Oscar History

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Maximillian Schell (1930-2014)

The most famous Austrian born actor prior to Schwarzenegger, and Oscar's favorite Austrian/Swiss actor ever, died overnight at 83. Maximilian Schell film debut came with the German anti-war film  Kinder, Mütter und ein General (Children, Mother, and the General) but it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling. 

He won a role supposedly through a misunderstanding/accident in the Brando/Clift vehicle Young Lions (1958). Global fame was just a few years away when he co-headlined the mega-star cast of the seminal Oscar Bait giant Judgement at Nuremberg (about Nazi war crime trials) with Hollywood legend Spencer Tracy and they were both were nominated for Best Actor - it's a oft-repeated fallacy of modern Oscar campaigning that people say that splits your vote and prevents you from winning; see also Amadeus. Schell also won the Golden Globe for that film. (As Rhett from Dial M for Movies pointed out on Twitter this morning, his death makes William Shatner (!!!) the sole surviving credited cast member from the courtroom classic)

Schell was quite gracious in his Oscar win and his acceptance speech is well worth watching. I'd argue he was fully aware of why he won ("honoring the movie"*) and I love that he doesn't do just the usual cheek kiss but actually a little bow/handkissing...as diva Joan Crawford warrants. 

Schell had a fine and long run as an actor with two more nominations following his win for The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and Julia (1977 -- and yet another example of a double nomination in the same category. His co-star Jason Robards won that time). He won his second Golden Globe as recently as 1994 for a TV miniseries and a Lifetime Achievement Bambi in Germany just 5 years ago, which coincidentally was the same ceremony wherein Christoph Waltz, a clear modern equivalent of Austrian/Oscar love, won for Inglourious Basterds.

Schell's talents were many, though, and also behind the camera. He turned to filmmaking within a decade of winning Best Actor. His first two feature films First Love (1970) and The Pedestrian (1973) were both nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category for Switzerland and West Germany respectively. And then his first documentary Marlene (1984) which was about his legendary Nuremberg co-star, was also nominated in its category. That's a lot of awards love and a long and full career worth remembering. 

*Judgement at Nuremberg couldn't really win much elsewhere. 1961 was the year of one of Oscar's true phenomenons. West Side Story made nearly a clean sweep of its nominations winning 10 of its 11 Oscar nominations! Nuremberg only bested it in the Adapted Screenplay category where musicals have historically had a very hard time winning. Only two have ever managed: Going My Way (1944) and Gigi (1958). 

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Reader Comments (19)

Just an addition. His second feature film as a director "The Fussganger" (The Pedestrian) was also nominated for Best Foreign Film and it also won the Golden Globe. RIP

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterManos

manos -- thank you. Noted and added.

February 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

He was a wonderful actor, very good in Nuremburg although I would have given the Oscar to Paul Newman in The Hustler that year. A very handsome man too.

His documentary on Dietrich is fascinating. "My Sister Maria" which he made about his actress sister Maria Schell is also quite good but ultimately very sad.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

@joel6: I must admit that 'My Sister Maria' actually turned me against him, and the image of himself he presents in that film dominates the way I think about him up today. (I still maintain that the title is only the abbreviation for the title he actually intended: 'My Sister Maria Can Be Glad to Have Such A Selfless Brother As Me, Maximilian Schell, Oscar-Winner, Humanitarian and Simply Perfect Human Being').

(I know, I know, de mortuis nil nisi bene, but with all good things said about him right now - most of them deservedly - I just feel I have to point out that he always was just a tad too much in love with himself, and the fact he used his senile sister who couldn't defend herself anymore to make a point just how much of a good guy he (thinks he) is, is unforgiveable in my eyes.)

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

For what it's worth -- and for all of Maximilian Schell's clear talent, both in front of and behind the camera -- he did have a very prickly reputation and a HUGE ego.

While I also feel that Paul Newman should've won for "The Hustler" (and one could argue that Schell's role is borderline Supporting), I still hold "Judgment at Nuremberg" in high esteem -- it's one of the few Oscar bait movies that works extremely well, marvelously acted by an amazing cast and smoothly directed by Stanley Kramer in one of his better outings.

I'm also quite fond of Schell in "Topkapi" (1964), where he gets to have fun on-screen, a rarity. And, of course, he chews up the scenery big time in "The Black Hole" (1979).

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

As I live in Switzerland, I feel I have to point out that around here Schell is considered a Swiss actor. His father was Swiss and the family moved to Zurich when Maximilian was 8 years old.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranna

@Anna: Is Maria Schell considered Swiss in Switzerland, as well? Am asking as for some reason, I always think of Maximilian Schell as Swiss, but Maria Schell als Austrian. (And I'm German, if that is of interest in this context.)

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

anna - i slightly altered the text but isnt he both? he was born and died in Austria. even if he was raised in switzerland

February 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think so, but I'm not absolutely sure. I think the situation might be a bit different with her, as she didn't spend as much of her life in Switzerland.

You're absolutely right, of course. He was both Swiss and Austrian. But since he was raised in Switzerland and actually won an Oscar, the Swiss tend to "forget" about him also being Austrian. ;)
The Swiss media just loves to "claim" anyone with Swiss ancestry. I actually read an article once that referred to Renee Zellweger as a "Swiss actress".

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranna

The "Marlene" docu is one of the best. Especially considering the circumstances she threw him into.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Him and Dietrich were giving that slog of a Stanley Kramer (I am meh on him in general, as his only great contribution was angering Hawks enough to make Rio Bravo) film gravitas. I liked Monty and Judy's supporting turns too but I get too much air of tragedy.

Marlene's awesome. It's some fun but contentious back and forths he and Dietrich get into.

RIP to Mr. Schell

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Something I was expecting in the tribute (coming from this blog) was the mention of what a hunk he was. First thought while watching "Judgment at Nuremberg": Mmmh, what a gorgeous man. Second thought: Well, he can act like a storm.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuis

Luis, I agree, but his beauty is self-evident, isn't it? A beautiful man and a good actor.

CMG, my migraines flared up while I tried to read your sentences. I used to teach English as a second language and would be glad to offer pointers.

Nathaniel, in terms of "most honored" Austrian, I'm afraid that Waltz's second Oscar trumps Schell's multiple nominations. Not that I think Waltz is better than Schell. But I see you revised the sentence to include the Swiss, so never mind! ;)

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrendan

Brendan- Um, thanks. If you are asking as to why it was disjointed due to using the iPad as a device which I normally don't use as my device to comment. Sorry that I gave you migraines.

Would you like to read my senior thesis on the dialectics of The Battle of Algiers? You seem to think I am a hopeless person in terms of the English language.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Brendan -- i don't actually subscribe to the notion that wins mean more than multiple nominations. I'd say that Schell's 5 separate honors in 4 different categories over a 24 year period is much more impressive than Waltz's 2 nominations/2 wins in a 4 year period.

February 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"If you are asking as to why it was disjointed **it was** due to using the iPad as a device which I normally don't use as my device to comment."

I mean, perish the thought my response to the poor ESL instructor who has migraines due to my grammar also get a grammatical incorrect sentence.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG


I've been rendered slack-jawed

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

He was utterly gorgeous and talented. I wish he had had more leading roles in his prime.

February 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Is there any movie which really used his obvious handsomeness? I would have expected more of a Peter O'Toole kind of use of that beautiful face.

And am I correct in remembering that he turned down the leading role in The Sound Of Music?

February 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

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