MCM: Max von Sydow


You may know him as the priest in the original Exorcist (1973), Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980), or maybe Lor San Tekka in The Force Awakens (2015) or the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones (2016). But Max von Sydow had a long and varied film career that included a few notable historical costume productions. He passed away a year ago on March 8, 2020, and we were remiss in posting a retrospective then, so I’ll try to make up for it now. Max von Sydow has been called Sweden’s Laurence Olivier for his classical training and intense acting style, though his frock flick resume isn’t particularly flashy. Kind of a pity because he was a fine looking fella who’d have filled out a frock coat or breeches and tights elegantly! What he did leave us with are some brilliant films, often in Swedish, plus a number of Hollywood flicks where he tended to play the baddie.




Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal (1957)

Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal (1957)

The outstanding Ingmar Bergman film about a knight who plays chess against the Grim Reaper & contemplates matters of life, death, & religion.

Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal (1957)

Also, look at that profile!


Albert Emanuel Vogler in The Magician aka Ansiktet (1958)

Max von Sydow, The Magician aka Ansiktet (1958)

Set in 19th-century Sweden. When guy-liner was cool.

Max von Sydow, The Magician aka Ansiktet (1958)



Töre in The Virgin Spring aka Jungfrukällan (1960)

Max von Sydow, The Virgin Spring aka Jungfrukällan (1960)

Getting gritty in 14th-c. Sweden.


Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Max von Sydow, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Mixing things up by playing ye olde son of God.


Rev. Abner Hale in Hawaii (1966)

Max von Sydow, Hawaii (1966)

While the movie is pretty dull, it’s a surprisingly not insensitive take on 1820s American missionaries in Hawaii. Max von Sydow’s character starts as a pushy priest but at the very end he sees how he’s been hurting the indigenous people of the islands.


Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank (1967)

Max von Sydow, The Diary of Anne Frank (1967)

The first American TV adaption of the famous story.


Karl Oskar in The Emigrants aka Utvandrarna (1971)

Max von Sydow, The Emigrants aka Utvandrarna (1971)

Based on a novel series, this epic story follows a family immigrating from Småland, Sweden, to the United States in the 1840s.


Karl Oskar in The New Land aka Nybyggarna (1972)

Max von Sydow, The New Land aka Nybyggarna (1972)

This sequel to The Emigrants was filmed concurrently & follows the family as they arrive in Minnesota in 1850.


Harry Haller in Steppenwolf (1974)

Max von Sydow, Steppenwolf (1974)

Based on the Hermann Hesse novel & set in the 1920s.


Larsen in Foxtrot (1976)

Max von Sydow, Foxtrot (1976)

Supposedly set in the 1930s, but I’m not catching that vibe from this screencap.


Captain Ortiz in The Desert of the Tartars (1976)

Max von Sydow, The Desert of the Tartars (1976)

Looking suave with that foil, sir!


Captain Schroeder in Voyage of the Damned (1976)

Max von Sydow, Voyage of the Damned (1976)

Emoting his distress as the captain of the SS St. Louis in 1939, when the ship tried to re-settle German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.


Francois Marneau in March or Die (1977)

Max von Sydow, March or Die (1977)

Something about the French Foreign Legion in the 1920s?


S.A. Andrée in The Flight of the Eagle (1982)

Max von Sydow, The Flight of the Eagle (1982)

Biopic of a Swedish engineer who attempted to fly over the North Pole in 1897. Scenes from this movie were used in a 1997 documentary about S. A. Andrée.


Sidka in Samson and Delilah (1984)

Max von Sydow, Samson and Delilah (1984)

Biblical TV movie.


August Strindberg in Oviri (1986)

Max von Sydow, Oviri (1986)

In this biopic of French artist Paul Gauguin, Max von Sydow portrayed one of his friends, the Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, & painter Strindberg.


Lassefar in Pelle the Conqueror (1987)

Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror (1987)

Max von Sydow received his first Best Actor Oscar nod for his performance in this moving story of a boy & his grandfather immigrating from Sweden to Denmark in the late 1850s.


Father Siemes in Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes (1990)

Max von Sydow, Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes (1990)

This TV movie shows the perspectives of various people right before & after the atomic bomb was dropped.


Johan Åkerblom in The Best Intentions aka Den goda viljan (1991 / 1992)

Max von Sydow, The Best Intentions aka Den goda viljan (1991 / 1992)

This semi-autobiographical drama about Ingmar Bergman’s parents was firs shown as a 6-hour miniseries on Swedish TV, & then it was edited to become a 3-hour theatrical version in the following year.


Sigmund Freud in “Vienna, November 1908,” The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1993)

Max von Sydow, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1993)

One thing I loved about this TV series was spotting all the big-name classical actors that would pop up in cameo roles, like this!


Baron Franz von Trotta und Cipolje in Radetzkymarsch (1994)

Max von Sydow, Radetzkymarsch (1994)

A TV miniseries set during Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph I’s reign.


Knut Hamsun in Hamsun (1996)

Max von Sydow, Hamsun (1996)

Max von Sydow plays the Norwegian Nobel Laureate who supported the Nazis during WWII.


Uncle Alp in Heidi (2005)

Max von Sydow, Heidi (2005)

The crotchety uncle who takes Heidi in & comes to love the little kid.


Tiberius in The Final Inquiry (2006)

Max von Sydow, The Final Inquiry (2006)

Biblical, but take the Roman side (they have better clothes ;).


