Czech actors: The "first republic" (1930-1948)
The first sound films in Bohemia were made in 1930. At first it was a drama called Tonka Šibenice (Tonka the "Gibbet"). However, since there was actually only one sound scene, the really first sound movie was C. & K. polní maršálek (Imperial & royal field marshall) with Vlasta Burian in the title role. It is paradoxical that the majority of the most known Czech movies of this era was filmed during the World War II. Cinema was one of the areas, where the Nazi policy of "sugar and whip" worked very well. Nevertheless, the biggest merit for this film bloom had Willy Söhnel, the director of the Barrandov studios, who was a Czech of German nationality. The biggest stars were Oldřich Nový, Vlasta Burian, Jaroslav Marvan, among women the "big four" Adina Mandlová, Nataša Gollová, Lída Baarová and Hana Vítová and others. In general, the average quality of actors was not exceptionally good. Except leading parts there were a lot of roles performed by actors of amateur calibre (but I think that at that time it was a common feature almost everywhere in the world). After WW II many of the biggest stars had very serious problems, some were accussed of collaboration, others had to go away from Prague or couldn't work at all. The year 1948 (the communistic plot) meant another big break. Since 1948 there were only roles of young brigade-workers, miners, labourers, tractor drivers or engaged communists. Really no perspective for men like Oldřich Nový. Hardly anybody of the former stars survived in cinema and their fate was often very sad. One of rare exceptions is Jaroslav Marvan, a performer of minor parts, who became the biggest film star of the fifties.
Since before World War II there existed no official statistics of the visit rate, I can't list them. The following list is my attempt to choose the top 15 most important movies of the time between 1930-1944, although their today's popularity may be very different from their then visit rate and it is natural that some people would disagree with this choice. Except these 15 movies there is the scandalous Extase (The Extasis, 1933) of Gustav Machatý, whose erotic scenes raised a scandal even abroad. Paradoxically, this piece is internationally perhaps the most known Czech movie of this time.
- C. A K. POLNÍ MARŠÁLEK (Imperial & royal field marshall, dir. K. Lamač 1930)
- MUŽI V OFFSIDU (The Men In Offside, dir. S. Innemann 1931)
- TO NEZNÁTE HADIMRŠKU (You don't know Hadimrška, dir. K. Lamač + M. Frič 1931)
- ANTON ŠPELEC, OSTROSTŘELEC (Anton Špelec, The Sharpshooter, dir. M. Frič 1932)
- HEJ, RUP! (dir. M. Frič 1934)
- U NÁS V KOCOURKOVĚ (By Us In Kocourkov, dir. M. Cikán 1934)
- BÍLÁ NEMOC (The White Disease, dir. H. Haas 1937)
- CECH PANEN KUTNOHORSKÝCH (The Guild of Kutná Hora's maidens, dir. O. Vávra 1938)
- DUCHÁČEK TO ZAŘÍDÍ (Ducháček Will Arrange It, dir. K. Lamač 1938)
- ŠKOLA, ZÁKLAD ŽIVOTA (School, The Basis Of Life, dir. M. Frič 1938)
- CESTA DO HLUBIN ŠTUDÁKOVY DUŠE (The Way Into The Depth Of The Student's Soul, dir. M. Frič 1939)
- EVA TROPÍ HLOUPOSTI (Eva Plays The Fool, dir. M. Frič 1939)
- KRISTIÁN (dir. M. Frič 1939)
- PŘEDNOSTA STANICE (The Station Master, dir. J. Sviták 1941)
- ROZTOMILÝ ČLOVĚK (The Lovely Man, dir. M. Frič 1941)
- PRSTÝNEK (The Ring, dir. M. Frič 1945) - 5 295 034
- DIVÁ BÁRA (Wild Bára, dir. V. Čech 1949) - 4 943 246
- RODINNÉ TRAMPOTY OFICIÁLA TŘÍŠKY (Family Troubles Of Official Tříška, dir. J. Mach 1949) - 4 916 941
- ŘEKA ČARUJE (The Magic River, dir. V. Krška 1945) - 4 807 856
- POSLEDNÍ MOHYKÁN (The Last Mohican, dir. V. Slavínský 1947) - 4 726 068
- PRÁVĚ ZAČÍNÁME (We Are Just Starting, dir. V. Slavínský 1946) - 4 487 799
- PYTLÁKOVA SCHOVANKA (The Poacher's Fosterdaughter, dir. M. Frič 1949) - 4 443 189
- PŘEDTUCHA (The Apprehension, dir. O. Vávra 1947) - 4 361 229
- JAN ROHÁČ Z DUBÉ (Jan Roháč Of Dubé, dir. V. Borský 1947) - 4 034 590
- VZBOUŘENÍ NA VSI (The Upheaval In The Village, dir. J. Mach 1949) - 4 025 375
Theodor Pištěk (sen.)
