Imagination Connoisseur, Ian Samuels, writes in to Rob with a tome in praise of an early legend of the silver screen, Conrad Veidt.

Rob,

Lets go back and look at the work of a “Forgotten Master of Cinema.”

Let us remember the work of Conrad Veidt.

One of the most memorable pieces that best introduces us to his work is his performance as Cesare (pronounced Chez-ah-ray) in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. Cesare is a sleepwalker whose psychiatrist is manipulating him to murder while in his somnambulist state. The faltering steps he takes when we first see him on screen has been copied in many a monster movie since. Also we must remember that this is 1920 and still the age of silent movies. Veidt’s ability to show the emotions of the character simply through his eyes is astounding.

Also in 1920 he starred in DIE JANUSKOPF, a.k.a. THE HEAD OF JANUS, directed by F W Murnou who had already been in legal difficulties over Nosferatu as it had been an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stokers Dracula, THE HEAD OF JANUS was yet another unauthorised adaptation this time of Stephenson’s Jekyll & Hyde. Veidt played both the Jekyll and Hyde characters.

In 1924 Veidt played Paul Orlac, a concert pianist who looses his hands in a train crash seen at the beginning of the film, THE HANDS OF ORLAC. A surgeon manages to transplant replacement hands, the hands of a Murderer. Orlac believes that the Homicidal intent of the hands are still within them. The scene in which he shows this realisation we see Veidt amazingly acting with not just his hands but with his veins.

His talents were noticed by Hollywood and in 1928 he starred in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, where ha plays a character mutated in an accident with chemicals leaving him with a rictus grin. The character is believed to have inspired Batman’s nemesis Joker. In 2005 a Joker Graphic Novel was published with the title “The Man Who Laughs.”

Conrad Veidt had more reasons to leave Germany at that time as well. The Nazis had come to power and Conrad’s wife was Jewish. They moved to London. For such a talent to leave Germany was a blow for Nazi propaganda. One evening Veidt received a phone call at his London home, it was from Josef Goebbels, the Reichs Propaganda Minister. Despite a number of offers, Veidt refused to return.

Veidt died at the age of just 50 having suffering a massive heart attack while playing golf on the 3rd April 1943.

But we are left with a legacy of one the greatest actors, not just of the Silent Period but of all time.

– Ian S.

(Editor’s Note: Fans of the all-time classic, CASABLANCA, may recognize Veidt from his performance as Nazi Maj. Heinrich Strasser.)