“It is precisely as though I were possessed by some other spirit when I enter on a new task of acting, as though something within me presses a switch and my own consciousness merges into some other, greater, more vital being.”
These words were spoken by a wonderful man, and it blows my mind that today his name is not as well-known as it should be. Conrad Veidt.
Sure, a film buff may recognize the name. But anyone else would be more likely to recognize ‘John Wayne’ than ‘Conrad Veidt’. Born in 1893, the same year of the infamous Chicago World’s Fair, he served briefly in the German army during WWI, but would eventually be discharged due to ill health. Afterwards, his acting career truly began…which is all well and good. Theatre is absolutely marvelous, and Conrad Veidt had the honor of working with Max Reinhardt himself prior to his military service. One can only imagine how brilliantly he must have shined onstage.
In 1920, Mr. Veidt played one of the darkest characters in cinema history. I really mean that, because he was all in black and a dominating character in the most influential expressionist film of the silent era, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. I don’t believe anyone else would have brought justice to the role of Cesare, not like Conrad. Seriously. Just look at him!
He was also in ‘Waxworks’, and ‘The Hands of Orlac’, proving further with each role that Conrad was a character actor, and a powerful one at that.
Skipping forward a bit, Conrad left Germany for England when the Nazi party began to take control in Germany. Eventually he was off to Hollywood. And lots of Nazi roles. But there’s one more movie I’d like to talk about, I also believe it was one of his greatest roles: ‘The Man Who Laughs’. A melodrama, a romance, and…perhaps a horror movie? A young boy is kidnapped, sold to gypsies, his face is mutilated to give him a permanent grin, he grows up to be a circus act, and then is practically drug kicking and screaming to take his proper place in ‘society’ when his identity is discovered. The horror wasn’t in the face of the man, but those he faced…
For those of you who love film, for those of you who love horror, and for those of you who love acting…do not pass up the chance to see the movies I mentioned, and anything else with Conrad Veidt in even a minor role (-cough- Casablanca -cough-), for he is one of the most powerful onscreen presences I have ever seen.