Daily | Karlheinz Böhm, 1928 – 2014

Peeping Tom

Karlheinz Böhm in ‘Peeping Tom’

Karlheinz Böhm, an actor who was best known for his portrayal of Emperor Franz Joseph in a gauzy 1950s film series about the Austrian court, and then stunned audiences with his disarming portrayal of a psychopathic killer in the now-classic thriller Peeping Tom, died May 29 at his home near Salzburg, Austria,” reports Emily Langer for the Washington Post. “Lighthearted and romantic, the Sissi series remained an audience favorite for generations and established the blond, handsome Mr. Böhm as a movie idol. Then came the release in 1960 of Peeping Tom, which featured Mr. Böhm as a film technician who, outside the studio, murders women in ritualistic killings that he records on camera to capture his victims’ fear.” As anyone familiar with the career of British director Michael Powell knows, the film was “excoriated by critics,” but: “In part through promotion by admirers including director Martin Scorsese, the film experienced a revival and today it is widely regarded as a masterpiece.”

“In 1968, a change came about the hitherto apolitical Böhm, prompted by the birth of the German student movement that year,” writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. “A few years later, he met the radical filmmaker [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, who deepened aspects of Böhm’s screen persona in four films. In Martha (1974), Böhm, as a brutal husband, brilliantly displays the sadism that was masked in Peeping Tom. He is a world-weary counsellor in Effi Briest (1975), a smooth antiques dealer in Fox and His Friends (1975) and a manipulative wealthy communist in Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975).”

Karlheinz Böhm and Margit Carstensen in Martha

“The contact with Fassbinder led Böhm to take more interest in global problems,” notes Deutsche Welle in a story on Böhm’s “two lives.” “In 1976, he traveled to Africa to recuperate from breathing problems. When he saw the poverty there with his own eyes, he decided to act. Five years later he appeared on a primetime German TV gameshow called Wetten dass…? (Wanna Bet?) Böhm bet that not even one in three viewers would donate a single German mark for people in Africa. He won that bet—but more than a million deutschmarks were donated and later the same year Böhm founded the aid organization Menschen für Menschen (Humans for Humans) which has now collected a total of 230 million euros ($313 million) and has a staff of more than 700 people in Africa.”

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