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Obituary: Maximilian Schell

Maximilian Schell

Obituary by Jack Foley

MAXIMILIAN Schell, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, has died at the age of 83.

The Austrian actor passed away overnight (Friday, January 31 ,2014) at a clinic in the Austrian city of Innsbruck after “a sudden and serious illness”, according to his agent. Schell had been treated for pneumonia earlier this week.

Schell, who had been filming in Austria when he fell ill, was one of the most famous German-speaking actors to have gained international fame. Among his most popular roles was that of mad scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt in The Black Hole, Capt Stransky in classic war movie Cross Of Iron and Walter Harper in Topkapi.

Born in Vienna on December 8, 1930 to Swiss playwright Hermann Ferdinand Schell and Austrian stage actress Noe von Nordberg, Schell was raised in Switzerland after his family fled Germany’s occupation of his homeland.

He soon followed in his family’s footsteps (including his older brother and sister) by making his stage debut in 1952, before appeared in a number of German films and eventually making his Hollywood debut in 1958, in Edward Dmytryk’s The Young Lions, a World War II drama starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin.

In 1961, he won an Oscar for best actor for his role as the defence lawyer of a Nazi war criminal in Judgment at Nuremberg, winning widespread acclaim for his impassioned but unsuccessful defence of four Nazi judges on trial for sentencing innocent victims to death.

Over the next three decades, Schell went on to appear in numerous big US productions, ranging from the museum treasure thief in Topkapi in 1964 to the captain of a sea-faring vessel in 1969 disaster flick Krakatoa: East of Java.

Some of his more recent roles included playing the estranged father of Tea Leoni in Deep Impact and a colourful character named Diamond Dog in The Brothers Bloom.

He also worked as a producer, beginning with an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and as a director, which garnered him an Oscar nomination in the best foreign film category for First Love, an adaptation of Igor Turgenev’s novella that he also wrote and starred in.

The Pedestrian, another movie under Schell’s direction and production, received the same nomination three years later.

But perhaps his most significant film as a director was the 1984 documentary on Marlene Dietrich, entitled Marlene, which was nominated for a best documentary Oscar.

Away from the Hollywood spotlight, he also featured in a large number of international TV productions and for playing Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in the US series Stalin earned a Golden Globe in the early 1990s.

He is survived by his wife, Iva Mihanovic.