MCM: Joseph Schildkraut

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Actor Joseph Schildkraut (1896-1964) was born — and got his start in — Austria, but moved to the US in the 1910s. He won an Oscar for playing Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola, and is notable to me as the poncy but scheming duc d’Orléans in Marie Antoinette (1938).

He starred in a VAST number of frock flicks, a decent number of which I can’t find any photos of him in. So, here are his historical roles that I CAN document!

 

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

As a chevalier who falls in love with one of two identical twins during the French Revolution.

1921 Orphans of the Storm

SO foppy, but the character is also good and kind.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Loving the patch!

 

Show Boat (1929)

A mostly silent film that’s sort of based on the stage musical, and I THINK it’s supposed to be sort of period? Schildkraut plays “Gaylord Ravenal” (sorry, not a Show Boat fan!).

1929 Show Boat

Vaguely oldey-timey?

1929 Show Boat

Maybe Edwardian?

 

The Mississippi Gambler (1929)

As the title indicates, Schildkraut plays a (wait for it) Mississippi gambler … who of course falls in love.

1929 The Mississippi Gambler

Note Schildkraut’s (right) profile. It helps pick him out in photos!

1929 The Mississippi Gambler

Exactly what the antebellum South looked like.

 

Cleopatra (1934)

As King Herod to Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra.

1934 Cleopatra

He’s bringing the shiny!

 

Viva Villa! (1934)

As the villian “General Pascal” in this biopic about Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary.

1934 Viva Villa!

Military uniform is military?

 

The Crusades (1935)

As real-life Conrad of Montferrat, “a north Italian nobleman, one of the major participants in the Third Crusade. He was the de facto King of Jerusalem (as Conrad I) by virtue of his marriage to Isabella I of Jerusalem from 24 November 1190, but officially elected only in 1192, days before his death” per Wikipedia. He’s the villain in this 12th century-set film.

1935 The Crusades

You can tell just from the hair and mustache that he’s the villain.

1935 The Crusades

Ooo, sharpening knives!

 

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

As Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the real-life French army captain who was falsely convicted of treason and spawned a reckoning with anti-semitism in France. Writer Emile Zola became involved in advocating for his release. Schildkraut won an Oscar for this.

1937 The Life of Emile Zola

He’s VERY buttoned up!

 

Marie Antoinette (1938)

As the foppy, schemey, fabulous duc d’Orléans to Norma Shearer’s 18th-century French queen.

Marie Antoinette (1938)

Schildkraut is far left, and the ponciest of all the courtiers.

1938 Marie Antoinette

LOVE this behind-the-scenes shot SO much! Did real 18th century men wear this much makeup? Sure, but with less 1930s eyebrow and eye makeup.

1938 Marie Antoinette

“I shall out-fop you all!”

1938 Marie Antoinette

 

Suez (1938)

As Vicomte Rene De Latour, friend of the main character (played by Tyrone Power) in this confused story set in Napoleon III’s France and Egypt.

1938 Suez

Playing tennis for the empress.

 

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)

As Fouquet, eventual French Superintendant of Finances, in this adaptation of the 17th-century-set Alexandre Dumas story.

1939 The Man in the Iron Mask

I feel like these are more 18th century than 17th? I think we have lace bibs!

1939 The Man in the Iron Mask

Now this looks 1630s.

1939 The Man in the Iron Mask

One of Schildkraut’s costumes, designed by William Bridgehouse.

 

Rangers of Fortune (1940)

As the villainous landowner in this Western.

1940 Rangers of Fortune

Never trust a pencil mustache! (Nice fabric layout.)

 

The Parson of Panamint (1941)

Set in 19th-century San Francisco, and something to do with a preacher.

1941 The Parson of Panamint

I have no idea what she’s wearing!

 

Flame of Barbary Coast (1945)

Yet another Western, this one set in San Francisco. Schildkraut plays a cardshark.

