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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 8 ‘You call us brothers.’ Europe, the USA and International Relations, 1941–1942


CHAPTER 8‘You call us brothers.’Europe, the USA and International Relations,1941–1942

Finne finally managed to get back from Norway to rejoin Walbrook in London in the spring of 1940, not long before Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark on 9 April. While the latter country surrendered within hours, the battle for Norway continued for two months as British forces attempted to counterattack. On 17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day – Walbrook and Finne listened at home to a shortwave radio broadcast from Tromsø as the poet Nordahl Grieg read:

Today the flag pole stands naked

among Eidsvoll’s greening trees

But precisely at this hour

we know what freedom is.1

Finne signed up to serve with the Norwegian forces in exile and was accepted for duty by Admiral Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, who found him a role as interpreter for the Royal Norwegian Air Service. By the end of May, the Allies were withdrawing from Norway, at the same time as Nazi forces advanced across Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. ←173 | 174→Paris fell in June and by July the Germans were occupying the Channel Islands, just a few miles from the beaches of south England. According to Finne’s biographer, Walbrook was deeply worried (as of course were many others) about the possibility that Britain would soon be invaded, for he knew what his fate would be if the Nazis got hold of him.2

Although the grim realities...

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