Nationality: Swiss. Born: Vienna, Austria, 8 December 1930; brother of the actress Maria Schell; became Swiss citizen. Education: Attended the universities of Zurich and Munich. Military Service: Swiss Army. Family: Married Natalya Andreichenko, 1985, one child. Career: Following military service, actor in London, Germany, and Switzerland; 1955—film debut in Kinder , Mütter , und ein General ; 1958—English-language role in The Young Lions brought international attention; stage debut in New York in Interlock ; 1959—in Hamlet on American television; followed by other film, stage, and television roles; 1968—produced the film Das Schloss ; 1970—directed the film Erste Liebe ; also stage director; 1977—directed the
Kinder, Mütter, und ein General (Benedek); Der 20 Juli (Harnak); Reifende Jugend (Erfurth)
Ein Mädchen aus Flandern ( The Girl from Flanders ) (Kautner); Die Ehe des Dr. Med. Danwitz (Rabenalt); Ein Herz kehrt Heim (York)
Die Letzten werden die Ersten sein (Hansen); Taxichauffeur Bänz (Dueggelin) (as Toni Schellenberg)
Das Gluck auf der Alm ( Ein wunderbaren Sommer ) (Tressler); The Young Lions (Dmytryk) (as Capt. Hardenberg)
Hamlet (Wirth) (title role)
Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer) (as Hans Rolfe)
Five Finger Exercise (Delbert Mann) (as Walter); The Reluctant Saint (Dmytryk) (as Giuseppe Desa); I sequestri di Altona ( The Condemned of Altona ) (De Sica) (as Franz)
Topkapi (Dassin) (as William Walter)
Return from the Ashes (J. Lee Thompson) (as Stanislaus Pilgrim)
John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (Herschensohn—doc) (as narrator)
The Deadly Affair (Lumet) (as Dieter Foey); Más allá de las montañas ( Beyond the Mountains ; The Desperate Ones ) (Ramati) (as Marek); Counterpoint (Nelson) (as Schiller)
Heidi (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Herr Sesseman)
Krakatoa, East of Java ( Volcano ) (Kowalski) (as Captain Chris Hanson); Simon Bolivar (Blasetti); L'assoluto naturale (Bolognini)
Paulina 1880 (Bertucelli) (as Count); Pope Joan ( The Devil's Imposter ) (Anderson) (as Adrian)
The Odessa File (Neame) (as Eduard Roschmann)
The Man in the Glass Booth (Hiller) (as Arthur Goldman); The Days that Shook the World ( Atentat u Sarajevu ; Assasination at Sarajevo ; Assassination ) (Bulajic) (as Djuro Sarac)
St. Ives (J. Lee Thompson) (as Dr. John Constable)
A Bridge Too Far (Attenborough) (as Gen. Wilhelm Bittrich); Cross of Iron (Peckinpah) (as Stransky); Julia (Zinnemann) (as Johann)
Amo non Amo ( Together ; I Love You, I Love You Not ) (Balducci) (as John)
Avalanche Express (Robson) (as Bunin); The Black Hole (Nelson) (as Dr. Hans Reinhardt); Players (Harvey) (as Marco)
The Diary of Anne Frank (Sagal—for TV)
The Chosen (Kagan) (as Professor David Malter)
Phantom of the Opera (Markovic—for TV)
The Assisi Underground (Ramati) (as Col. Mueller); Morgen in Alabama ( Man under Suspicion ) (Kuckelmann) (as lawyer Landau)
The Rose Garden (Rademakers) (as Aaron Reichenbacher)
The Freshman (Andrew Bergman) (as Larry London)
Labyrinth (Jires) (as himself); Miss Rose White (Sargent—for TV) (as Mordechai); Stalin (Passer—for TV) (as Lenin)
A Far Off Place (Salomon) (as Col. Mopani Theron); Justiz ( Justice ) (Geissendörfer) (as Isaak Kohler)
Little Odessa (Gray) (as Arkady Shapira); Abraham (Sargent—for TV) (as Pharao)
The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (Dobson—for TV) (as Cardinal Vittorio)
Zwischen Rosen (as Carl Stern); The Eighteenth Angel (Bindley) (as Father Simeon); Telling Lies in America (Ferland) (as Dr. Istvan Jonas)
Left Luggage (Krabbé) (as Chaya's Father); Deep Impact (Leder) (as Jason Lerner); Vampires (Carpenter) (as Cardinal Alba)
Fisimatenten (Kuhn); Wer liebt, dem wachsen Flügel ( On the Wings of Love ) (Barylli); Joan of Arc (Duguay—for TV) (as Brother John Le'Maitre)
I Love You Baby (Lyon) (as Walter Ekland); Fisimatenten (Kuhn)
Das Schloss ( The Castle ) (Noelte) (+ ro as "K")
Einsichten eines Clowns (co-pr)
Erste Liebe ( First Love ) (+ co-pr, co-sc, ro as the father)
Der Fussgänger ( The Pedestrian ) (+ co-pr, sc, ro as Andreas Giese)
Der Richter und sein Henker ( Murder on the Bridge ; End of the Game ; Getting Away with Murder ) (+ co-pr, co-sc)
Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald ( Tales from the Vienna Woods ) (+ pr, sc)
Marlene (doc) (+ co-sc, ro as interviewer)
Candles in the Dark (for TV) (+ ro as Colonel Arkush)
Odon von Horvath, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald , Frankfurt, 1979.
