26 April 2018

Warwick Ward

Handsome English actor Warwick Ward (1889–1967) appeared in 64 British, American, German as well as French films between 1919 and 1933. These included such silent masterpieces as Madame Sans-Gene (1925) and Varieté/Variety (1925). He also produced 19 British films between 1931 and 1958.

Warwick Ward
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 535.

Warwick Ward
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1583/1, 1927-1928. Photo: UFA.


Warwick Manson Ward was born in St. Ives, England, in 1889 (some sources say 1891). He made his stage debut in 1907, and had soon success in classical roles.

During the early 1920s he appeared in several silent British films. His film debut was the sports drama The Silver Lining (A.E Coleby, 1919). The following year he played in the Emily Brönte adaptation Wuthering Heights (A.V. Bramble, 1920) starring Milton Rosmer as Heathcliff and Colette Brettel as Cathy.

He appeared with Victor McLaglen in The Call of the Road (A.E. Coleby, 1920) and in Corinthian Jack (W. Courtney Rowden, 1921), with Henry Ainley in Build Thy House (Fred Goodwins, 1920), and with Milton Rosmer and Evelyn Brent in the drama Demos (Denison Clift, 1921), which is considered now to be lost.

That year he also appeared in Belphegor the Mountebank (Bert Wynne, 1921), a British silent film starring Milton Rosmer. It was based on the play Belphegor, the mountebank: or, Woman's constancy (ca. 1850) by Charles Webb about a nobleman who is forced to take up the life of a travelling showman. Another lost film is the drama Tell Your Children (Donald Crisp, 1922) for which Alfred Hitchcock is credited as the title designer.

That year Ward also appeared in the British-Dutch action film Bulldog Brummond (Oscar Apfel, 1922). Hal Erickson writes at AllMovie: “Filmed in England, this first movie version of the stage melodrama Bulldog Drummond featured a miscast Carlyle Blackwell in the title role. Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond, the soldier of fortune created by ‘Sapper’ (H.C. McNeile), was a combination old-school-tie British gentleman and brutish fascist. Blackwell could handle the ‘gentleman’ part, but wasn't quite up to the tough, two-fisted aspects of the character. Still, the story itself is a good one: Bored by inactivity, Drummond advertises for ‘adventure’ in the Times, and gets adventure aplenty when he becomes involved with a plot to kidnap an industrialist. The film's tension highlight was the scene in which the villainous Lakington (Warwick Ward) taunts a bound Drummond by fondling unconscious heroine Phyllis Benton (Evelyn Greeley)”.

Ward then starred opposite Violet Hopson in the sports films The Lady Owner (Walter West, 1923) and The Great Turf Mystery (Walter West, 1924), opposite Lillian Hall-Davis in the crime drama The Hotel Mouse (Fred Paul, 1923) and opposite Betty Blythe in Southern Love/A Woman's Secret (Herbert Wilcox, 1924). The latter was based on the poem The Spanish Student by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about the young gypsy Dolores, who escapes from an arranged marriage and makes a living as a dancer.

Warwick Ward
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3312/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Badekow, Berlin.

Warwick Ward
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3312/2, 1928-1929. Signed in 1931. Photo: Atelier Badekow, Berlin.

In Europe’s Film Capital

Warwick Ward moved to France to appear opposite Hollywood diva Gloria Swanson in Madame Sans-Gene (Léonce Perret, 1925), a silent Famous Players-Lasky production by Jesse L. Lasky and Adolph Zukor. Swanson made this romantic comedy/costume drama while on an extended vacation. She helped to secure many of the filming locations (Chateau Fontainebleau, for example) herself. Soon she became involved with her interpreter Henri de la Falaise, a Marquis, although he was not very wealthy. He later became her third husband. Before her death, Swanson yearned to see this film. She considered it as her best work, but sadly the film is lost.

After this Paris adventure, Ward moved to Europe’s film capital at the time, Berlin. There he played in another silent classic, Varieté/Variety (Ewald Andre Dupont, 1925), based on the novel Der Eid des Stephan Huller (The Oath of Stephan Huller, 1923) by Felix Hollaender. The film tells the story of a carnival concessionaire (Emil Jannings), his alluring girlfriend (Lya de Putti), and the handsome acrobat (Warwick Ward) who comes between them.

