Vintage Hunk: Maximilian Schell

By: Mike McCrann

It has been a tough few weeks leading up to the Academy Awards. Three major Oscar winners and one multi-nominee have died.

Peter O'Toole

From his smash debut in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, O'Toole earned 8 Oscar nominations and never took home the gold. Peter O'Toole led a fast, booze filled life but managed to do quality work for almost 50 years.

Joan Fontaine

The luminous star of Hitchcock's Rebecca and Suspicion lived a long and fruitful life. She was nominated 3 times for Best Actress and won in 1942 in the famous battle with her sister - cinema legend Olivia de Havilland. Joan Fontaine was Alfred Hitchcock's first American blonde muse. Of course, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint and 'Tippi' Hedren all followed.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Hoffman's death from a heroin overdose was a shocker. He won his Academy Award for playing Truman Capote. Toby Jones played the pixie writer the following year in Infamous and gave a far better performance, but one TC movie was all the public could stand. And Hoffman unfortunately outdid the real Capote by destroying himself with drugs in record time.

Maximilian Schell

Max Schell was a wonderful actor, but never a major movie star. Born in Austria in 1930, Schell survived the Nazis and found fame playing the defense lawyer in 1961's Judgment at Nuremberg. This 3-hour drama of the famed post-war trials was a critical success, although author Gavin Lambert (Inside Daisy Clover) famously called it: "An all-star concentration camp drama with special guest victim appearances." The movie was crammed with major stars: Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Monty Clift, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich and Burt Lancaster. Much of the film seems stilted and phony today, but Max Schell was the real deal. Playing a German lawyer having to defend a bunch of monsters, he was so good that The Washington Post stated: "The emotional template will be to root for his side!" Probably the most famous scene in the film is Max tormenting Judy Garland on the stand with "Did you sit on his lap?" Judy Garland was also Oscar nominated for playing poor Irene Hoffman accused of sleeping with an older Jewish man. Nuremberg was very preachy, and aimed at the 8th grade, but Max Schell gave the film's outstanding performance and won the Best Actor Oscar. He also won the NY Film Critics Award.

Max Schell made a number of films after that, but most of them were dreadful flops. The Condemned of Altoona and Five Finger Exercise were epic disasters. But Schell kept working. He also directed a few great documentaries. He persuaded Marlene Dietrich (his co-star from Nuremberg) to create Marlene, an outstanding portrait of the legendary actress. The only problem was Marlene would not permit herself to be photographed! So Schell, with the aid of film clips and a talkative movie idol, created a vivid documentary that was heavily praised.

Later, Max made a film about his famous movie star sister, Maria Schell, and it vividly captured her legendary career and declining years.

As he got older, Max Schell worked even more earning further Academy nominations for his supporting role In Julia with Jane Fonda, and the title role in The Man in the Glass Booth. As David Thomson stated in his great Biographical Dictionary of Film: "Schell makes a great villain and a learned authority figure."

Maximilian Shell lived a long and happy life. He was 83 when he died. Max Schell was also very handsome. Not in the typical movie star way, but he had a dreamy professorial look. Sort of like that older teacher you had that always evoked your baser instincts.

Here's Joan Crawford opening the envelope and announcing Schell as the winner for Best Actor. Watch his charismatic Nuremberg victory speech below.