Maria Schell

Actress known for her beauty and her tears
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The Independent Online

Maria Margarethe Anna Schell, actress: born Vienna 15 January 1926; married 1957 Horst Hachler (one son; marriage dissolved 1965), 1966 Veit Relin (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1988); died Preitenegg, Austria 26 April 2005.

Maria Schell was a beautiful, intensely emotional actress who never achieved the international recognition of her younger brother, Maximilian, but made sporadic appearances in English-speaking films and was very popular in Germany. Her overtly soulful, often tearful performances did not appeal to German critics, who rarely gave her good reviews, but she was a great favourite with audiences. She achieved particular stature in the Fifties, winning awards at both the Cannes and Venice festivals, acting for Visconti, and playing Grushenka, a role coveted by Marilyn Monroe, in Hollywood's version of The Brothers Karamazov.

She was born in 1926 in Vienna, one of four children of a Swiss poet-playwright and an Austrian actress, and was brought up partly in Switzerland, where her family had fled after the Anschluss of 1938. Her film début, billed as Gritli Schell, was in the Swiss films Steibruch and Maturareise (both 1942). Her first German film after the Second World War, Der Engel mit der Posaune (1948), the saga of a Viennese piano-making family over 60 years, brought her acclaim, and the following year she repeated her role in a ponderous British version, The Angel with the Trumpet. She had a second English-speaking role when cast in a typically lachrymose role as the first wife of William Friese-Greene in the official Festival of Britain film, the star-laden The Magic Box (1952).

She then starred with Marius Goring in Compton Bennett's So Little Time (1952), as a Belgian who has an ill-fated affair with a German officer during the war. It was a personal favourite of Goring -

a touching little film . . . Maria Schell was beautiful and extremely good. It was too soon after the war and people still thought every German was a horror. A year later, and it would have been all right.

Schell had a similarly downbeat role as the mistress of a married police commissioner (Trevor Howard) in a screen version of Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter (1953).

In 1954 she won the best actress award at Cannes for her performance in Helmut Kautner's Die letzte Brücke (The Last Bridge), as a German doctor humanised by her experiences after being kidnapped by partisans in wartime Yugoslavia. Two years later she was awarded the Venice Festival prize for playing the title role of the oppressed washerwoman in René Clément's Gervaise. Visconti's Le Notti bianche (White Nights, 1957), in which she was a woman feverishly awaiting the return of her lover, and Alexandre Astruc's Une Vie (End of Desire, 1958), based on a Maupassant short story about a woman coming to terms with her husband's infidelities, were other triumphs during this rich period.

She then went to Hollywood to play the slatternly Grushenka in Richard Brooks's The Brothers Karamazov (1958). In an exceptionally wild, extrovert performance, she effectively flaunted her beauty and taunted the four brothers created by Dostoevsky, though critics have often conjectured what Monroe might have done in the part had she realised her wish. Schell followed with two westerns, Delmer Daves's The Hanging Tree (1959) co-starring Gary Cooper, and Anthony Mann's remake Cimarron (1960).

Schell's career faltered with the decade's end, as the long-suffering heroine went out of style, and she retired from the screen in 1963. Five years later she returned as a character actress in such films as 99 mujeres (99 Women, 1969), The Odessa File (1974), and Voyage of the Damned (1976), and she had the brief role of a Kryptonian judge in Superman (1978).

Her occasional television appearances included Albert Speer's mother in Inside the Third Reich (1982). Her last performance was in an episode of the television crime series Tatort (1996).

Tom Vallance