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Anton Walbrook

A Life of Masks and Mirrors


James Downs

Viennese-born actor Adolf Wohlbrück enjoyed huge success on both stage and screen in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming one of the first truly international stars. After leaving Nazi Germany for Hollywood in 1936, he changed his name to Anton Walbrook and then settled in Britain, where he won filmgoers’ hearts with his portrayal of Prince Albert in two lavish biopics of Queen Victoria. Further film success followed with Dangerous Moonlight and Gaslight, several collaborations with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – including his striking performance as Lermontov in The Red Shoes – and later work with Max Ophuls and Otto Preminger.

Despite great popularity and a prolifi c career of some forty films, alongside theatre, radio and television work, Walbrook was an intensely private individual who kept much of his personal life hidden from view. His reticence created an aura of mystery and «otherness» about him, which coloured both his acting performances and the way he was perceived by the public – an image that was reinforced in Britain by his continental background.

Remarkably, this is the first full-length biography of Walbrook, drawing on over a decade of extensive archival research to document his life and acting career.

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Chapter 5 ‘Will take the next ship … Useless to stop us.’ Leaving Germany for Hollywood, 1935–1936


CHAPTER 5‘Will take the next ship … Useless to stop us.’Leaving Germany for Hollywood, 1935–1936*

Filming of Allotria began at the end of January 1936 and continued through February. This was Wohlbrück and Müller’s fourth film together, his sixth with Hilde Hildebrand and the third film in which the three had worked together. Each of them reprised characters similar to those that they had played in previous films – Wohlbrück the Don Juan, Müller the independent and resourceful new woman and Hildebrand the decadent vamp. The formula and types may have been unoriginal, but when it worked this well, there were few grounds for complaint.

The film opens at sea as Viola (Müller) and suave ladykiller Philip (Wohlbrück) meet onboard a cruise ship. Clever camerawork is used to give the illusion of motion – the first of a series of playful camera techniques and special effects used throughout this film, which relishes with the themes of modernity, speed and the beauty of technology.1 Philip and Viola are attracted to each other, but when he assures her of his love as they embrace in the ship’s corridor, he has a sudden vision of their married life in a series of amusing vignettes; neither of them are sure about their feelings until after they separate at the railway station. Philip decides he must go and end his relationship with his vampish girlfriend Aimée (Hildebrand), but unknown to him, Aimée is also...

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