Oldřich Nový (7.8. 1894 Prague - 15.3. 1983)
This perfect film gentleman served out as a typographer, but later worked as an amateur actor and chorus-singer in cabarets. Although he was born in Prague, between 1922-1935 he lived in Brno and worked as a theatre director and actor and also as a ragtime chief. After his return to Prague he successfully began to realize his dream - to create a modern type of music comedy in his own "New Theatre" (Nové divadlo). His first movie roles were insignificant, because for a long time he was regarded as a singer and ragtime comedian. The break came in 1936-1937. In 1939, he was one of the biggest stars of Czech cinema. He performed lovers and elegant gentlemen in comedies, especially together with Adina Mandlová and Nataša Gollová. His most successful movie is Kristián (1939) and I can also name Eva tropí hlouposti (Eva Plays The Fool, 1939), Roztomilý člověk (The Lovely Man, 1941), Hotel Modrá hvězda (The Hotel Blue Star, 1941) and Valentin Dobrotivý (Valentin the Gracious, 1942). Then his career slowly declined. After WW II he actually got only one big role in a successful parody of prewar movies Pytlákova schovanka (The Poacher's fosterdaughter, 1949). After 1948 gentlemen of his type were no longer utilizable. He appeared only in minor roles, again in comedies. Perhaps his most known part after 1948 is Sir Hanibal Morris in a parody Fantóm Morrisvillu (The Phantom of Morrisville, 1966). In 1969 he performed his last big role in the comedy Světáci (The Worldlings).
By the way, the figure of Oldřich Nový, "the Czech musical star", also appears in Lars Trier's movie Dancer In The Dark (2000). Here he is an alleged father of the title heroine, a Czech emmigrant, performed by Björk. God knows, where Trier raked up his name. A note: http://www.imdb.com/ lists an interesting note that he was actually born in 1894, not in 1899 as almost all sources say.
Nataša Gollová (27.2. 1912 Brno - 29.10. 1988)
Nataša Gollová (born Hodáčová) came from a prominent family. Her father was a known politician, her grandfather was a prominent historian Jaroslav Goll (from him she took her surname). She herself was highly educated (studied philosophy), but later she decided for theatre. Her amazing comedial talent was discovered quite late; after a grey part in a drama Bezdětná (The Childless, 1935) it took another 4 years until she got a new big chance. In 1939 the situation changed dramatically: thanks to several excellent comedies like Příklady táhnou (Examples attract), Kristián and especially Eva tropí hlouposti (Eva Plays The Fool) she shined like a meteor. Between 1939-1943 she acted in 17 movies and suddenly became one of the most popular actresses. As one of the authors of Hvězdy českého filmu remarks, "for people in the sad era of the Nazi Protectorate her movies full of intellingent humour and optimism must have been like balsam". Her best parts were "a little bit" crazy young girls (Eva tropí hlouposti), up-and-coming dishwashers (Hotel Modrá hvězda), notorious liers (Roztomilý člověk/The Lovely Man, 1941), or romantic roles like in Pohádka máje (The May fairy-tale, 1940). Film-makers often casted her together with Oldřich Nový. The end of the World War meant a rapid decline of her career. Due to a love affair with Willy Söhnel, a German director of the Barrandov studios, and a role in one German movie, her reputation was damaged and together with her new husband, director Karel Konstantin, she left Prague and acted in a theatre in České Budějovice. In 1951 she got a new chance from Jan Werich, who was preparing a costly historical comedy Císařův pekař (The Emperor's Cooker, 1951) with director Martin Frič. She got a role of Kateřina, who unwillingly serves an international cheater, Magister Kelly, and pretends that she is an etheric being Sirael created by Kelly. Since that time she played in Werich's theatre ABC, but performed only minor film or TV roles. After the death of her husband (1962) she stayed alone and in 1971 took disability retirement because of serious health problems with osteoporosis. During this time she couldn't withstand her fate and allegedly drank a lot. Moreover, she got old very fast and comparing her look of 1940 with 1970 is very depressive. In the seventies she performed a pushing aunt investigating a robbery in a comedy Drahé tety a já (Dear Aunts And Me, 1974). Her life ended sadly in a rest home. However, her movies are still the same refreshing balsam like they were 60 years ago. Recently one young author published a book depicting her life and carreer that became a big bestseller.
