This is a re-style of an earlier post (hence the 45 already extant comments). It’s being re-issued and extended as the first of an occasional series I’ll be doing about the people in Basil’s life who weren’t family, lovers or wives. People he worked with, people he loved or was close to or who impacted his existence in some kind of meaningful way, good or bad. I’m doing this partly because it helps to throw light upon Ratbone to know how he interacted with those around him. Partly because as a lifelong movie buff I”m keen to include as many aspects of Vintage Hollywood as I an in this blog.
Why I’m starting with Conrad Veidt I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because I am slightly haunted by him, or because he happens to be in some of the great old films I most enjoy.
But for whatever reason, we are starting with Conrad Veidt. “Connie” as his friends called him.
The Soundbite Life Story
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1893 to a fairly wealthy middle class family, Veidt became an actor after being invalided out of the army following the Battle of Warsaw in 1916. He joined a theatre company in order to entertain the troops, and found his calling. After appearing in the amazing and seminal silent film THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, in 1920, he became a major star in Europe. He followed this with equally notable THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924), THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (1926), and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). He was – according to IMDB – first choice to play Dracula in the 1931 Universal classic, but – as we all know if we haven’t been living in a cave on Mars with our fingers in our ears – the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi eventually secured the role.
Veidt was a passionate anti-Nazi and he and his Jewish wife fled Germany after the 1933 coup that put Hitler in power. They initially settled in the UK and (according to IMDB) even took British citizenship. While there Connie made several films with the great Powell and Pressburger team, notably THE SPY IN BLACK (1939).
In 1941 he moved out to Hollywood. He only made a few films there, most of them fairly unremarkable, but the fact that one of them was CASABLANCA (1942) has secured his position in the Pantheon of the Hollywood Golden Age. He died of a heart attack, tragically early, aged just 50, in 1943.
The Baz Connection
Connie’s last film was ABOVE SUSPICION, which also featured Rathbone himself. This was the only time I am aware of that they worked together, but according to Veidt’s biography the men were friends…
“One of Conrad’s best friends in Hollywood in the early 1940s was the noted actor Basil Rathbone. Conrad and Basil had met in England a few years earlier and when Conrad came to Hollywood in 1940, they renewed their friendship. Conrad and Basil would often get together on weekends and try their hands at writing short stories and novels. They (and their wives) would take turns visiting each other’s homes. Conrad and Basil would then sit down in the den, with a tall, cold drink for each, and wrestle verbally with different story plots and ideas. Conrad often jokingly began his novels with the standard introductory sentence made famous by the British novelist, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his Gothic novels: “It was a dark and stormy night”. […] Since Conrad and Basil both excelled in villainous cinema roles, they tried jokingly to outdo each other in writing the most vile and unsavory characters they could imagine into the stories they authored.”
—JC ALLEN: CONRAD VEIDT: FROM CALIGARI TO CASABLANCA 1992
I wish we knew more about this apparently close and valuable friendship. I wonder if Ouida approved of CV or if he was one of the “undesirable chums.” If anyone has any additional information about the Veidt/Rathbone connection then do please contact me.
Here I’ll try and offer you examples of Veidt’s best movie work, but even though ABOVE SUSPICION can’t by any stretch be called that, we’ll start with it. Can’t find a complete version, but here is a collection of Veidt’s scenes. Look out for Basil’s fantastic German accent and also for Fred MacMurray’s fake moustache (which should probably have had its own cast credit as it easily acts ol’ Fred off the screen)…
And from the slightly ridiculous to the fairly sublime, THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1920)…
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928)…
And here is a film of Connie’s I absolutely love, for all kinds of hard-to-define reasons — THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK (1935). Just watch it and love its curious beauty…
DARK JOURNEY (1937) with Vivien Leigh…