Anni und Josef Albers: eine Retrospektive , Munich, 1989.
Interview with G. Flatley, in New York Times , 16 September 1977.
Interview with T. Buckley, in New York Times , 3 March 1978.
"Maximilian Schell akteur en kineast," interview with R. Pede, in Film en Televisie (Brussels), October 1980.
Interview with C. Chase, in New York Times , 31 December 1981.
Interview with B. Reisfeld, in Photoplay (London), January 1985.
"Europe at the fin de siecle," interview, by Schell, with Vaclav Havel, in Society , September/October 1995.
Current Biography 1962 , New York, 1962.
Spelman, F., "The Explosive Schell Family," in Show (Hollywood), January 1963.
Baxter, B., "Schell Schock," in Films Illustrated (London), January 1974.
"La vedette de la semaine: Maximilian Schell," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 9 October 1975.
"Maximilian Schell," in Ecran (Paris), 15 December 1979.
Dangaard, C., "Maximilian Schell," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 7 February 1980.
Bulnes, J., "Les immortals du cinéma: Maximilian Schell," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 28 July 1983.
Stars (Mariembourg), Autumn 1994.
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The specter of Nazism seems to have haunted Schell throughout his acting career. Although born in Vienna and raised in Switzerland, he is best known for his work in films about World War II and its aftermath, wherein he has most often been cast as a Nazi officer. In fact, his first Hollywood part was that of the devout storm trooper who commanded Marlon Brando's morally troubled German captain in The Young Lions , based on the Irwin Shaw best-seller. He subsequently donned the uniform of the Third Reich in war films as varied as Counterpoint , A Bridge Too Far , and Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron , where he played a scheming German general determined to win the titular medal for valor even if he has to sacrifice his entire command.
In 1961, Schell won the Academy Award as best actor for his intense performance as the German attorney defending Nazis charged with war crimes in Judgment at Nuremburg —a role he had originated on television in the CBS series Playhouse 90 where the Abby Mann drama first appeared. In 1975, more than a decade later, Schell was again nominated for the same award for his role in the American Film Theater's production of The Man in the Glass Booth in which he portrayed a war criminal, based on Adolf Eichmann, brought to justice in an Israeli court after the end of the war. Later, in The Odessa File , he played a similar war criminal, who this time manages to escape justice and is bent on reviving the Third Reich. Still another instance of Schell's interpretation of the Nazi mentality may be found in Zinnemann's Julia. Despite the undeniable quality of his acting, Schell's continued casting as a Nazi has tended to limit his career. For even in roles that do not deal with the World War II experience, he seems to be expected to portray figures with Nazi-like characteristics. For example, in The Black Hole , an artistically and commercially unsuccessful science fiction film released by Disney in 1979, Schell portrayed a mad scientist. Derived obviously from James Mason's treatment of Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea , the character created by Schell evinces the same sort of authoritarianism and cold dedication to cause at the expense of humane concerns which marks the stereotype of the Nazi in much film and literature. His performance as Lenin in the made-for-cable docudrama Stalin was cut from the same cloth.
Perhaps because his acting career has been somewhat restricted in breadth, Schell turned to other aspects of filmmaking. In 1968 he produced a treatment of Franz Kafka's The Castle , and in 1970 he directed his first film, First Love , based on a short novel by Ivan Turgenev. In 1974 The Pedestrian , which Schell co-produced, directed, wrote, and acted in, was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign-language film. But his 1984 documentary Marlene on the life of the legendary film star Marlene Dietrich remains one of his most interesting achievements. Dietrich agreed to cooperate with Schell in the making of the film, but when the cameras started to roll, she turned the tables on him by refusing to appear on camera. His sleight-of-hand in suggesting her presence through the use of silhouettes and other techniques turned what might otherwise have been a standard "talking head" piece into a visually stunning tour de force.
Schell's acting career has not languished with his involvement in production, direction, and screenwriting. After all, two of his Academy Award nominations for acting occurred in the 1970s, after he had taken on other filmmaking responsibilities. Yet it is clear that his place in cinematic history will be more than that of an actor, for his achievements behind the camera will have to enter into the final account. Also, perhaps as the trauma of Nazism recedes more and more into the historical past, the casting of Schell as a Nazi may become less frequent, and he can just play Germans, even sympathetic ones, as he did quite memorably in the television remake of The Diary of Anne Frank as the title character's father.
—William M. Clements, updated by John McCarty