Obituary: Camilla Horn

Tom Vallance
Wednesday 21 August 1996 23:02
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A beautiful blonde with slanting brown eyes and classical features described as "fathomless in their subtle shadings of emotions", Camilla Horn was one of the great beauties of the German cinema, who made an overwhelming impact with her first leading role, in F.W. Murnau's Faust (1926), the great director's last German film before he went to America. He had originally wanted Lillian Gish for the role of Marguerite to Emil Janning's Faust, but Horn proved inspired casting.

"For once," wrote Photoplay on the film's American premiere, "a picture is stolen from the redoubtable Jannings. This Berlin newcomer is a remarkable actress . . . she gives what is, in our opinion, a better performance than Miss Gish could have offered. It is a superbly tender and unaffected bit of work." Though she subsequently starred opposite John Barrymore in Hollywood, the advent of talkies prompted a return to Germany, where she worked prolifically throughout the Thirties until her frank criticism of the Nazi party temporarily ended her career.

The daughter of a railway worker, Horn was born on 25 April 1903 in Frankfurt, and educated in Germany and Switzerland. After briefly working as a seamstress she went to Berlin to train as an actress and dancer. She danced in cabaret as part of Rudolf Nelson's revue troupe before obtaining work as an extra at UFA studios, her films including Murnau's Tartuffe (1925). (She preferred later to disregard these early bit parts and proclaim Faust as her film debut.)

A commercial failure, Faust is regarded as a classic of the German cinema. Horn's acceptance of UFA's offer of a contract prevented her immediately joining Murnau in Hollywood, where she later claimed she would have starred in his masterpiece Sunrise, but in 1928 she was allowed to go to America, where the producer Joseph Schenck, with whom she became romantically involved, put her into the leading role opposite John Barrymore in Tempest. Set during the 1914 Bolshevik uprising, its first encounter between the two leads had Horn, as Princess Tamara, whipping the officer played by Barrymore across his bare chest, to which he responds (naturally) with a kiss. Tempest was the first film produced by United Artists to have synchronised sound and music effects.

Horn again starred with Barrymore in Eternal Love (1929), Ernst Lubitsch's last silent film and a gloomy affair in which the couple, as mountain villagers forced into separate loveless marriages, flee the wrath of the village who wrongly suspect Barrymore of killing Horn's husband, only to meet their deaths in an avalanche. It was a critical and commercial failure.

Horn's final American film, a talkie shot in both English and German versions, was The Royal Box, made in 1930. The Royal Box, based on Alexandre Dumas' biographical play Kean, co-starred Alexander Moissoi as the renowned English actor Edmund Kean. Back in Germany, Horn starred in Leo Mittler's Sonntag des Lebens, the German version of Edmund Goulding's The Devil's Holiday (1930), playing Nancy Carroll's role of a mercenary manicurist converted by true love.

Her subsequent German films included a big hit Die Grosse Sehnsucht ("The Big Yearning"), then in 1932 she came to England to make three films in which she displayed a good command of the language. The films - The Return of Raffles (1931), Matinee Idol (1932) and Love Nest (1932) were minor items however, and when she returned in 1934 to make the even poorer Luck of a Sailor, she was fourth-billed.

She was now playing more worldly roles then in her earlier films, and her career continued to flourish in Germany where Georg Jacoby's Der Letzte Walzer ("The Last Waltz", 1934) and Jacques Feyder's Fahrendes Volk (1938) were notable successes, until her trouble with the Nazis, which led to her semi-retirement in 1939.

An attempt to cross the border into Switzerland having been unsuccessful, she took up farming and at one point went into hiding. At the war's end, she became an interpreter for the occupying Americans before resuming an acting career with a triumphant stage appearance in Cocteau's L'Aigle a Deux Tetes (1948). Later she carved a new career as forceful matriarchs on television and film, winning the 1988 Bavarian film prize for her role as a royal grandmother in Peter Schamoni's Schloss Konigswald. In 1974 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the German film industry, and in 1985 wrote an autobiography, Verliebt in Die Leben ("In Love with Life"), in which she candidly discussed her marriages and affairs (including a long-standing one with her co-star Louis Graveure). Several years prior to her death, she had mov-ed to a rest home in Bavaria.

Tom Vallance

Camilla Martha Horn, actress: born Frankfurt, Germany 25 April 1903; married Gustav Diessl, Louis Graveure, Klaus Geerz, Kurt Kurfis, Robert Schnyder, Rudolf Muhlfenzl; died 14 August 1996.

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