Filming Die Mörder sind unter uns © DEFA-Stiftung, Eugen Klagemann
Wolfgang Staudte was born in Saarbrücken, Germany, on October 9, 1906. When he was six his parents, both actors, moved the family to Berlin. Staudte was training to be an engineer before 1926, when he began performing at the theater in Schneidemühl and the at the Volksbühne in Berlin until 1933. He worked with renowned theater directors, including Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator, as well as with his father in his own theater company. In 1929, he also debuted as a film actor in Eugen Schüfftan’s short film Ins Blaue hinein. Staudte also started dubbing foreign films. In 1930 he performed the German voice-over for the soldier Franz Kemmerich, played by Ben Alexander, in the American Oscar-awarded production All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Lewis Milestone). Staudte claimed to be deeply affected by the film.
By 1933, the Nazis had banned Staudte from acting on stage because of his performances in relatively modern plays with “anti-Nazi tendencies.” Despite this, he continued to perform during the Nazi Period by playing in various entertainment and military propaganda films, including Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s …reitet für Deutschland and Karl Ritter’s Pour le Mérite and Legion Condor. Staudte also played a supporting role in the anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film, Jud Süß; later Staudte explained that he had been threatened with losing his draft exemption if he did not take the role.
From 1933 on Staudte was involved in producing short films and commercials and he started working for Ethos Films. In 1935, he joined the Reichsfilmkammer (Reich Film Chamber) as a film director, which allowed him to work without restrictions. From 1935 to 1939, he produced over 100 commercials for the Berlin production company Werbeschall & Schröter (later Sigma Film). During these years, Staudte also wrote and directed two full-length documentaries for the company, both about car racing.
In 1941, Staudte filmed the short feature film Ins Grab kann man nichts mitnehmen for Tobis Filmkunst. In the following years, he directed more feature film projects for Tobis, including his full-length feature film debut, Akrobat schö-ö-ö-n!, with the Spanish clown Charlie Rivel playing the lead. The Nazis banned his next film, Der Mann, dem man den Namen stahl, and as a result Staudte lost his draft exemption. Producer Heinrich George saved him from being sent to the front by employing him to direct the comedy Frau über Bord. Alongside working as a director and a scriptwriter, Staudte also continued acting.
After WWII, Staudte was granted a British license for film production and lived in the British sector of Berlin. His first postwar projects, however, were in the Soviet sector of Berlin. In June 1945, he directed the German dubbing of Sergei Eisenstein’s film Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible, Part 1; 1944) on behalf of Sojusintorgkino, a film distributor in the Soviet sector. He was also involved in collecting film footage of destroyed subway tunnels in Berlin for Friedrich Wolf’s and Slatan Dudow’s feature film project, Kolonne Strupp (Convoy Strupp). Unfortunately, the film was never completed and the material was lost.
Staudte actively championed the revival of the German film industry. He supported the Filmaktiv group, established in October 1945, which later helped set up the DEFA Studio in the Soviet sector. At the beginning of May 1946, before the studio was officially founded, Staudte began filming the first German postwar film. Before the end of the war, Staudte had finished his exposé entitled Der Mann, den ich töten werde (The Man I Will Kill); later Die Mörder sind unter uns, and he presented it to officials in the British, French and American occupation zones, who all rejected it. But Staudte found support in the Soviet sector and produced his film at the newly established DEFA Studio in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Die Mörder sind unter uns, the first German film made after WWII, premiered in the Soviet sector of Berlin on October 15, 1946, and was shown successfully throughout Europe and the USA.
In 1948, Staudte released Die seltsamen Abenteuer des Fridolin B., a slapstick comedy about ridiculous bureaucratic politics. This film was a remake of his 1945 banned film, Der Mann, dem man den Namen stahl. Not only did actor Axel von Ambesser play the leading part in both of these films, but apparently Staudte also used footage from his original production in the newer film. The material for the original was thought to be lost after the war, but it was discovered in the mid-1950s in the GDR’s Staatliches Filmarchiv; a restored version was released in 1996.
At the DEFA Studios, Staudte also directed classics like Der Untertan and his internationally successful children’s film, Die Geschichte vom kleinen Muck. Despite his success, Staudte faced bitter confrontations with officials about his film Rotation. After a dispute in 1956 with Bertolt Brecht about the concept for filming Brecht’s play, Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage), Staudte decided to work only in West Germany.
Although it was not easy for him to make political films while Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of West Germany, Staudte continued directing films which reflected on National Socialism, war crimes (Rosen für den Staatsanwalt) and suppressed memories (Herrenpartie, Kirmes). By the beginning of the 1970s, Staudte had begun focusing primarily on films for television. He directed twelve episodes of the TV series Der Kommissar. By the end of his career in the 1980s, he again returned to the question of guilt in postwar Germany with films like the satirical Der Snob and the post-WWII drama Zwischengleis; the latter was his last film for cinema. After the premiere of Zwischengleis, Staudte stated in an interview that he wanted to show the psychological devastation of people, instead of the devastation of a city, as he had in Die Mörder sind unter uns.
Staudte’s films were shown at prestigious international film festivals, including Venice (Die Mörder sind unter uns), Cannes (Der letzte Zeuge), Locarno (Rotation) and Berlin (Herrenpartie). In 1975, he was awarded the German Film Award in Gold for his outstanding contribution to German film, and in 1984, he was honored with the Helmut Käutner Lifetime Achievement Award.
