The tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has dominated the news since his body was discovered in his Manhattan apartment yesterday. Hoffman was a ridiculously talented and prolific guy, so that response is unsurprising, but there was another recent death that will likely bring a tinge of nostalgic sadness to GFR readers. Actor Maximilian Schell, who played Dr. Hans Reinhardt in Disney’s sci-fi epic The Black Hole, has died at the age of 83.
Released in 1979, The Black Hole is something of a cult classic for many fans. It’s the story of a deep-space exploration vessel, the Palomino, that discovers a long-thought-lost ship — the USS Cygnus — suspended, impossibly, on the edge of a black hole. Once the crew boards the mysterious vessel, damaging their own ship in the process, they discover that its only inhabitant are the brilliant scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt and his robot assistants. He explains that his vessel was damaged in a meteor storm, and that he ordered the crew to evacuate and head back to Earth. Unfortunately, the truth proves to be much darker and more dangerous.
Schell’s performance is one of the best parts of the admittedly somewhat cheesy Disney flick, delivering a solid riff on the well-worn cliche of the mad scientist who’s convinced that the ends — proving you can successfully pass through a black hole and emerge somewhere else — justifies the means — declaring the rest of your crew “expendable.” Everybody always remembers the movie’s iconic robots, including the creepy red bastard who borrowed the actor’s name, Maximilian. A reboot is currently in the works from Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski, so it’ll be interesting to see who they cast as Reinhardt assuming it does get made. It’s perhaps the most important role in the story, and Schell chewed the scenery but good in the original.
While The Black Hole is near and dear to our hearts, it’s hardly Schell’s most important performance. One of “the most successful German-speaking actors in English-language films,” Schell’s first Hollywood film was the 1958 World War II flick The Young Lions. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both the 1977 film Julia and 1975’s The Man in the Glass Booth. He actually took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), where he played a German defense lawyer during the war crimes trials. Impressively, Nuremberg was only his second English-language film. In more recent years, he appeared in films such as The Brothers Bloom and Deep Impact.
Schell also settled into the director’s chair several times over his long career, notably for the 1984 documentary Marlene, about singer Marlene Dietrich. It was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar.
Schell’s agent Patricia Baumbauer told CNN, “He was suffering from a long illness. My mother was Schell’s agent for over 50 years, and when she died four years ago, he remained with the agency. He was like a father to me and knew me my entire life.”