A very interesting page describing the life of Nataša Gollová:
Eva tropí hlouposti (Eva Plays The Fool, 1939) - a classic. On the left Oldřich Nový. František Kovařík and Nataša Gollová in Pohádka Máje (1940)
Nataša Gollová and Jan Pivec tried to revive Hotel Modrá hvězda (1941) ...and the real swang song of her career: Kateřina-Sirael in Císařův pekař (1951). On the right Jan Werich as the Emperor Rudolf II.
Adina Mandlová (28.1. 1910 - 14.6. 1991)
The most controversial, dominating a lot of scandals, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, undertaking love affairs and then almost lynched... Adina Mandlová is a legend. According to one source, her true first name was Jarmila, but she had more front names and later she chose Adina, probably because it worked more exoticly. She was born in Mladá Boleslav and grew in an unstable family. After changing several schools and jobs she eventually became a model girl. Her film carrer started in 1932 thanks to a second-rate movie Děvčátko, neříkej ne! (Girl, don't say no!), where she performed...a model girl. After another several movies she attracted Hugo Haas, who began to keep close company with her (closer than normally close) and recommended her to respected directors like Vávra or Frič. By the way, at that time she refused a role in Machatý's scandalous movie Extáze (Extasis, 1933), which was probably her life's fault, because the performer of the title role, Hedy Kiesler, later succeeded in Hollywood as Hedy Lamarre. However, during a short time Mandlová became an unofficial Number One among Czech actresses. The top of her carrer was Kristián (1939). I can also name Panenství (Virginhood, 1937), Mravnost nade vše (Morality above all, 1937), Přítelkyně pana ministra (9A girlfriend of the minister, 1940), Těžký život dobrodruha (A hard life of an adventurer, 1941), Noční motýl (The Night Butterfly, 1941) etc. During the WW II Mandlová led a wild life and rumours about her scandals caused a growing aversion against her. For example, there was a rumour that she was a mistress of the German protector K. H. Frank (which was not true, and Frank disliked her because of it.). She was also invited to Germany, where Goebbels promised her big career, if she chooses a better pseudonyme ("Lil Adina"). Mandlová refused and her stay in Berlin soon ended due to Frank's intrigues. After the end of the war it showed that popular "rumours" concerning her alleged contacts with Nazis were malicious fabrications and she actually helped her former boyfriend, who had escaped from a concentration camp. However, the public demand for her punishment was stronger than facts. In May 1945 she was arrested and according to her own memoirs, one warder, who was her big fan, saved her from lynching in the front of the prison. (That she can really thank him a lot can be illustrated by the fact that director Jan Sviták, a Nazi quisling, was then lynched and subsequently shot death in a Prague street.) Then she was strongly persecuted and eventually married British pilot Joe Knight, which enabled her to emmigrate to the Great Britain (1947). Here she tried to continue in her film career, but with changeable success. In 1948 she acted in a movie The Fool And The Princess, but that was practically everything, because soon after she was taken ill with tuberculosis and healed in Switzerland. Her marriage crashed and Mandlová was forced to earn money by different ways, among other things as a collaborator of a costume designer Bill Pearson, whom she later married. In the end, she lived in Malta together with her husband. Here she also wrote a bitter biography Dnes se tomu směju (Today I Am Laughing Over It, 1976). In 1991, she returned home after 45 years. Here the "old, sick and impatient lady" came to die. Despite the negative picture surrounding her figure, she was an excellent actress.