Wolfgang Staudte—one of the most important German film directors and one of very few who made films in both East and West Germany—died on January 19, 1984, while the TV series Der eiserne Weg was still being filmed.
Festivals & Awards:
|1984||Helmut Käutner Award for Life’s Work|
|1975||German Film Award in Gold for Outstanding Individual Contributions to German Film|
|1964||Nominated for Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival for Herrenpartie|
|1961||Nominated for Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival for Der letzte Zeuge|
|1960||Best Director, Karlovy Vary Film Festival for Rosen für den Staatsanwalt|
|1960||Nominated for Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival for Kirmes|
|1957||Nominated for Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival for Rose Bernd|
|1955||Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival for Ciske de Rat|
|1954||Golden Leopard, Locarno International Film Festival for Rotation|
|1951||National Prize Class II for Der Untertan|
|1947||Nominated for Grand International Award, Venice Film Festival for Die Mörder sind unter uns|
|1984||Der eiserne Weg (The Iron Way, TV series)|
|1984||Der Snob (The Snob, TV)|
|1983||Satan ist auf Gottes Seite (Solo Run, TV)|
|1982||Die Pawlaks (The Pavlaks, TV series)|
|1979||Der eiserne Gustav (Iron Gustav, TV series)|
|1978||Zwischengleis (Yesterday's Tomorrow, TV)|
|1973-84||Tatort (Crime Scene, TV series)|
|1971||Der Seewolf (The Seawolf, TV series)|
|1970-73||Der Komissar (The Inspector, TV series)|
|1970||Die Herren mit der weißen Weste (Gentlemen in White Vests)|
|1964||Herrenpartie (Destination Death)|
|1962||Die glücklichen Jahre der Thorwalds (The Thorwalds' Happy Years)|
|1962||Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three Penny Opera)|
Der letzte Zeuge (The Last Witness)
|1960||Kirmes (Death Carousel)|
|1959||Rosen für den Staatsanwalt (Roses for the Prosecutor)|
|1958||Der Maulkorb (The Muzzle)|
|1957||Rose Bernd (The Sins of Rose Bernd)|
|1955||Ciske de Rat (A Child Needs Love)|
|1954||Leuchtfeuer (The Beacon)|
|1953||Die Geschichte vom kleinen Muck (The Story of Little Mook)|
|1951||Der Untertan (The Kaiser's Lackey)|
|1949||Schicksal aus zweiter Hand (Second Hand Destiny)|
|1948||Die seltsamen Abenteuer des Herrn Fridolin B. (The Strange Adventures of Fridolin B.)|
|1946||Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Among Us)|
|1945||Das Mädchen Juanita/Frau über Bord (Woman Overboard)|
|1945||Der Mann, dem man den Namen stahl (The Man Whose Name was Stolen)|
|1944||Ich hab' von Dir geträumt (I Dreamt of You)|
|1943||Acrobat schö-ö-ö-n! (Acrobat Won-der-ful)|
|1942||Aus eins mach’ vier (Divide One into Four, short)|
|1942||Das große Spiel (The Big Game)|
|1941||Sechs Tage Heimaturlaub (Six Days of Home Leave)|
|1941||Ins Grab kann man nichts mitnehmen (You Can’t Take It with You, short)|
|1941||Jungens (Boys, actor)|
|1941||Blutsbrüderschaft (Blood Brotherhood, actor)|
|1941||…reitet für Deutschland (Ride for Germany, actor)|
|1940||Jud Süß (Jew Süss, actor)|
|1939||Legion Condor (actor)|
|1939||D III 88 (actor)|
|1939||Die fremde Frau (The Strange Woman, actor)|
|1939||Drei Unteroffiziere (Three Corporals, actor)|
|1938||Pour le Mérite (For the Merit)|
|1938||Ziel in den Wolken (Reach for the Clouds, actor)|
|1938||Mordsache Holm (The Holm Murderer Case, actor)|
|1938||Spiel im Sommerwind (Play in the Summer Breezes, actor)|
|1938||Am seidenen Faden (Missing Pieces, actor)|
|1938||Lauter Lügen (Many Lies, actor)|
|1938||Deutsche Siege in drei Erdteilen (German Victories on Three Continents, doc.; script, editor)|
|1936||Zwischen Sahara and Nürburgring (Between Sahara and the Nürburgring, doc.; dir., script)|
|1936||Gleisdreieck (Triangular Junction, actor)|
|1936||Stärker als Paragraphen (Stronger than Paragraphs, actor)|
|1936||Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (The Emperor of California, actor)|
|1934||Schwarzer Jäger Johanna (The Black Hunter Johanna, actor)|
|1933||Non Stop nach Afrika (Non-Stop to Africa, short; script)|
|1933||Jeder hat mal Glück (Everybody Is Lucky Once in a While, dir., script)|
|1932||Geheimnis des blauen Zimmers (The Secret of the Blue Room, actor)|
|1932||Tannenberg (The Battle of Tannenberg, actor)|
|1930||Gassenhauer (Popular Melody, actor)|
|1929||Ins Blaue hinein (A Shot in the Dark, short; actor)|