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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

Mario Adorf – a presence in German movies over the decades

Times change, but some things stay the same

He might be over eighty, but he remains a man of remarkable physicality. We quickly find ourselves talking about sport. I ask him how tall he is and remind him that he once used to be a football goalkeeper. “Well,” he says, “I’m one meter seventy-eight.” Which is only just over 5’8’’. Average for his generation. “But,” he adds, “I wasn’t a very good goalkeeper. That’s why I gave it up and took up boxing.” That’s more like it, I think, because height is not the thing. It’s more muscle mass. And sheer physical presence. The man I’m talking about is Mario Adorf. One of the greats of German movies – and my latest guest on Talking Germany.
I had also spent the previous evening in Mario Adorf’s company. In a sense, at least. Because I’d sat down and watched the excellent 1957 movie Nights, when the Devil Came . Directed by Robert Siodmak (the man who discovered Burt Lancaster!!). It’s remarkable stuff. A serial killer is on the loose – during the Nazi era! And it was based on a true story. The killer was played, of course, by Mario Adorf: upper body exposed much of the time, feral, and extremely threatening. The film was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign language movie. “That’s right,” says Mario: “But it’s amazing how the times have changed – it was three months before anybody even told me. Imagine that today!”
Mario Adorf can remember going to Hollywood for two Academy Awards ceremonies. He’d starred in Volker Schlöndorff’s brilliant adaptation of the Günter Grass novel The Tin Drum. So, he was on hand when that film got an Oscar. But he particularly remembers an earlier ceremony that he wasn’t actually invited to. Mario takes up the story: “I was staying in the hotel where the gala was taking place. But I hadn’t noticed!” Here, too times have changed. “I came downstairs to the foyer and I could hear people yelling and screeching, so I knew something must be going on. ‘You’ll have to go down the back stairs,’ they told me. Which I did. And it was there that I saw a man – clearly one of the stars – standing in front of a mirror … adjusting his toupee.” And who was that man? “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain,” answers Mario.
He remains, I can report, a force to be reckoned with. A real presence. Oozes charm. And he continues to work. His latest project: a road movie (working title Der letzte Mentsch) in which he plays a Holocaust survivor who joins up with a German-Turkish woman to travel from Cologne to Hungary in search of this roots. There is, it appears, no stopping Mario Adorf.


March 1, 2013