Erich von Stroheim

Foto: Jack Freulich (1878-1936)

1885 - 1957

The actor and director Erich von Stroheim had early a gripping fascination for the audience. His austere, aristocratic appearance and his parts as villains made him a very popular actor who soon was described as "the man you love to hate".

Erich von Stroheim harbored the picture of an imperious officer by adding "von" to his name and by spreading rumours that he comes froma Prussian nobility and had had a career as a military officer behind him.
In reality Erich von Stroheim only served for a short time in the military, beside it he worked in the straw hat factory of his father before he emigratet to the USA.

There began his great rise in the film industry when he started with small roles in 1914 and worked as a director assistant in addition to it.
In those years he worked among others with D.W. Griffith in whose movies "The Birth of a Nation" (15) and "Intolerance" (16) he had brief appearances.

His great time came when America entered World War I and when there came many movies into being which dealt which this topis. A German looking scoundrel was demanded and Erich von Stroheim came up to this request.
To his well-known movies of those years belong "Panthea" (17), "Sylvia of the Secret Service" (17), "Hearts of the World" (18), "The Hun Within" (18) and "The Heart of Humanity" (18) - in which he throw a baby out the window in a very dramatic scene.

From 1919 Erich von Stroheim also began to direct movies. His first film as a director was "Blind Husbands" (19), in which he also appeared as an actor. It followed other melodramatic movies like "The Devil's Passkey" (20) and "Foolish Wives" (22) - in which he again played a role.

Stroheim's movies distinguished by accurate characterization and his being in love for details which had effects on the quality of costumes, makeup and others. The result was that his movies swallowed up a lot of money and a conflict with Universal was only a question of time.
There exists a wonderful anecdote concerning von Stroheim's perfectionism when he ordered with original design embroidered underwear for his soldiers so that they could put themselves in the figures place.
For the movie "Foolish Wives" for example, the costs were so enormous that Universal used this circumstance for publicity. At the end Universal was forced to shorten the movie by a third because of the figure of the count and the interpretation of an American married couple. Although the movie was a box-office hit it hardly covered the huge costs. Irving Thalberg, head of Universal, was sick and tired of those excesses by Stroheim's next movie "Merry-Go Round" (23) and let complete the movie by Rupert Julian.

Erich von Stroheim changed to MetroGoldwyn, where he realised his masterpiece for the screen. "Greed" (25) - where he also appeared as an extra - became a classic and still today it counts to the greatest works of film history.
Here was Erich von Stroheim's perfectionism visible too. The original movie had a length of seven hours and crossed the budget plainly, but even von Stroheim was aware that the company wasn't able to show such an extensive movie. He shortened the movie to four hours, after that the director Rex Ingram shortened it another hour, finally MetroGoldwyn lend a hand to the picture and reduced it to a overall length of around 100 minutes.

Erich von Stroheim got a direction order from the new created MGM for the movie "The Merry Widow" (25). But he overruled the libretto of Franz Lehar and stuffed the movie with debauchery and perversity. It was his farewell song from MGM. The film itself was very popular by the audience and belonged to the five most successful productions of that year.

It lasted three years till Erich von Stroheim could appeare again on the screen. His first two movies at the end of the 20's presented him as an actor and director at the same time. "The Wedding March" (28) became again too long and the American audience could only see the first half of the story. The second half was called "The Honeymoon" (28) and was only presented in Europe. 
After that Erich von Stroheim shot his last silent movie as a director with the title "Queen Kelly" (29) with the actress Schauspielerin Gloria Swanson in the leading role. The movie became a disaster. Swanson let von Stroheim fire after the half production time, the movie itself was finished within shortest time. The end product was a failure which soon disappeared in the archives.
Erich von Stroheims last movie as a director was "Hello, Sister" (33), which wasn't a big success. The movie war originally shot with the title "Walking Down Broadway" (32) but the movie was completely unsuitable in the studio's opinion and stew it away for one year. Finally the movie was completely reorganized and released as "Hello, Sister".

But instead as a director you could see him as a great character actor on the screen in the 30's when von Stroheim turned towards the acting again. He appeared in the movies "Three Faces East" (30), "Friends and Lovers" (31), "The Lost Squadron" (32), "Crimson Romance" (34) and "The Crime of Dr. Crespi" (35) bevore he returned to Europe. There he took part in the movies "L'alibi" (37), "Les pirates de rail" (37) and especially in Jean Renoir's classic "La grand illusion" (37).

With the growing threat of the National Socialists he went to America again and impersonated support roles in "I Was an Adventuress" (30), "So Ends Our Night" (41), "Five Graves to Cairo" (43), "Storm Over Lisbon" (44), "Scotland Yard Investigator" (45) and "The Mask of Dijon" (46).

With the end of the war he returned to Europe for good and appeared in many French productions like "La foire aux chimères" (46), "On ne meurt pas comme ça" (46), "Le signal rouge" (48), "Portrait d'un assassin" (49), "L'envers du paradis" (53) and "Napoléon" (55).
He only came back to the USA for the movie "Sunset Blvd." (50) at Gloria Swanson's side. For this role he was nominated for an Oscar.

Just before his dead he was admitted to the Legion of Honour in France.

Other movies with Erich von Stroheim as an actor: 
The Country Boy (15) Captain Macklin (15) Old Heidelberg (15) Ghosts (15) His Picture in the Papers (16) The Flying Torpedo (16) Macbeth (16) The Social Secretary (16) In Again, Out Again (17) For France (17) Draft 258 (17) Reaching for the Moon (17) Who Goes There? (17) The Unbeliever (18) Souls for Sale (23) The Great Gabbo (29) As You Desire Me (32) Fugitive Road (34) Under Secret Orders (37) Marthe Richard (37) L'affaire Lafarge (37) Ultimatum (38) Les disparus du Saint-Agil (38) Gibraltar (38) Derrière la façade (39) Rappel immédiat (39) Pièges (39) Le monde tremblera (39) Menaces (40) Tempête (40) Macao, l'enfer du jeu (42) The North Star (43) The Lady and the Monster (44) The Great Flamarion (45) Danse de mort (46) La prigioniera dell'isola (47) Alraune (52) Minuit…Quai de Bercy (53) Alerte au sud (53) Série noire (55) La madone des sleepings (55) 

Blind Husbands (19) The Devil's Passkey (20) Foolish Wives (22) Greed (25) The Merry Widow (25) The Wedding March (28) The Honeymoon (28) Queen Kelly (29) Hello, Sister (3) The Devil-Doll (36) Between Two Women (37) Gibraltar (38) Danse de mort (46) 

Blind Husbands (19) The Merry Widow (25) Queen Kelly (29)