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Maria Margarethe Anna Schell (Vienna, Austria, January 15, 1926 – Preitenegg, Austria, April 26, 2005) was an Austrian theater, film and television actress. His acting career began in 1942 when, with no previous experience, he acted in the film Der Steinbruch (La quarry) by director Sigfrit Steiner. She was one of the few actresses in the German-speaking world who achieved worldwide fame. They called her the “blond angel”, due to her luminous face and her melodramatic gestures of innocent and sentimental girl.
She achieved international fame in 1954 when she received the award for best actress at the Cannes International Film Festival for her participation in the anti-war film The Last Bridge by her compatriot Helmut Kaeutner, and subsequently acted in some major productions such as The Brothers Karamazov by Richard Brooks, as well as in numerous romantic comedies.
In the 1960s he worked in German theater and television, and even came to work in the latter medium with his daughter Marie-Therese Relin.
She was the daughter of Swiss writer and playwright Ferdinand Hermann Schell and Austrian actress Margarete Schell, who grew up in Switzerland since 1938, when the family fled the Hitler regime. She was sister of the also actor Maximilian Schell (1930-2014). He studied at a religious college in Colmar (Haut-Rhin, France) and studied theater at the School of Dramatic Arts in Zurich, Switzerland, while working as a secretary to pay for them.
She made her film debut as an actress like Gritli Schell in 1942 in Der Steinbruch (La quarry) by director Sigfrit Steiner and returned to film after the war. Her performance in Der Engel Mit Der Posaune (The Angel with the Trumpet) (1948) took her to Great Britain, where in 1952 in So Little Time, by Compton Bennett she had a leading role in the class that would become her trademark. He personified a Belgian aristocrat who fell in love with a German colonel of the occupation forces, but was too melancholic for the postwar public.
Then in The Heart of the Matter, based on the masterful novel by Graham Greene, she would again appear happily in love, this time with a Catholic police officer on duty in Africa, in what was , despite having an end of commitment, his best work along with the one made in The Last Bridge (Die Letzte Brücke). In this Austro-Yugoslavian film he makes an intense portrait of a German nurse captured by Yugoslav guerrillas who goes out in solidarity with his cause.
He worked in German cinema in several films in which he formed a partnership with O.W. Fischer during the 1950s. Like many actors, Maria Schell, was attracted to films spoken in English, which were new versions of successful European films. In her case it was an adaptation, Angel With a Trumpet (1950), whose original she had made two years before in Austria.
She then acted in the role of the daughter in the pioneering film by William Friese-Greene the star movie The Magic Box in 1951.
After two years of hard work, including his performance in the ambitious film Napoleón de Sacha Guitry from 1955, he obtained an important success in the main role of the film Gervaise, the fifth film version of L’Assommoir by Émile Zola. Her personification of the washerwoman transformed into a businesswoman who sinks into alcoholism, won the Volpi prize at the Venice International Film Festival, although some critics said there was an overvaluation of the technique in its heartbreaking performance.
Apparently destined to frustration in love and in life, he acted in 1957 in Luchino Visconti’s White Nights, the first of the three versions of the bitter love story of Fyodor Dostoevsky, in the role of Natalia, who he dismisses the young man who is enthralled by her, while he dreams of the eventual return of his attractive but fleeting lover.
His painting of the hopeless woman reached new heights the following year when he led an adaptation of the story of Guy de Maupassant, Une vie, by Alexandre Astruc, embodying the aristocratic Jeanne, who recklessly marries an attractive womanizer. When she is widowed, she stays with her son and the memories of a loving relationship. Schell brings his usual intelligence and intensity to the film, but some critics condemn this and other performances as covered by a “cloying sweetness.”
He moved to the United States for the filming of his fourth film: The Brothers Karamazov (1958), directed by Richard Brooks – a fourth film version of the homonymous work by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky – in which he played Grushenka. The role, coveted by Marilyn Monroe, covered him in line with the rest of his production, but did not reach the level of his next film in 1959, the western El árbol del ahorcado where he again played a suffering heroine, temporarily blind, and attended to by a dedicated doctor, while at the mercy of tough cowboys. His vulnerability and his plaintive voice accentuated the drama, but the classic western turned out to be no more popular than the next film Cimarron, directed by Anthony Mann.
It adapted better in the new television version of Ninotchka. But perhaps Greta Garbo’s interpretative level was hard to reach, and so ended her brief but busy season in the United States.
Schell returned to Britain for one of the best and most controversial films of his long career, Guy Marked by Guy Green, starring Stuart Whitman as a seemingly reformed pedophile who begins a relationship with a widow who has a young daughter. The intrusive press and a worried psychiatrist contribute to the tension within a sympathetic film that would be impossible to make today.
Towards the end of a hectic decade in which he had acted, usually in first roles, in twenty-five films in Europe and the United States with great directors such as Luchino Visconti, Sacha Guitry, Anthony Mann and Alexandre Astruc; he reduced his commitments to a film for cinema or television per year.
Of these, few were the ones that attracted attention: in Odessa he had the satisfaction of having an important role and working with his brother Maximilian Schell in an ambitious production.
She was one of the many stars of the 1973 film, Stuart Rosenberg’s Journey of the Damned, a well-intentioned but heavy movie about the SS St Louis, in which a group of Jewish refugees was boarded to save them, only to be rejected at all safe ports and have to return to Germany.
Like her brother Maximilian, Maria never lost her commitment to the events of World War II, nor her interest in classical literature. That integrity was recognized in 1977 by the German Film Academy with a prize “for its outstanding contribution to the film industry over the years.”
This had little effect on his international career and, apart from television, his appearances on the screen were slim. Among her best small roles was that of Mrs. Speer in Inside The Third Reich (1982).
She worked regularly in the 1990s, except for the periods when she was sick, and three years that she took as a sabbatical, but she was exhausted and the public was no longer attracted by her emotional, and very often tearful characterization of women who were decidedly non-feminist, but acted as the matriarch in Der Clan Der Anna Voss, a six-part miniseries.
In addition to his work in the cinema, he worked in plays in Zurich, Basel, Vienna (Josefstad Theater), Berlin, Munich (Kammerspiel Theater), at the Salzburg Festival and toured the provinces since 1963. Between the works in which he acted are classics such as Hamlet, Shakespeare, Goethe’s Faust along with modern pieces such as Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.
Maria Schell wrote two autobiographical books, Die Kostbarkeit of the Augenblicks – Gedanken – Erinnerunge (The delight of the moment – Thoughts – Memories), in 1985 and … und wenns’s a Katz is! Mein Weg durchs Leben (… even if it’s a cat! My way through life), in 1995.
His last appearance in public was at the premiere of the documentary film My Sister Maria, shot by Maximilian Schell. It is a record of his life and career in homage to the icon of German cinema, which premiered in January 2002, in his adopted homeland, Switzerland. The film portrays with affection the ups and downs in the life of a frail woman thrown into fame too early.
Caught in a hospital in Graz for pneumonia, he died at the age of 79, in his luxurious country house in Preitenegg, in the alpine region of Carinthia, inherited from his parents, where he had been living for years. / p>
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