Feeling doubly impotent because he himself had been a famous aerialist before suffering a crippling accident, Jannings fantasises about killing his rival - and, finally, does so. The trapeze scenes were set in the Berlin Wintergarten theatre and camera man Karl Freund let the camera swing from long shot to close-up, like the acrobats. The results astounded international audiences.

Ward stayed in Germany for such silent films as Die Fahrt ins Abenteuer/The Wooing of Eve (Max Mack, 1926) with Ossi Oswalda, the UFA adventure film Die Frauengasse von Algier/Streets of Algiers (Wolfgang Hoffmann-Harnisch, 1927) with Maria Jacobini and Camilla Horn, and Die berühmte Frau/The Famous Woman (Robert Wiene, 1927) with Lily Damita.

One of his best late silent films is the circus melodrama Die Todesschleife/Looping the Loop (Arthur Robison, 1928) starring Werner Krauss as a clown with Ward (again) as the handsome acrobat who steals the clown’s pretty girl (Jenny Jugo).

Another masterpiece was Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna/The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) starring Brigitte Helm and Franz (Francis) Lederer. Meanwhile Ward also continued to make silent films in France and Great-Britain.

Warwick Ward
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4291/1, 1927-1928. Photo: UFA.

Warwick Ward
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 6164. Photo: F.P.S. Verleih: Philipp & Co.

The Dancing Years

After the arrival of the sound film in Germany, Warwick Ward had to return to Great Britain. There he appeared opposite Pola Negri in the late silent film-with-sound-effects The Way of Lost Souls (Paul Czinner, 1929).

He reunited with Lya de Putti for the British sound drama The Informer (Arthur Robison, 1929). Hungarian De Putti's voice was dubbed – not with an Irish accent, as the character called for, but, for some reason, with an upper-class English accent. The film was based on the novel The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty which was again adapted in 1935 by John Ford.

In the British musical comedy A Man of Mayfair (Louis Mercanton, 1931), Ward starred with Jack Buchanan, and in The Loves of Ariane (Paul Czinner, 1931) his co-star was Elisabeth Bergner. He appeared in a few more supporting parts, such as in the English version of the German world success F.P.1/ F. P. 1 Doesn't Answer (Karl Hartl, 1933) starring Conrad Veidt.

But his acting days were over. A few years earlier, Ward had started to produce films, and in the following years he would produce such British comedies as Save a Little Sunshine (Norman Lee, 1938) starring Dave Willis and Patricia Kirkwood, about a man who buys a share in a hotel after he is sacked from his job. The film was made by Welwyn Studios, an affiliate of ABC Pictures, at their Welwyn Garden City Studio.

He also produced a further film with Willis and Kirkwood, Me and My Pal (Thomas Bentley, 1939). During the war years he produced for Welwyn such crime thrillers as Suspected Person (Lawrence Huntington) with Patricia Roc. After the war he returned to comedies, which he now produced for Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

Among them are Quiet Weekend (Harold French, 1946) with Derek Farr, and The Dancing Years (Harold French, 1950) starring Dennis Price.

Warwick Ward continued to produce films till 1958. He died in 1967 in Welwyn Garden City, near London, at the age of 78.

Varieté, cover brochure
Belgium brochure by Patria editions, Antwerp for Varieté (Ewald André Dupont, 1925) with Lya de Putti on the cover.

Conrad Veidt
Conrad Veidt. British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 167. Photo: Gaumont-British Pictures.

Dennis Price
Dennis Price. Dutch postcard. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (English and German) and IMDb.

25 April 2018

Napoléon (1927)

Abel Gance’s epic film Napoléon (1927) is one of the masterpieces of the European silent cinema. Gance tells the story of the French general's youth and early military career in a massive, six-hour biopic. The film's legendary reputation is due to the astonishing range of techniques that Gance uses to tell his story, culminating in the final twenty-minute triptych sequence, which alternates wide screen panoramas with complex multiple-image montages projected simultaneously on three screens. And Albert Dieudonné was perfectly cast as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Albert Dieudonné in Napoléon (1927)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 84/1, 1925-1935. Photo: Ufa. Albert Dieudonné as the title character in Abel Gance’s epic film Napoléon (1927).

Vladimir Roudenko in Napoleon (1927)
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 456. Photo: Vladimir Roudenko as the young Napoléon in Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927).

Gina Manès as Josephine in Napoléon0001
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazines, no. 459. Photo: Gina Manès as Josephine de Beauharnais in Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927).

