The actor who played memorable roles in “Faust” and “The Blue Angel” was the first to ever receive an Academy Award for Best Actor, but his political ties and ideology put an end to his popularity
Controversial German actor Emil Jannings was born on this day in 1884
Born in Rorschach, Switzerland on July 23, 1884, Emil Jannings played an important part in movie history, that was stained by his political ties with the Nazi Germany. The actor begun his career in theater but moved to movies during the silent era, playing in important and significant German movies of the era such as “Herr Tartüff” in 1925 and most notably, one of his signature roles as Mephistopheles in “Faust”, 1926. His acting skills were noticed by Hollywood and he was granted a contract with Paramount Pictures. He started his Hollywood career in 1927 with “The Way of All Flesh” directed by Victor Fleming, and in the following year appeared in Josef von Sternberg’s “The Last Command”. Both of these films earned Jannings the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929, an important and historically significant award as Jannings was the first actor ever to receive the award and remains also the only German actor to be awarded an Oscar for Best Actor to this day. But his Hollywood career was abruptly interrupted with the arrival of the “talkies” that put an end to the silent movies era. Because of his thick German accent, that was difficult to understand, Jannings was initially dubbed by another actor in the part-talkie “The Patriot”, 1928, however his own voice was restored after he objected. He returned to Europe in the early 1930’s where he starred opposite rising star Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 iconic Josef von Sternberg’s movie “The Blue Angel”, filmed simultaneously in English with its German version “Der Blaue Engel”. During that period, Emil Jannings career takes an unexpected turn as he become representative of Hitler’s Third Reich in Nazi Germany. For over a decade, his acting skills are put in the service of Nazi propaganda cinema, which damages his Hollywood image forever. Among the movies he starred during that period are “Der alte und der junge König” (“The Old and the Young King”, 1934 and “Der Herrscher” (“The Ruler”, in 1937. When troops of the Allied Powers entered Germany in Spring 1945 to take down the Nazi regime, Jannings tries to switch sides and carries his Oscar statuette with him as proof of his former association with Hollywood to show the allies, however, there was no return for Jannings, due to his active role in Nazi propaganda, he was subject to what was named “denazification”, and his career never recovered from that. Emil Jannings retired to Strobl near Salzburg, Austria, and became an Austrian citizen in 1947 where he died in 1950, aged 65, from liver cancer. Despite the controversial role he had politically during the 1930’s and 1940’s, he remains an historically and relevant figure of the early years of cinema.
Watch Emil Jannings in the iconic movie “The Blue Angel”, 1930, alongside Marlene Dietrich
Also watch: Emil Jannings in the 1926 film “Faust”
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