I was planning a Fassbinder-related post for next week when I found out that one of the German director’s most compelling stars, Karlheinz Böhm, died on Thursday.
The son of the great Austrian composer Karl Böhm, he was born in Germany in 1928 and came to prominence as Emperor Franz Joseph in the trio of 1950s Sissi movies which also launched Romy Schneider (“Jetzt ist er bei Sissi!” – “Now he’s with Sissi!” is the headline on today’s Bild newspaper). Curiously he died on the anniversary of his co-star’s death (Schneider died in 1982). And like her, Böhm delivered his most interesting work after his most famous role.
In particular, he offered up two virtuoso portrayals of sexual compulsion which Böhm himself singled out as his most rewarding roles. Peeping Tom (1960) is notorious as the film which scuppered director Michael Powell’s career forever. Böhm plays a voyeur with an unexplained foreign accent and murderous tendencies who is intent on…well, you’ll have to see it if you haven’t already (Schneider’s performance in Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 psychosexual fantasia Inferno provides yet another parallel with Böhm’s career). In 1973 Böhm appeared in Fassbinder’s Martha, in which Margit Carstensen is subjected to the physical and psychological sadism of her screen husband. Their coming entanglement is foreshadowed by their first, wordless encounter, one of the most famous shots in the Fassbinder canon:
Away from the screen, Böhm was a hugely respected philanthropist long involved in aid projects in Ethiopia.