Nicolas Koline in Napoléon (1927)
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 460. Photo: Nicolas Koline as Tristan Fleuri in Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927).

A chronology of great triumph and defeat 

Napoléon (1927) begins in Brienne-le-Château with youthful Napoleon (Vladimir Roudenko) attending military school where he manages a snowball fight like a military campaign, yet he suffers the insults of other boys.

The film continues a decade later with scenes of the French Revolution and Napoleon's (Albert Dieudonné) presence at the periphery as a young army lieutenant. He returns to visit his family home in Corsica but politics shift against him and put him in mortal danger. He flees, taking his family to France.

Serving as an officer of artillery in the Siege of Toulon, Napoleon's genius for leadership is rewarded with a promotion to brigadier general. Jealous revolutionaries imprison Napoleon but then the political tide turns against the Revolution's own leaders. Napoleon leaves prison, forming plans to invade Italy.

He falls in love with the beautiful Joséphine de Beauharnais (Gina Manès). The emergency government charges him with the task of protecting the National Assembly. Succeeding in this he is promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Interior, and he marries Joséphine. He takes control of the army which protects the French–Italian border, and propels it to victory in an invasion of Italy.

Many innovative techniques were used to make the film, including fast cutting, extensive close-ups, a wide variety of hand-held camera shots, location shooting, point of view shots, multiple-camera setups, multiple exposure, superimposition, underwater camera, kaleidoscopic images, film tinting, split screen and mosaic shots, multi-screen projection, and other visual effects.

Director, writer and producer  Abel Gance planned for Napoléon to be the first of six films about Napoleon's career, a chronology of great triumph and defeat ending in Napoleon's death in exile on the island of Saint Helena. After the difficulties encountered in making the first film, Gance realised that the costs involved would make the full project impossible.

Napoléon was first released in a gala at the Palais Garnier (then the home of the Paris Opera) on 7 April 1927. Napoléon had been screened in only eight European cities when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to it, but after screening it in London, it was cut drastically in length, and only the central panel of the three-screen Polyvision sequences was retained before it was put on limited release in the United States. There, the film was indifferently received at a time when talkies were just starting to appear.

The film was restored in 1981 after twenty years' work by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow.

Edmond Van Daële in Napoléon (1927)
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 461. Photo: Edmond Van Daële as Robespierre in Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927).

Abel Gance
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 473. Photo: publicity still for Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927), with Abel Gance himself as Saint Just.

Albert Dieudonné in Napoléon (1927)
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 474. Photo: Lipnitzky. Publicity still for Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927), with Albert Dieudonné as Napoléon. The postcard is a pastiche of the famous portrait of Bonaparte at Arcole, 1796, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. See more.

Albert Dieudonné as Napoléon
French postcard. Photo Choumoff. Albert Dieudonné as Napoleon. The retro of the card makes publicity for Dieudonné in a stage version 'Bonaparte' at the Theatre de la Renaissance.

Abel Gance (Mon Ciné, 1926)
Director/actor Abel Gance on the cover of the French film journal Mon Ciné, no. 253, V, 23 December 1926. Gance is groomed as the character he played in Napoléon (1927), that of Saint-Just, one of the leading men of the French Terror.

Sources: Michael Brooke (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

24 April 2018

Willi Domgraf Fassbaender

Celebrated German opera singer Willi Domgraf Fassbaender (1897–1978) was one of the leading lyric baritones of the inter-war period. He was particularly associated with Mozart and Italian roles. During the 1930s, ‘the Italian baritone’ starred in a number of musical films, which helped his shining international reputation.

Willi Domgraf Fassbaender
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7290/1, 1932-1933 (sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1935). Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Beautiful Voice

Willi Domgraf Fassbaender (also written as Willy Domgraf(-)Fassb(a)ender) was born in Aachen, Germany, in 1897.

Initially, he intended to become a conductor and musicologist for church music, but eventually he studied singing with Julius Stückgold. He had a beautiful voice and used it with fine musicianship.

He began his career as an oratorio and concert singer, but the director of the Stadttheater Aachen encouraged him to appear in opera and operetta. In 1922 he made his debut in Aachen as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro.

In the following year, Leo Blech engaged him to the Deutsche Oper Berlin where the young singer continued his vocal studies with Paul Bruns. Due to strong competition, Domgraf-Fassbaender changed to the opera house in Düsseldorf, completing his studies with the famous Giuseppe Borgatti in Milan.

