Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Grinning Max Schreck

He was the evil. Half beast, half human. Rodent-like fangs and ears like those of a bat. Long claws, a beaklike nose, and hollowed-out eyes. Wearing a long black coat and tight pants that give the impression of skeletal limbs tightly wrapped in funereal clothes. He was Max Schreck.
That’s the way everyone mystifies the performance of Schreck, the incredible Nosferatu of F. W. Murnau’s adaptation of Dracula story, made in 1922. Even Shadow of the Vampire (2000) fictionally suggests that Max was in reality a vampire, a creature of darkness. Like Maria Falconetti in The Passions of Joan of Arc who never appeared in another film and became the true martyr of the screen, the same thing has been heard about Schreck. But the truth is he was a professional actor and had a long career with 38 films, four of them before Nosferatu, and in demand till his sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 57.

Of course Schreck wasn’t his real name, because in German it simply means ‘terror.’ He was a member of Max Reinhardt's progressive theater and later married to popular actress Fanny Norman and enjoyed a lengthy stage career before entering films in 1921. It was Reinhardt who introduced Schreck to Murnau. Murnau saw talent in Schreck and hired him to play Orlok in Nosferatu. Murnau’s film was an unauthorized adaptation, and changing the name of its principal character - Count Dracula to Orlok - was a solution for protecting the production company from being sued by Bram Stoker’s widow.

As far as I know, beside Nosferatu, the only commercially available of his films is Finances of the Grand Duke (1924), again under the direction of Murnau, and this long prologue was an excuse to see a shot of a non-Nosferatu Max Scheck in this minor Murnau film:

Finances of the Grand Duke (1924): Max Scheck in the middle

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