Nationality: Austrian. Born: Vienna, Austria, 12 August 1898 (some sources give 1901 and 1903). Education: Attended the Royal Dramatic Academy, Vienna. Military Service: Served in the Austrian Army during World War I. Family: Married 1) the actress Grete Mosheim (divorced); 2) the actress Vally Hatvany, 1937 (died 1938); 3) Florence Meyer (divorced), sons: Vincent, Laurence; 4) the actress Joan Tetzel, 1949 (died 1977). Career: On stage in Edward II (also co-director with Brecht) in Munich, then member for ten years of Max Reinhardt's troupe in Berlin; 1926—film debut in Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines ; 1932—directed stage play Pygmalion ; 1933—left Germany with rise of the Nazis, and worked in the United Kingdom; 1935—West End debut in Close Quarters ; 1936–66—lived and worked in the United States; 1940—Broadway debut in Grey Farm ; later acted on stage in I Remember Mama , 1944 and in film version, 1948, and Rashomon , 1959; lived in England after 1966. Died: In Sussex, England, 27 January 1978.
Films as Actor:
Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines ( K13 513 ) (Viertel); Brennende Grenze (Waschneck); Das Mädchen ohne Heimat ( Vom Freudenhaus in die Ehe ; Aftermath ) (David)
Dirnentragödie ( Women without Men ; The Tragedy of the Street ) (Rahn); Fürst oder Clown (Rasumny); Die heilige Lüge (Holger-Madsen); Der Kampf des Donald Westhof (Wendhausen); Die Leibeigenen (Eichberg); Petronella (Schwartz); Regine, die Tragödie einer Frau (Waschneck); Schinderhannes ( The Prince of Rogues ) (Bernhardt)
Die Rothausgasse (Oswald)
Masken (Meinert); Revolte im Erziehungshaus (Asagaroff)
Hokuspokus ( Der Prozess der Kitty Kellermann ; Hocuspocus ) (Ucicky); Dreyfus ( The Dreyfus Case ) (Oswald) (as Esterhazy)
1914, die letzten Tage vor dem Weltbrand (Oswald); Der Wege nach Rio (Oswald); Zwischen Nacht und Morgen ( Dirnentragödie ) (Lamprecht); Im Geheimdienst ( In the Employ of the Secret Service ) (Ucicky); Nachtkolonne (Bauer); Die Nächte von Port Said (Mittler)
Spione am Werk ( Spies at Work ) (Lamprecht)
Moral und Liebe (Jacoby); Unsichtbare Gegner (Katscher)
Rhodes ( Rhodes of Africa ) (Viertel) (as Paul Kruger); Sabotage ( The Woman Alone ) (Hitchcock) (as Carl Verloc); Everything Is Thunder (Rosmer)
Ebb Tide (Hogan)
Seven Sinners (Garnett); Comrade X (King Vidor)
The Invisible Woman (Sutherland); Rage in Heaven (Van Dyke); Ball of Fire (Hawks) (as Prof. Gurkakoff)
Mission to Moscow (Sutherland) (as Litvinoff); Hostages (Tuttle)
The Shop at Sly Corner ( The Code of Scotland Yard ) (King)
I Remember Mama (Stevens) (as Uncle Chris)
Anna Lucasta (Rapper)
The White Tower (Tetzlaff)
Der schweigende Mund (Hartl)
Top Secret ( Mr. Potts Goes to Moscow ) (Zampi)
The House of the Arrow (Anderson)
Prisoner of War (Marton)
The Seven Year Itch (Wilder)
War and Peace (King Vidor) (as Gen. Kutuzov)
A Farewell to Arms (Charles Vidor)
The Key (Reed) (as Van Dam)
La tempestà ( The Tempest ) (Lattuada) (as Savelic)
Mr. Sardonicus (Castle) (as Krull)
Boys' Night Out (Gordon) (as Dr. Prokosch); The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (Levin) (as the Duke); The Mooncussers (Neilson—for TV)
The Long Ships (Cardiff) (as Krok); Ambassador at Large (Schaffner—for TV)
Joy in the Morning (Segal) (as Stan Pulaski)
Funeral in Berlin (Hamilton) (as Col. Stok)
The Happening (Silverstein) (as Sam); Billion Dollar Brain (Russell) (as Col. Stok)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jarrott—for TV)
Assignment to Kill (Reynolds) (as Inspector Ruff); The Madwoman of Chaillot (Forbes) (as The Commissar)
Song of Norway (Stone) (as Engstrand); The Executioner (Wanamaker) (as Racovsky)
The Tamarind Seed (Edwards) (as Gen. Golitsyn)
One of Our Own (Sarafian—for TV)
On HOMOLKA: article—
Profile, in The New Yorker , 2 December 1944.
Information (Wiesbaden), July 1976.
Passek, Jean-Loup, "Oscar Homolka," in Cinéma (Paris), April 1978.
"Oscar Homolka," in Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1982.
* * *
Arriving in Germany from Vienna in 1918, Oscar Homolka soon achieved success on the stage, where for ten years he was a leading man in Max Reinhardt's famous theatrical troupe. In 1926 Homolka began his long film career, one that became international when, in 1933, Hitler assumed power. Homolka fled to Paris, then London where his career soon resumed on the stage and in film.
Soon thereafter he was invited to the United States where he spent most of the next 14 years as a character actor, generally playing a cruel or bumbling European whose thick accent and thicker eyebrows were the key defining attributes. Predictably, Hollywood loved him most as the blustering Uncle Chris in I Remember Mama. In a 1944 New Yorker profile Homolka is quoted thus, "In Europe I played Othello, but in American pictures. . . . I am just the mean fellow who leers at the little heroine and dies hideously in the end." Howard Hawks, thankfully, showed us another side of Homolka when he cast him in Ball of Fire as the pipe-sucking Professor Gurkakoff, one of eight hermetic encyclopedia writers childishly lovestruck by Barbara Stanwyck's nightclub singer, Sugarpuss O'Shea.
Beginning in 1951, Homolka began working outside the United States. In the mid-1960s he settled in England where once again he specialized in playing the heavy foreign adversary. In both Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain he played the Russian intelligence officer Stok, adversary to Michael Caine's Harry Palmer. In Blake Edwards's The Tamarind Seed he was the nasty Russian General Golitsyn. His most famous Russian characterization, however, was as Tolstoy's General Kutuzov in King Vidor's version of War and Peace. His gravel-voiced Russian commandant brought him excellent notices; in retrospect, the performance seems as gratuitous in its showiness as the film itself.
Such, however, cannot be said of his best screen role, that of Verloc in Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage. Rather than cast him as a stereotypical German heavy, Hitchcock, while never excusing Verloc's guilt, perversely endowed this character with a sympathetic edge. Verloc is guilty of sabotage, but is also clearly a man trapped between loyalties. Homolka's tense and frightened performance heightens this complex conception. He literally seems to shrink with guilt over his role in the death of his young brother-in-law, Stevie. Verloc's death, visualized in Hitchcock's famous dinner-table montage, seems an act of mercy. In these last moments, Homolka effectively releases the tensions built up across the narrative and greets death with a peculiar calm.