1945 Flame of Barbary Coast

Schildkraut on the left, John Wayne on the right, Ann Dvorak’s HUGE hair in the middle.

1945 Flame of Barbary Coast

Is this 19th century? Discuss.

1945 Flame of Barbary Coast

Ok I’m obsessed with Dvorak’s hair!

 

Monsieur Beaucaire (1946)

A mistaken identity comedy set in 18th-century France. Schildkraut plays “Don Francisco.”

1946 Monsieur Beaucaire

Schildkraut is to our right of Bob Hope. I do love men in shiny 18th century!

 

Plainsman and the Lady (1946)

Back to the Westerns! Set in 1859 Missouri, Schildkraut plays a villainous stagecoach line owner.

1946 Plainsman and the Lady

That’s a lot of ruffles!

 

Northwest Outpost (1947)

An operetta set at Fort Ross, a Russian fort in northern California, in the early 19th century.

1947 Northwest Outpost

The best I could do.

 

Old Los Angeles (1948)

More Westerns, more California — Los Angeles this time! I can’t tell for sure, but I’m guessing Schildkraut is the baddie.

1948 Old Los Angeles

Ditto!

 

The Gallant Legion (1948)

5000th Western! Texas Rangers fight to keep Texas from being broken up into smaller states. Schildkraut plays “Senator Clarke Faulkner,” who I’m guessing is on the opposing side.

1948 The Gallant Legion

Mean ol’ senator!

 

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

As Otto Frank, father of Holocaust victim and author Anne Frank, in this TV film. Schildkraut was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role.

1959 The Diary of Anne Frank

 

 

Which is your favorite Joseph Schildkraut frock flick role?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

20 Responses

  1. NuitsdeYoung

    Hi! I wrote quite a bit of Conrad of Montferrat’s Wiki, and have written extensively on him, including his fictional misrepresentations. Schildkraut’s portrayal (partly from Scott’s ‘The Talisman’ and Hewlett’s ‘Life & Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay’) in turn influenced Ronald Welch’s depiction of him in his YA novel ‘Knight Crusader’ (1954).
    See my article in the Journal of Historical Fictions:
    http://historicalfictionsjournal.org/pdf/JHF%202019-018

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Conrad of Montferrat has his own wiki? The history of the Crusader states is incredibly convoluted with multiply married queens to nobles from outside Outremar. Conrad seems to have been one of the better choices for the crown matrimonial.

      Reply
      • NuitsdeYoung

        I meant his Wikipedia page.
        He’s a wonderful character – always picks himself up and dusts himself down and finds something else to do. His assassination (in which Richard remains a chief suspect) was a tragedy. I’ve been working on and off on a biography of him for years, and have visited Monferrato – beautiful part of Italy.
        One of the great trobador courts, too.

        Reply
    • NuitsdeYoung

      I hadn’t seen that early photo of him at the top before: yes, very handsome! I don’t understand why he didn’t get more romantic lead roles in talkies.

      Reply
      • Peacoclaur

        The fact he was from a Jewish family was maybe the reason why if I had to guess. It was highly uncommon for Jewish or other non Anglo Saxon/Celtic actors to be cast as romantic Leads prior to the 1970s new Hollywood era.

        Reply
        • NuitsdeYoung

          I don’t think that’s strictly true… The Fairbankses (real name Ullmann), Leslie Howard, Paul Newman…
          I do wonder if his accent may have been more of an issue, as he played romantic leads in silent era?

          Reply
            • NuitsdeYoung

              I think German accents became identified (for contemporary political reasons) with ‘bad guys’. Unfortunately this meant a lot of actors who were Jewish refugees and/or anti-Nazi ended up playing baddies (even Nazis) in 1930s-40s.

