Familiar Faces #2: Need a Nasty Nazi? Better Call Kosleck!

Martin Kosleck, that is! The German-born actor was the go-to villain for 40’s casting directors looking for a slimy sieg heiler (and later other foreign menaces). Kosleck was born in 1904, and as a young man studied acting under the legendary Max Reinhardt. He made his mark on the European stage, but his virulent anti-Nazi stance caused him, like many of his artistic compatriots, to flee the oppressive regime, landing in America in 1932.

Kosleck (in white suit) as Joseph Goebbels in 1939’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Kosleck made his stateside film debut as an uncredited dance instructor in FASHIONS OF 1934. Hollywood didn’t exactly break his door down with offers, so he headed east and began appearing on Broadway. Director Anatole Litvak caught Kosleck onstage in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, and offered him a part in his new picture. CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939) was Tinseltown’s first feature to tackle the Nazi threat head-on, with Edward G. Robinson playing an FBI agent investigating German Bundt activity in America. Kosleck was given the role of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a role he’d return to again in THE HITLER GANG (1944), HITLER (1962), and 1954’s TV production “The Last Days of Hitler” on MOTOROLA TELEVISION THEATER.

Martin menaces Dana Andrews in Berlin Correspondent

Unlike many German ex-pats of the era, Kosleck took delight in portraying evil Nazis, exposing their heinous ways onscreen as a sort of catharsis, and spitting in the face of their totalitarian authority.  He depicted both generals and henchmen in films like ALL THROUGH THE  NIGHT, BERLIN CORRESPONDENT, NAZI AGENT, and BOMBER’S MOON. In Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, he plays a crucial role as the tramp in the windmill whose presence flummoxes hero Joel McCrea. Koselck also menaced movie detectives Nick Carter (NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE), Philo Vance (CALLING PHILO VANCE), and even Sherlock Holmes himself in PURSUIT TO ALGIERS, playing the knife-throwing circus performer Mirko, in reality a Russian agent.

With “Creeper” Rondo Hatton in House of Horrors

Kosleck is also remembered for his classic horror roles. 1944’s THE MUMMY’S CURSE finds him as Ragheb, slimy henchman of Dr. Ilor Zandaab (Peter Coe), the latest high priest in charge of undead Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr). His most famous horror movie is by far 1944’s HOUSE OF HORRORS, where Kosleck stars as mad sculpter Marcel DeLarge, a real looney-tune who uses newfound friend “The Creeper” (Rondo Hatton!) to dispatch of his critics. He plays a mad scientist who creates a race of ravenous monsters in the 1964 cult classic THE FLESH EATERS. Other horror-related Kosleck films include THE MAD DOCTOR, SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, THE FROZEN GHOST, and MST3K favorite AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.

Kosleck vs Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 on an episode of Get Smart

Television proved a meaty medium for Kosleck’s talents as well. He starred in a 1953 adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for MONODRAMA THEATER. In the 1962 THRILLER episode “Waxworks”, based on Robert Bloch’s short story, he’s on the side of goodness(!) as an inspector on the trail of a murderous wax museum owner (Oscar Homolka). 1965’s OUTER LIMTS entry “The Brain of Col. Barham” casts him as a surgeon in a riff on DONOVAN’S BRAIN. 1965 also found Kosleck as an ersatz bloodsucker in the GET SMART episode “Weekend Vampire”. NIGHT GALLERY’s 1971 “The Devil is Not Mocked” has him returning to Nazi Germany against a fearsome foe… Dracula (Francis Lederer)! Of course, you’ll also spot Kosleck on all the 60’s WWII shows (JERICHO, 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, GARRISON’S GORILLAS), and on BATMAN, THE WILD WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and even an episode of SANFORD & SON!

A portrait of Marlene Dietrich by Martin Kosleck

Kosleck was also a painter of no small talent whose works appeared at galleries and were purchased by notables like Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. He made his last film in 1980, THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE before retiring from acting. Martin Kosleck passed away in 1992 at the age of 89, leaving behind a film legacy of performances as one of those actors we just love to hate. His contributions to film and television are still fondly remembered by fans, yet he doesn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Let’s rectify that oversight; Kosleck deserves it!

Kosleck (2nd from left) with the Boys in the Bundt (The Hitler Gang, 1944)

 

 

 

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