Cardinal Von Waldburg in The Tudors (2009)

Max von Sydow, The Tudors (2009)

Somebody’s gotta fight Henry & that pesky Reformation!


Josiah Kane in Solomon Kane (2009)

Max von Sydow, Solomon Kane (2009)

A horror flick supposedly set in the early 17th century, I think I need to watch it for a future Snark Week just because of all the leather.


Sir Walter Loxley in Robin Hood (2010)

Max von Sydow, Robin Hood (2010)

Robin’s dad in the the Russell Crowe version.




What’s your favorite frock flick featuring Max von Sydow?

24 Responses

  1. Johanna

    You missed him as the archdruid of Gaul in the film “Druids” – which according to Wikipedia is one of the most disappointing French films ever made. It is about Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.

    • Al Don

      How dare you bring up that film? I thought the Internet got the memo that officially that movie never happened.

      It’s so abysmal the official description should include scare quotes: Druids is a 2001 “epic” historical drama “film” “directed” (?) by Jacques Dorfmann.

  2. Gray

    I had a choice of working on the Young Indiana Jones series, but I opted for the film “Last of the Mohicans” instead.
    “7th Seal” is such a good flick! But I, like Roxana, love him as Ming the Merciless. He looks great in those Danilo Donati costumes… that bugle beaded collar! “Pathetic earthlings…”

  3. Kathleen Norvell

    Seventh Seal, hands down. Next is The Virgin Spring.

  4. hsc

    I’d highly recommend Jan Troell’s two-part epic THE EMIGRANTS and THE NEW LAND, which I got to see at a local arthouse/revival theater around 1974.

    (The theater usually booked classic, foreign and offbeat films in double features for half-week runs, but ran these two 3-hr plus films as single features. Early in the week you could watch THE EMIGRANTS, then come back a few days later and catch THE NEW LAND.)

    The direction and performances are excellent, not only Max von Sydow but Liv Ullmann (nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for THE EMIGRANTS) as his wife.

    (And there very badly needs to be a Woman Crush Wednesday on Liv Ullmann– legendary stage and film actress, director, writer, humanitarian.)

    • Al Don

      I also recommend The Emigrants and The New Land – you really feel like you went on the characters’ harrowing journey with them. (I especially liked the first film’s critique of American classicism.) And honesty, once you get into it, you don’t feel the runtime.

      And I third the motion on Liv Ullmann! One of the best actresses… ever.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Would love to see these two movies. (My grandfather came across from Sweden in 1884.) Also, I actually did go to “March or Die” when it came out because my boyfriend loved anything set in Africa or Asia involving European soldiers. (’70s student Marxists were like that.) Of course Max never fails us, whatever the role, and Catherine Deneuve is a treat, swanning around a desert fortress because, hey, you need to have French female to sacrifice her virtue for something or other.

  5. mmcquown

    I’ve missed a lot of them, so I’ll go for Robin Hood; he gave a lot of weight to every scene he was in, yet could provide a humourous tone when needed. I had the pleasure of interviewing him twice for contemporary roles and found him to be very much a gentleman of the old school and he never once answered a question without thinking carefully about the answer.

    • Johanna

      I’m from Sweden and there was a certain amount of negative media coverage on Sydow towards the end of his life here at home. I don’t know the full details, but when he married a French lady he apparently gave up his Swedish citizenship and with that came rumours of the wife controlling him and/or early stages of dementia. Requests for interviews were turned down etc. (probably just due to old age) but I think people may have been a little gutted about the citizenship issue. You’d tend to pride yourself on being from the same place as Max von Sydow, and then he just gave that up? Hence, great to hear that he was likeable – I’m certain he was, he just kept us all up here wondering why he’d all of a sudden turned French.

  6. LydiaR

    I was just thinking about The Seventh Seal a few days ago. Such an amazing film! One of my medieval history professors showed it in class once, and I’ve loved it ever since.

  7. Gretchen

    I also loved him as the very nego professor in Hannah and Her Sisters.

  8. Ewa

    I’d like to mention that von Sydow played Fritdjof Nansen in “The Last Place On Earth”, a 1985 seven part tv series about Amundsen’s and Scott’s South Pole expeditions. It’s a great series with magnificent roles of Sverre Anker Ousdal as Roald Amundsen (he played Knut Fraenkel in “Flight of the Eagle”, where Sydow played S.A. Andree) and Martin Shaw as Robert Scott.

  9. SarahV

    He really aged so magnificently. He’s quite dishy, even more so with the beard, but he shall ever by Ming the Merciless in my heart. I know he was a campy, pretty much racist stereotype of an Evil Mandarin in SPAAAAAAAAAACE, but he played it so well and he new it.

  10. Al Don

    The Seventh Seal is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I happen to think it’s actually not a good depiction of the Middle Ages (despite some people saying so), but even knowing that, it doesn’t diminish my love for the movie one bit. And yes, big fan of Max von Sydow; I was a bit gutted when I heard he passed away.

    Yes, March or Die (1977) is a pretty good movie about the French Foreign Legion – one of a handful of period films about the Legion that isn’t Beau Geste. Per usual, way too much English is used, haha. Currently the whole thing’s available for free on YouTube.

  11. Liz

    The Emigrants and The New Land are among the most realistic presentations you will ever see about the immigrant experience in the Midwest. Liv Ullman is also wonderful in those films.

  12. Rochelle

    So happy to see The Best Intentions here! It’s one of my favorite films ever.