              Reply
              • Addie

                On the plus side, that meant that they got to rob Nazis of their power much as possible- Werner Klemperer was a German-American Jewish actor who insisted that the Nazi he played on Hogan’s Heroes would always be a bumbling fool who never won. Making him menacing would mean he was in some way to be taken seriously and his rhetoric was to be engaged with (even just to refute it). This is also the tactic Mel Brooks took (himself a WWII vet) with the philosophy that while Nazis were evil and dangerous, treating them with any dignity gives them narrative strength that they should not have. (Not gonna pass judgement on if this is the best or only way to portray Nazis, or that something like Hogan’s Heroes isn’t… mixed, as far as how much it’s actually confronting the horrors of WWII. Just that having the ability to rob a monster of its power and menace can be an important part of reckoning with that evil.)
                Being pigeonholed as a refugee absolutely sucks, though, and it’s not like Hollywood (or America in general) was really opening its arms without reservations. If you got in at all, you did what you were told and had to like it. Even if that meant having to play the villain of your own story.

                Reply
  2. Janet Stoker

    Turns out I only saw him in the 1940 “The Shop Around the Corner” (on which “You’ve Got Mail” was based) with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. And of course saw him “The Diary of Anne Frank” as I saw every version/telling of Anne & her family’s story (almost a prerequisite for a Dutch citizen and daughter of pre-WWII Parents).
    I hope to find a way to see more of his FF movies, as it’s indeed a long and interesting list.

    Reply
    • NuitsdeYoung

      Some of the early ones are on YouTube as now in public domain. ‘The Crusades’ horrified me (it’s basically pasted together from Walter Scott and Maurice Hewlett, despite the on-screen credit to Harold Lamb, who (although a popular writer) was a better historian…). Have been a Conrad of Montferrat fangirl/geek for nearly 40 yrs.

      Reply
      • Addie

        It’s awful, but I also love the ahistorical wackiness. Me and my friends had to watch it for a film class, and we cracked up at Loretta Young’s 12th century cone bras and fluffy bangs, “Michael, King of the Russians” ‘s absurdly low bass voice, the fact that Richard kept a falcon indoors (why???) and this weird little moment near the beginning where he chucks a goblet like a football. Lots of fun if you just want to yell at a screen for a while, though it’s also boring at times and has some insidious undertones that we all felt the need to address. (That’s why I love my friends. We switch from talking about Norman English bias-cut evening wear to imperialism and Orientalism and back on a dime.)

        Reply
        • NuitsdeYoung

          I talk about it a bit in the article I’ve linked to above, and about the novel that it draws on heavily, which was still in copyright, hence DeMille didn’t mention it in onscreen credit! Having Conrad in France and England when he was already almost singlehandedly fending off Saladin in Tyre is taken from Maurice Hewlett’s ‘Richard Yea-and-Nay’, and Berengaria’s role owes a lot to Hewlett’s fictional Jehanne de Saint-Pol (a very Mary-Sue mistress he invents for Richard).

          Reply
  3. Lily Lotus Rose

    I’ve only seen The Diary of Anne Frank…years ago in school. Never knew of this actor By name, but wow he was handsome!!

    Reply
  4. Damnitz

    To the Question above: we don’t know much About make up on 18th century men. However all notes I saw yet indicates that make up was noticed to be odd. The common Picture that especially French noble men had a lot of make up on them is not true or seems to be a modern Invention. I think that Maybe even the 1920s (and Theater) are a reason for that portrayal of 18th century men. In silent film we find Always costumes, poses and make up exaggerated. I’m almost Always happy to see reasonable portrayals of 18th century aristocrats.

    Reply
  5. M.E. Lawrence

    Fine actor, and the question of accents is interesting. I once asked my ma why people were so impressed by Maurice Chevalier, and she immediately said, “The French accent. Most Americans had never heard one.” (She preferred Louis Jourdan; has he gotten a MCM? I think he starred in some frock flicks.) Presumably WWI helped to demonize a German-Austrian accent.

    Reply
  6. Nzie

    I don’t know if I’ve seen any of these, but I love the “Is this 19th century? Discuss.” Here for the snark even when I don’t know the flicks. :-)

    Reply

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