Obituary: Gottfried Reinhardt
Friday 22 July 1994
LILLIAN ROSS wrote a series of celebrated articles on the making of Gottfried Reinhardt's production The Red Badge of Courage (1951) that were originally published in the New Yorker and collected in a book called Picture. This was the first time anyone had gone beyond the publicists and panhandlers of Hollywood to tell it like it really was, an industry of titanic egos and even greater sycophancy.
Ross describes Reinhardt as 'a paunchy man wih a thick mane of wavy brown hair; in his cocoa- brown silk shantung suit, he looked like a teddy bear. There was a cigar in his mouth and an expression of profound cynicism on his face. A heavy gold key-chain hung in a deep loop from under his coat to a trouser pocket. He speaks with a German accent but without harshness; and his words come out pleasantly, in an even, regretful-sounding way'.
'Everyone in Hollywood wants to be something he is not,' Reinhardt told Ross. 'Nobody is satisfied. Everybody is frustrated. Nobody is happy. I am a man who likes to see people happy.'
He was the son of Max Reinhardt, the Austrian-born theatre director and manager who achieved a worldwide reputation after his Berlin debut in 1902, equally at home with pageant-like spectacles and expressionist Kammerspiele. Forced to flee when the Nazis came to power in 1933, he found his goal in Los Angeles, where his Hollywood Bowl A Midsummer Night's Dream was converted into a kitsch Warner Bros extravaganza in 1935.
Gottfried had arrived before his father and had been offered an unpaid job at Paramount by the great comedy director and a former colleague of Max's, Ernst Lubitsch. When Walter Wanger moved from that studio to MGM Gottfried followed him, at a salary of dollars 150 a week. He stayed when Wanger left, as aide to Bernard Hyman, himself assistant to the studio's 'boy genius' Irving Thalberg, working on San Francisco (1936) and Saratoga (1937), both with Clark Gable. His career moved forward when he provided the story for The Great Waltz (1938), introduced as based not on the life of Johann Strauss but his 'spirit'.
Gottfried Reinhardt became a producer with Comrade X (1940), a variation on Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939), which had starred Garbo, revamped for Hedy Lamarr and Gable. Reinhardt was more suited to this type of European-style MGM entertainment than to the studio's Americana, and produced Rage In Heaven (1941), from the novel by James Hilton, in which Robert Montgomery marries Ingrid Bergman before pushing her into the arms of his best friend, George Sanders. The reason was made surprisingly clear in the screenplay co-written by Christopher Isherwood.
It was a buttoned-up age, and there was an explosion of outrage when Garbo impersonated her sexy twin sister to win back her husband, Melvyn Douglas, in Two-Faced Woman (1942). In truth, Garbo was miscast in a role Irene Dunne might have done effortlessly, and the film's failure forced her into a temporary retirement which became permanent. It was Reinhardt's last film before joining the Signal Corps.
He returned to MGM as assistant to the producer Sidney Franklin on two more vehicles for Gable, Homecoming (1948) and Command Decision, neither of which helped this actor re-establish his pre-eminent pre-war box-office standing - though the second is one of the best contemporary films about the serving men of the Second World War. MGM upped Reinhardt again to producer for two movies marking its Silver Anniversary, but Big Jack (1949) was a weak one for Wallace Beery, who died soon after completion, and The Great Sinner was a decidedly dodgy enterprise, recycling - without credit - parts of Dostoevsky's life and two of his novels (The Gambler and Crime and Punishment) for a tale of intrigue at Wiesbaden casino.
Reinhardt agreed to produce The Red Badge of Courage for John Huston, but since Stephen Crane's novel about a recruit in the Confederate Army had no love interest, MGM's executives were against the project from the start. Ross's penetrating and hilarious account (just republished, with a foreword by Anjelica Huston) shows Reinhardt often desperately trying to keep everyone happy.
Sidney Franklin gave him the chance to direct with The Story of Three Loves (1953) - or at least two-thirds of it, the episode about trapeze artists with Kirk Douglas and Pier Angeli, and one which moved the theme of The Seventh Veil to the world of ballet. (Vincente Minnelli directed the other segment.)
Reinhardt directed only one more film for MGM, Betrayed (1954) - Gable's swansong at the studio - concerning the Dutch Resistance. After that Reinhardt made a handful of films in Germany, including Menschen im Hotel (1959) with Michele Morgan, a remake of Grand Hotel, and Liebling der Gotter (1960).
His last two films in English were also made in his native land. Town Without Pity (1960) was a powerful court-room drama centred on a young girl, Christine Kaufmann, the four GIs accused of raping her, and their defending counsel, Kirk Douglas. Situation Hopeless - But Not Serious starred Alec Guinness, who was keeping two American airmen, Robert Redford and Mike Connors, in his cellar without telling them the War is over. It was made in 1965, but shelved till 1969, after Redford had become a star.
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