Hugo Haas (18.2. 1901 Brno - 1.12. 1968)
Hugo Haas was born in Brno. Similarly like his brother, he studied at conservatoirie and became a musician. However, later he turned to acting and in 1925 started his actor's career in Prague. Since 1929 he worked in the National Theatre and soon became a very popular film actor. His first big role was Mr. Načeradec, a fanatic sports fan, from a comedy Muži v offsidu (Men in offside, 1931). He then performed a lot of sympathetic comedial roles like a house tyrannizer in Poslední muž (The last man, 1934), a sly beggar in Svět, kde se žebrá (1938) or a moralizing father in Mravnost nade vše (Morality above all, 1937). His most important dramatic role was dr. Galén in Bílá nemoc (The White Disease, 1937).
His most frequent partners were Adina Mandlová and then Věra Ferbasová. Haas lived with Mandlová for some time and he helped her in the beginning of her film career. Mandlová later wrote in her memoirs that Haas had been drug addict. In fact, he used cocaine in large doses and was almost permanently drunked. What a contrast with his film roles... Since he was a Jew, he was forced to flee before WW II and settled in the United States. Here he was successful as a director, screenwriter and actor, both in Hollywood and in Broadway. I found him in an American actor's encyclopaedia, so he must have made a good reputation there. (Well, only some of his movies were memorable, as judged from reviews on www.imdb.com). Later in 1960 he moved to Vienna and in 1963 visited Prague. He died 5 years later in Vienna and now is buried in Brno.
Vlasta Burian (9.4. 1891 Liberec - 31.1. 1962)
An actor that is called "the king of Czech comedians". However, I am not the type who would admire his rather infantile style of humour, so my comment will be short-spoken. He was born in Liberec, but later his father-tailor moved to Žižkov (a quarter in Prague). After several attempts young Burian eventually got engangement in theatre and gradually became one of the most popular comedians in Prague. In 1925 he founded his own theatre with his own ensemble. Burian was a folk humourist, often improvizing both in the theatre and in the radio or movie. Rumour has that in privacy he was vainglorious, childly authoritative and arrogant. The sound film was a big break in his career; as early as in 1930 he performed a leading role in a parodic comedy C. a k. polní maršálek (Imperial & royal field marshall) and then he acted in another 23 movies like To neznáte Hadimršku (You don't know Hadimrška, 1931), Anton Špelec, ostrostřelec (Anton Špelec, the Sharpshooter, 1932), Revizor (The Inspector, 1933), U pokladny stál (Standing at the Cash Desk, 1939), Katakomby (The Catacombs, 1940), Přednosta stanice (The station master, 1941) and many others. Since once he acted in a propagandistic radio sketch, after WW II he was prisoned and after five years (!) eventually discharged of imputation. His return was not too successful. His most interesting role is a chancellor in a fairy-tale Byl jednou jeden král (Once upon a time there was a king, 1954). This is also one of his few roles, when I like him. By the way, Burian was a big sports fan and active football player. For some time he was allegedly a goalman of Slavia Praha.
Jaroslav Marvan (11.12. 1901 - 21.5. 1974)
One of the most important actors of Czech cinematography with a very long career. He was one of those lucky ones, who successfully survived all political and artistic backsets. Originally he was a postman, but later he joined Burian's theatre, where he stayed for 19 years (1924-1943). During the thirties and forties he usually performed minor, but important roles and often "played into hands" of his more popular colleagues. After WW II he "acclimatized" to demands of the new era and acted in many successful comedies. Soon he bacame one of the most popular Czech actors (during the 50's he was probably the biggest men's star) and his popularity extended even to neighbouring socialistic countries, especially GDR. He usually performed morose, pedant individuals, but also school professors, policemen, various notables, inspectors etc. Perhaps his most known roles of the First republic era were morose professors in two enormously successful comedies Škola, základ života (School, the Basis of Life, 1938) and Cesta do hlubin študákovy duše (The Way into the Depth of the Student's Soul, 1939). From the forties I can name a comedy Poslední Mohykán (The Last Mohican, 1947) about a pedant father terrorizing his family. In the fifties, his enormous popularity resulted primarily from two movies about adventures of a tram controller Anděl - Dovolená s Andělem (The holidays with Anděl, 1952) and Anděl na horách (Anděl in the mountains, 1955). In the sixties, he performed police chief Vacátko in a TV serial Hříšní lidé města pražského (Sinful people of the city of Prague, 1969) and then in four following movies (1970-1971). His last role was a burgrave in Noc na Karlštejně (A Night at the Kalrštejn castle, 1973).
