Maria Schell: 'Gervaise' & 'Superman' Actress Dies

Maria Schell actressMaria Schell, actress in several major film classics and Vond-Ah in Superman, has died

Maria Schell, who starred in Gervaise, The Last Bridge, and other film classics of the 1950s, had a supporting role as Vond-Ah in Superman, and was the sister of Oscar winner Maximilian Schell, died yesterday, April 26, 2005, of heart failure in her sleep. Schell, who was living in the Austrian town of Preitenegg, was 79. (Image: Maria Schell publicity shot ca. 1955-60.)

Maria Schell movies

During the course of more than five decades, the pretty, wide-eyed Maria Schell (born in Vienna on Jan. 15, 1926) appeared in dozens of films – often as a sweet and innocent Mädchen – in her native Austria, as well as in Germany, France, Italy, and the United States. Her most famous film role is probably that of the hardworking laundress surrounded by drunks in Gervaise, René Clément's Oscar-nominated 1956 adaptation of Emile Zola's L'Assommoir.

Two years earlier, Schell received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of a dedicated doctor in Helmut Käutner's World War II drama The Last Bridge / Die Letzte Brücke, co-starring Bernhard Wicki. (Back then there were no annual acting awards.)

Among Maria Schell's other important movies are Luchino Visconti's romantic drama White Nights / Le Notti bianche (1957), with Schell as the young and innocent girl in love with Jean Marais, but loved by Marcello Mastroianni; Richard Brooks' messy adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1958), with Schell as Grushenka to Yul Brynner's Dmitri Karamazov; and Delmer Daves' moving, beautifully shot Western The Hanging Tree (1959), in which Schell gives a superb performance as the young woman in Gary Cooper's life.

Also, Anthony Mann's sprawling Western Cimarron (1960), as Glenn Ford's devoted wife (in the role played by Irene Dunne in the 1931 Academy Award-winning original); The Mark (1961), opposite Oscar nominee Stuart Whitman; and Géza von Radványi's solid family drama The Giant Ferris Wheel / Das Riesenrad (1961), with frequent co-star O.W. Fischer – with whom Schell was romantically linked.

Maria Schell: Vond-Ah in Superman

Among Schell's later film appearances are small roles in Ronald Neame's The Odessa File (1974), starring Jon Voight and her brother Maximilian, and in Richard Donner's Superman (1978), as Vond-Ah, one of the Kryptonian council members.

Additionally, Maria Schell, by then all but unrecognizable, was the subject of her brother's 2002 documentary My Sister Maria / Meine Schwester Maria. Unfortunately, My Sister Maria failed to receive the acclaim that greeted Maximilian Schell's documentary Marlene, about fellow German-speaking film legend Marlene Dietrich.

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3 Comments to Maria Schell: 'Gervaise' & 'Superman' Actress Dies

  1. Andre


    “Gervaise” *is* on DVD in North America — and I'm quite sure Europe as well. Do a quick search online and you'll find it.

  2. Philip Murdin

    I saw “Gervaise” soon after it first came out in 1957. It would be wonderful to see it again if it could be re issued on DVD.
    Is there any chance that this could happen ?

  3. Gabriela

    Maria Schell, one of the most beautiful actresses in the film industy.
    i loved her work, i loved her performence, great.!!
    it is a great pity that she is gone.

    God Bless Her.