt absolutely radiates spirituality in this film!"  Another wrote, "There is a beauty and simplicity in the story that seems out of place among the synthetic glamour  of the usual run of cinematic fare."

  THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK also rang a bell with the clergy of the time.  In an unusual gesture, the Church of England wrote letters to the newspapers praising the film and urging people to see it.

  Over the next several years, Conrad would make a series of fine films, both British and French:  KING OF THE DAMNED (1936), UNDER THE RED ROBE (1937), DARK JOURNEY (1937), STORM OVER ASIA (1938) (French), LE JOUEUR D'ECHECS (The Chess Player) (1938) (French) and THE SPY IN BLACK (1939).

  In mid 1939 Veidt started work in England on what is one of his most famous and best films, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).  Produced by the Korda brothers, the film was one of the most lavish Arabian Nights films ever made.   The Kordas were determined to make no compromises in production values and insisted on only the best sets and location sites.  Korda even planned to do exterior photography in Africa, but it had to be canceled due to the outbreak of the war.  Korda then chose the American Southwest, which provided some majestic scenery for the film.

  For the lead, they cast then little-known Sabu in the role of the Thief and as one of the greatest villains in the annuals of film, the evil Vizier, Jaffar, they cast Conrad Veidt.  June Duprez and John Justin were cast as the romantic interests of the film and the main cast was completed nicely with Rex Ingram as the fearsome Djinn of the bottle, and likable and talented Miles Malleson as the bumbling Caliph.  Malleson also wrote the screenplay for THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and turned up repeatedly for years to come in British films, eventually in the 1950s and 60s gracing some of Hammer's finest productions in unforgettable character roles.

  After his work was over for THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, Conrad formed his own film production company with Emeric Pressburger and director Michael Powell, in association with Anglo-American Films, Inc.  Their first production was CONTRABAND (1940), an exciting espionage thriller.  It featured Valerie Hobson as the romantic interest and the excellent supporting cast of Esmond Knight, Hay Petrie and Raymond Lovell.

  CONTRABAND was also the first British film to be completed after the outbreak of the war.  It had actual footage of London under blackout conditions and depicted the little-heralded heroism of the British people during dark and trying days.

  Yet another first in the film, as Conrad discovered when he was loaned a copy of the script, was the fact that, at the end of the film, Conrad's character would actually not perish and would get the girl!  This pleased the actor to no end, as he was used to getting parts in which his character usually perished horribly and never got the girl.

Conrad Veidt:
The Cinema's Master
of the Shadows


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