Lída Baarová (7.9. 1914 - 28.10. 2000)
Lída Baarová (born Babková) was famous thanks to her artistic success, but mainly thanks to her scandal love affair with Hitler's mightiest man Josef Goebbels. Her contemporaries depict her as an exceptionally beautiful woman with unusually fine complexion. She came from a rich family and studied dramatic art at respected teachers. In 1931 she won a casting for a movie Kariéra Pavla Čamrdy (The Career of Pavel Čamrda) and then left the conservatoire. During the next years she acted in many movies and in 1934 she started to appear in Germany. Soon she became an international star. In 1937 she refused an offer from the American studio MGM, which was - according to her own words - the biggest fault of her life. And her promising star career actually ended in 1938, when she had to leave Germany because of the above mentioned love affair that was broken on Hitler's personal command. Then she worked in Bohemia, but the consequences of her love romance pursued her even here and after 1941 she had to break her acting in Czech movies and found some job in Italy. During the last weeks of WW II she fled to Bavaria, where she was arrested by Americans and after unpleasant escapades (a temporary stay in a mental house, among others) was "delivered" back to Czechoslovakia, where she was was naturally accused of "indecent behaviour during the occupation" and again arrested. Fortunately, due to intervention of her father, she was eventually released in December 1946. But the tense atmosphere strongly hit her family: her mother died from heart failure during police examination and her sister Zorka Janů commited suicide, because she was fired from theatre due to Lída's bad reputation. In 1948 Baarová fled with her new husband Jan Kopecký to Austria, then travelled all over Europe and lived even in Argentina. Later she again shot movies in Italy and other European countries, but her movies were of lower quality and she eventually give up filming in 1956. In the end, she settled in Salzburg in Austria and died there in 2000. Currently there exist attempts to bring her life on the film screen. A brief choice from her filmography: Lidé na kře (People on the Floe, 1937), Panenství (Virginhood, 1937), Ohnivé léto (Flaming Summer, 1939), Dívka v modrém (A Girl in blue, 1939), Život je krásný (Life is beautiful, 1940), Paličova dcera (The Fireraiser's daughter, 1941), Turbína (The Turbine, 1941) etc.
See also some info on WIKIPEDIA:
Zdeněk Štěpánek (22.9. 1896 - 20.6. 1968)
A highly respected dramatic actor, a founder of an artistic family consisting of his children Petr, Martin a Jana (Štěpánková; she may be quite well known in Germany thanks to her role in the famous TV serial Nemocnice na kraji města/The Hospital in the end of the Town). Štěpánek studied commercial school, but since he was not quite successful, he joined barnstormers and during WW I he undertook a wild anabasis through the whole Russia. After his return he shined in the Vinohrady theatre in Prague and soon belonged to the most famous actors of that time. He acted even in silent film (unfortunately, the most ambitious Czech movie of the silent era, Svatý Václav/The Saint Vaclav, where he performed the leading role, was shot in 1929, shortly before sound film appeared, and the whole project ended as a total failure). Since 1934 he worked in the National Theatre in Prague. His most remarkable parts in the thirties are a belligerent marshall in a military drama Bílá nemoc (The White disease, 1937) and Mikuláš Dačický z Heslova in a historical comedy Cech panen kutnohorských (The Guild of Kutná Hora's maidens, 1938). After WW II he performed Jan Hus and then Jan Žižka in the hussite trilogy Jan Hus (1954), Jan Žižka (1955) and Proti všem (Against all, 1956). Remarkable parts in other movies: Panenství (1937), Rozina sebranec (Rozina the Foundling, 1945), Nezbedný bakalář (A naughty bachelor, 1946), Císařův pekař (The Emperor's Baker, 1951), Měsíc nad řekou (A Moon above the River, 1953), Transport z ráje (A Transport from the Paradise, 1962) etc.
