Obituary: Walter Gotell

Tom Vallance
Friday 20 June 1997 00:02

A familiar figure of authority or menace in over 90 films and countless television shows, Walter Gotell was one of those reliable character players whose faces are well known but whose names are familiar to only a few. His balding, severe countenance made him the perfect KGB chief in several James Bond adventures, and in war films his crooked smile could quickly become a cruel sneer when he portrayed a Nazi.

Born in 1924, he went in 1943 straight from acting with a repertory company into films, which were suffering from a dearth of young actors due to the Second World War. His first films all dealt with the war - The Day Will Dawn, We Dive at Dawn, Tomorrow We Live, Night Invader (all 1943) and 2,000 Women (1944). Deciding to pursue a more secure business career, he gave up acting for several years. A man of strong intellect (he spoke five languages), he was an astute and successful businessman, but in 1950 returned to the screen with small roles in The Wooden Horse (a rare sympathetic, if enigmatic, role as a member of the French resistance), Cairo Road and Albert RN.

He was to work steadily for the next 40 years, though still combining acting with business (he ultimately became business manager of a group of engineering companies) and, in later years, farming.

In John Huston's fine film version of C.S. Forester's The African Queen (1951), Gotell was one of the German seamen who briefly capture Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn near the film's climax. Subsequent Nazi roles included Ice-Cold in Alex (1958), Sink the Bismarck! (1960, as an officer on the ill-fated battleship), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and a particularly chilling portrayal of ruthlessness in The Boys From Brazil (1978). In this last bizarre tale of Hitler clones, he was Mundt, an assassin despatched by Joseph Mengele (Gregory Peck) to kill the father of one of the clones. Recognising the victim (Wolfgang Preiss) as an old comrade from his days in the SS, he tells the man that he has a difficult assignment but lies about the identity of his intended victim. When his friend assures him that orders must be obeyed, he hurls the man over a snow-covered dam.

As Morzeny, henchman of the memorable villainess Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in the second and most distinguished James Bond film, From Russia With Love (1963), it was Gotell who, in the opening "teaser" sequence in which Bond (Sean Connery) is apparently assassinated, peels off the dead man's mask to reveal that it was merely a double being used in a lethal training exercise for a Spectre assassin.

In the first Bond film to star Roger Moore, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Gotell had a more prominent role as the KGB chief General Gogol, a role he continued to play in other Bond films, including Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and the first Bond to star Timothy Dalton, The Living Daylights (1987).

Gotell's prolific television work included the recurring role of Chief Constable Cullen in the popular BBC crime series Softly, Softly: Task Force, which ran for 131 episodes from 1970 to 1976. He was also featured in the mini-series The Scarlet and the Black (1983), in which Gregory Peck played his first dramatic role on television as a real-life Vatican official who aided escaped prisoners of war in Nazi-occupied Rome.

Gotell's last films included the fantasy Wings of Fame (1990) with Peter O'Toole and Colin Firth, and the hit comedy The Pope Must Die (1991). In recent years he had devoted more time to his farm in Ireland.

Walter Gotell, actor: born Bonn 15 March 1924; twice married (two daughters); died 5 May 1997.

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