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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 11 ‘We’re in the past. I adore the past.’ Circles and Roundabouts, 1950–1951


CHAPTER 11‘We’re in the past. I adore the past.’Circles and Roundabouts, 1950–1951*

I never knew the old Vienna before the war with its Strauss music, its glamour and its easy charm … Constantinople suited me better. I really got to know it in the classic period of the black market. We’d run anything if people wanted it enough, had the money to pay. Now the city, it’s divided into four zones, you know, each occupied by a power, the American, the British, the Russian and the French. But the centre of the city, that’s international, policed by an international patrol, one member of each of the four powers. Wonderful. What a hope they had, all strangers to the place, and none of them could speak the same language, except a sort of smattering of German … Vienna doesn’t really look any worse than a lot of other European cities, bombed about a bit.

Carol Reed’s voice-over at the beginning of The Third Man (1949) describes the chasm that separated the old Vienna of Maskerade and Walzerkrieg from the dark ruins and corruption of the postwar divided city. When Reed was shooting the film in December 1948 – over three years after the war had ended – much of the city still lay in rubble and burnt-out tanks stood at the side of the road. Black market profiteering was rife, and postwar Europe offered ample opportunities for the likes of Harry Lime, but in time other businesses and industries...

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