It was in Düsseldorf where he gained experience in an extensive repertoire: Figaro, Count Almaviva, Rigoletto, Wolfram, Papageno, Don Giovanni, et cetera. In 1927 he joined the company of the State Opera in Stuttgart, where he became one of its most popular singers.

It was Richard Tauber (his partner in La Bohème and Carmen) who recommended him to go back to Berlin. General manager Heinz Tietjen, who was to become his mentor, contracted him to the Berlin State Opera, where he gained quickly a reputation as ‘the Italian baritone’.

Willi Domgraf Fassbaender
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 152/1. Photo: Aafa Film. Publicity still for Theodor Körner (Carl Boese, 1932).

Heydays of the German Film Musical

Willi Domgraf Fassbaender was an accomplished singer-actor, and his shining international reputation was helped by his starring in a number of musical films. In 1932, at the heydays of the German film musical, he made his film debut in Der Sieger/The Winner (Hans Hinrich, Paul Martin, 1932) with Hans Albers.

An adaptation of Friedrich Smetana’s opera Die Verkaufte Braut/The Bartered Bride (Max Ophüls, 1932) with the beautiful Jarmila Novotnà in the title role, gained world-wide success. He sang the role of Hans, which was originally meant for a tenor.

That same year he also appeared in the short film Goethe-Gedenkfilm - 1. Der Werdegang/Goethe Memorial Film, part 1 (Fritz Wendhausen, 1932), and in Theodor Körner (Carl Boese, 1932) with Dorothea Wieck.

Next he starred in Ich will Dich Liebe lehren/I Will Teach You to Love (Heinz Hilpert, 1933). He insisted on also playing in the alternate French version, L’homme qui ne sait pas dire non/The Man Who Doesn't Know to Say No, but his accent was so bad that this version was never released.

After the rise to power of the Nazis, he became a party member of the NSDAP in May 1933. The following years he was the star of Aufforderung zum Tanz/Invitation to the Dance (Rudolf van der Noss, 1933), Starke Herzen/Strong Hearts (Herbert Maisch, 1937), Ein Lied von Liebe/A Song of Love (Jürgen von Alten, 1938) in which he starred with his wife Sabine Peters, and Lauter Liebe/Pure Love (Heinz Rühmann, 1940) with Hertha Feiler.

Lissi Arna and  Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender in Theodor Körner (1932)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 152/4. Photo: Aafa Film. Publicity still for Theodor Körner (Carl Boese, 1932) with Lizzy Arna.


Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender’s devotion to modern works was quite remarkable (including operas by Malipiero, Wellesz, Schoeck), but his career was dominated by his Italian parts and Mozart.

Fritz Busch invited him to the Glyndebourne Festival, where he sang the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro as well as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte in the 1934, 1935 and 1939 series. In 1937 he was chosen by Arturo Toscanini to sing Papageno in Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute at the Salzburg Festival.

In 1942 he received the title of ‘Kammersänger'. After World War II, he performed mostly in Vienna, Munich, Hannover, and Nuremberg. At the Vienna State Opera, he sang Wolfram, Papageno and Ford.

His last film appearance was as Figaro in the DEFA production of Figaros Hochzeit/The Marriage of Figaro (Georg Wildhagen, 1949) with Angelika Hauff and Sabine Peters.

After 1951 Domgraf-Fassbaender worked as an outstanding stage director. In 1954 he went to the Conservatory of Nuremberg, where he led the opera school and taught a vocal class.

Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender died in 1978, in Nuremberg. His only daughter, from his marriage with Sabine Peters, was mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender (1939), who studied exclusively with her father and was to become a celebrated mezzo.

167 Willi Domgraf Fassbaender_Haus Neueburg (Film Album 2; 167)
German collectors card by Ross, Haus Neueburg Film Album 2, no. 167. Photo: Schneider. Collection: Manuel Palomino Arjona (Flickr).

211 Willi Domgraf Fassbaender & Maria Elsner_Haus Neueburg (Film Album 2; 211)
With Maria Elsner in a stage production. German collectors card by Ross, Haus Neueburg Film Album 2, no. 211. Photo: Schneider. Collection: Manuel Palomino Arjona (Flickr).

Sources: Andrea Suhm-Binder (subito – cantabile), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (German and English), Filmportal.de, and IMDb.