Jindřich Plachta (1.7. 1899 Plzeň - 6.11. 1951)
A warm-hearted person, remarkable not only by his acting, but also by a slender tall figure. Plachta's original surname was actually Šolle. He was born in Plzeň and studied the commercial academy. Here his nickname "Plachta" (=a pelerine) came into being (after the dress that he usually wore). However, his hunger for a dramatic career was stronger than his father's expectations and after the study he eventually fled to cabarets. Film-makers soon noticed his prominent physiognomy and he was casted as early as during the silent era. His film career actually started a tailor's master Habásko in Muži v offsidu (Men in off-side, 1931). Then he went from movie to movie. In the thirties he was one of the most popular Czech actors. He usually performed good-hearted individuals and affected by his warm humour. People usually well remember his kindly professor in a comedy Cesta do hlubin študákovy duše (1939). Another Plachta's roles: Městečko na dlani (1942), Karel a já (Karel and me, 1942), Vražda v Ostrovní ulici (The Murder in the Ostrovní Street, 1933) etc. After WW II he had no problems regarding his socialistic orientation, but he was seriously sick and soon died. Plachta also succeeded as a writer of humouristic books (Pučálkovic Amina).
Ladislav Pešek (4.10. 1906 - 13.7. 1986)
Another rare example, whose popularity didn't fade after WW II. Pešek (born as Ladislav Pech) was born in a family with a long dramatical tradition and after "a lot of peripetias" he got to Prague, where he started to play in theatre. As he himself later said, he couldn't imagine that he would become a film actor, because cinema was a second-rate art for him. However, soon he acclimatized in it and his film career lasted for more than 50 years. Pešek performed mainly comedial roles of vulpine coons, fanfarons and clowns. One of the most beautiful figures is a failing student in very successful comedies Škola, základ života (School, the Basis of Life, 1938) and Cesta do hlubin študákovy duše (The Way into the Depth of the Student's Soul, 1939). I can also list a naive writer of second-rate detective stories in a parody Těžký život dobrodruha (A hard life of an adventurer, 1941). After WW II he became a professor at the conservatoire in Prague. From his roles in this time I can list Strakonický dudák (The Piper of Strakonice, 1955), Obušku, z pytle ven! (Club, get out of the sack!, 1955), Transport z ráje (A Transport from the Paradise, 1962), Adéla ještě nevečeřela (Adéla Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet, 1977) etc.
František Filipovský (23.9. 1907 Přelouč - 26.10. 1993)
A man regarded as the "king of Czech dubbing" was born in Přelouč in a musical family. He got to theatre only accidentally, when he stood in a theatre play. During his study at Charles university he "mixed" studying with playing in theatre and, eventually, in 1929 he decided to leave the school for the work in theatre. He has practically never performed any leading role, but his minor roles were ever so outstanding that he belonged to the most popular Czech actors. His first big chance was a student in Před maturitou (Before the leaving exam, 1932). As an unsympathetic servile groise he also acted in Škola, základ života (School, the Basis of Life, 1938) and Cesta do hlubin študákovy duše (The Way into the Depth of the Student's Soul, 1939). After WW II I can list his perfidious astrologer in a historical comedy Císařův pekař (The Emperor's Baker, 1951), a dull devil in a fairy-tale Hrátky s čertem (Playing with the Devil, 1956), a desperate father in Svatba jako řemen (A tidy marriage, 1967), a police chief in a comedy Čtyři vraždy stačí, drahoušku (Four murders are enough, honey, 1971) or an old detective in TV serial Hříšní lidé města pražského (Sinful people of the city of Prague, 1969). František Filipovský was especially loved for his inimitable way of dubbing of Louis de Funès. Thanks to him Funès enjoyed a little bit undeserved popularity in the country, because Filipovský raised his quality onto a considerably higher level. Today the annual award for the best Czech dubbers is called The award of František Filipovský. His daughter Pavlína Filipovská was a successful singer, his granddaughter Pavlína (Wolfová) is a prominent TV and radio moderator.
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