Revisiting the legacy of Oscar-winning acting legend Maximilian Schell | Film | DW | 10.12.2019
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Film

Revisiting the legacy of Oscar-winning acting legend Maximilian Schell

A Frankfurt exhibition is dedicated to the Austrian-Swiss actor and director Maximilian Schell, who was at home around the world. Originally cast in Nazi roles, the Oscar-winning star quickly broadened his repertoire.

"Who was Maximilian Schell?" That's the question the Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum (Frankfurt Film Museum, of DFF) aims to answer through its latest exhibition. 

Three years ago, curators were able to secure the estate of the acting legend who was one of the few German-speaking actors to have succeeded in Hollywood in the 1960s. The "Maximilian Schnell" exhibition, on show from December 10 through April 19, 2020, presents a career that was broad in scope, with success both on the theater stage and in front of the cameras as an actor and behind the camera as a director.  

The Viennese-born artist was also an TV host, a translator, as well as an opera and operetta director. At the beginning of his career he was also a pianist, and later, a cautious documentary filmmaker. Schell was a virtuoso in many regards.

Film still from Judgment at Nuremburg (picture-alliance/United Archives/IFTN)

His role as a defense attorney representing a German in "Judgment at Nuremberg" garnered Schell an Oscar

A wide array of awards

The DFF exhibition naturally focuses on Schell's major achievements as a man of cinema (and television). Any up-and-coming actor would have to turn green with envy at his long list of awards. Born in Vienna and raised in Switzerland, Schell was the first German-speaking actor to receive an Oscar after the Second World War.

He received it for his performance as a sharp-edged defense attorney in the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, a film that is still exciting to watch today as it addresses questions about morality, guilt and responsibility.

During the course of his career, Schell went on to earn five more Oscar nominations, three Golden Globes and three Globe nominations. Two more Emmy nominations succeeded as encores. And that is a list of only his most notable awards from the US, not to mention the host of other European prizes he received.

Schell's country home in Austria (DFF/Foto: Hans-Peter Reichmann)

The items of Schell's estate were housed in his country home in Austria

A cosmopolitan continually drawn to Austria

But the talented artist was far too clever and contemplative to be content with settling in Hollywood permanently. Although he owned a villa in Beverly Hills, his family's old hunting lodge in Austria's Carinthia province was his spiritual home, to which he was drawn again and again from an early age. European cinema, including German cinema, Shakespeare theater in England, the Jedermann performance at the Salzburg Festival — these formed his intellectual cornerstones.

Shortly before Schell's death at the beginning of 2014, German weekly magazine Der Spiegel asked the acting legend if he had met any real geniuses during his 60-year career in the industry.

His answer perhaps best reflects his own artistic soul. Yes, he actually had met three geniuses, Schell said at the time: Austrian stage and film actor Oscar Werner; director Jules Dassin, who was expelled from the United States during the McCarthy period and continued his career in exile in Europe; and Orson Welles, who was also expelled by Hollywood and moved to Europe to devote himself to the works of Shakespeare, Franz Kafka and Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen.

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