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Felix Bressart

Best known for his supporting actor roles in Ninotcka, The Shop Around the Corner and Blossoms In The Dust.

Felix Bressart

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Filmography

1928      

Love in the Cowshed

 

1930      

The Son of the White Mountain

The Old Song

The Tender Relatives

There Is a Woman Who Never Forgets You

Josef the Chaste

The Three from the Filling Station

Three Days Confined to Barracks

 

1931      

The Private Secretary

No More Love

The Office Manager

The True Jacob

Terror of the Garrison

 

1932      

The Magic Top Hat

Holzapfel Knows Everything

 

1933      

And Who Is Kissing Me?

 

1934      

Peter

 

1939      

Three Smart Girls Grow Up

Ninotchka

Swanee River

 

1940      

The Shop Around the Corner

It All Came True

Edison, the Man

Third Finger, Left Hand

Escape

Comrade X

Bitter Sweet

 

1941      

Ziegfeld Girl

Blossoms in the Dust

Kathleen

 

1942      

To Be or Not to Be

Crossroads

Iceland

 

1943      

Above Suspicion

 

1944      

Song of Russia

The Seventh Cross

 

1945      

Without Love

 

1948      

A Song Is Born

Portrait of Jennie

 

1949      

Illegal Entry

Take One False Step

My Friend Irma

Awards

Felix Bressart was never nominated for an Academy Award.

Felix Bressart was born in East Prussia, Germany (now part of Russia) and was an experienced stage actor when he had his film debut in 1927. He began as a supporting actor, for example as the Bailiff in the box-office hit Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930), but soon established himself in leading roles of minor movies. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, the Jewish Bressart left Germany and continued his career in German-speaking movies in Austria, where Jewish artists were still relatively safe. After no fewer than 30 films in eight years, he immigrated to the United States.

One of Bressart’s former European colleagues was Joe Pasternak, who had become a Hollywood producer. Bressart’s first American film was Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), a vehicle for the Universal Pictures’ star, Deanna Durbin. Pasternak chose Bressart to perform in a screen test opposite Pasternak’s newest discovery, Gloria Jean. The German community in Hollywood helped to establish Bressart in America, as his earliest American movies were directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Henry Koster, and Wilhelm Thiele, director of The Three from the Filling Station (originally Die Drei von der Tankstelle, 1930), a film which features Bressart in a small role.

Bressart scored a great success in Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939), as one of the Russian emissaries following the lead character (played by Greta Garbo) to Paris. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, the studio signed Bressart to a studio contract. Most of his MGM work consisted of featured roles in major films like Edison, the Man (1940).

He combined his mildly inflected East European accent with a soft-spoken delivery to create kindly, friendly characters, as in Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942), in which he sensitively recites Shylock’s famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech from The Merchant of Venice. Lubitsch also directed Bressart to similar effect in The Shop Around the Corner (1940).

Bressart soon became a popular character actor in films like Blossoms in the Dust (1941), The Seventh Cross (1944), and Without Love (1945). Perhaps his largest role was in RKO’ “B” musical comedy Ding Dong Williams, filmed in 1945. Bressart, billed third, played the bemused supervisor of a movie studio’s music department, and appeared in formal wear to conduct Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu.”

After almost 40 Hollywood pictures, Felix Bressart suddenly died of leukemia at the age of 57. His last film was to be My Friend Irma (1949), the movie version of a popular radio show. Bressart died during production, forcing the studio to re-shoot his completed scenes with Hans Conried. In the finished film, Bressart is still seen in the long shots.

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