RIP Hardy Krüger (1928-2022)

Hardy Krüger was more than just a great actor, he was a great man too. On top of being an internationally respected and known movie star, he was devoted to wildlife, a prominent anti-fascist, and an accomplished writer. It is beyond his work in films that makes me a big fan of Krüger, but it is his cinematic career that certainly has kept him a public name for decades. While beautifully handsome (rather distractingly so), Krüger was an excellent actor who was not limited by his physical appearance. Krüger proved that not only was he more than an attractive face on-screen, but he also proved that people can be good despite their upbringing.

Young Eagles (1944)

Hardy Krüger was born in Berlin in 1928. Fascism would rise and take over Germany while Krüger was just a small child. Unfortunately, Krüger’s parents were devoted Nazis and Krüger became a member of the Hitler Youth as did all young boys in Nazi Germany. Krüger’s film debut was in Young Eagles (1944) which was a Nazi propaganda feature which is also the only Nazi propaganda feature with German star Willy Fritsch who remained apolitical during the Nazi era.

with Hans Söhnker

It was at this time, however, where Krüger’s outlook on life and politics would change forever. Krüger had been brainwashed since his very young childhood to become a loyal Nazi soldier, but that changed while filming Young Eagles. During filming, Krüger befriended German film star and singer Hans Söhnker who would turn Krüger into the serious anti-fascist he became. Söhnker was a member of the underground who hid Jewish people in his house and aided their escape to Switzerland. It was Söhnker who told Krüger the truth about the Nazis and the concentration camps. With Söhnker’s friendship and teachings, Krüger became a go-between for him and the underground. After Young Eagles wrapped up filming, Krüger returned to the world of Nazism he now detested while keeping the secrets of his friend.

Krüger was then sent to war where he commanded over a troop of young Bavarians. Krüger was soon given the order to kill an American reconnaissance patrol and leave no prisoners behind. Once Krüger saw the faces of the Americans up close during the planned trap, he couldn’t bring himself to shoot them. Therefore, the Americans passed through the trap untouched. Krüger was then court-martialed and sentenced to death by firing squad for “cowardice.” An SS officer called off Krüger’s execution and requested him as a message boy on the front where it was believed he would surely be killed “honorably” by enemy fire. Krüger ended up going AWOL and soon the war ended while he was in hiding. Later in life, Krüger became an active member of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation which focuses on fighting against far-right politics, racism, and anti-Semitism. He gave lectures about his experience and promoted democracy across the world.

with Hildegard Knef in Illusion in Moll (1952)

After WWII, Krüger returned to acting in films. He started out in smaller roles, but his evident star-appeal made him grow into second leads shortly. This includes acting alongside his old friend Hans Söhnker in Mein Freund, der Dieb (1951). Krüger started to grow as a leading man including starring opposite Hildegard Knef in Illusion in Moll (1952) and starring in Otto Preminger’s German version of The Moon Is Blue in the William Holden part (he can be spotted briefly as a tourist in the American version too).

on the set of The One That Got Away (1957)

Krüger continued his success with As Long as You’re Near Me (1955) with Maria Schell, The Last Summer (1954) with Liselotte Pulver, Banktresor 713 (1957), and Der Fuchs von Paris (1957). Fluent in three languages (German, French, and English), Krüger then came to England to make movies and immediately was put on British audiences’ radar with The One That Got Away (1957). In the film, Krüger plays a real-life German fighter pilot who ended up escaping from the British while a prisoner-of-war. What makes the movie so unique is that the audience finds themselves cheering for Krüger’s character to escape even though we know he is the enemy. This is intentional as the movie has the audience connect with the lead’s perseverance and doesn’t bring WWII politics into factor. The result is great entertainment and offers a grand lead performance by Krüger. Krüger would continue his streak in British films with the comedy Bachelor of Hearts (1958) opposite Sylvia Syms and the crime drama Chance Meeting (1959) alongside Stanley Baker and Micheline Presle.

with Charles Aznavour in Taxi for Tobruk (1961)

Krüger then returned to German films including The Rest Is Silence (1959) which is a modern interpretation of Hamlet with Krüger filling in the surrogate role of the tragic Prince of Denmark and Peter van Eyck playing the Claudius part. Krüger then went on to star in the French, Spanish, German co-production Taxi for Tobruk (1961). In the film, Krüger plays a German captain who is picked up during WWII in North Africa as a prisoner by a French troop. Through the events of the film and the group’s struggle in the desert, the French soldiers and the German prisoner become unlikely friends. The movie is both exciting and funny with a likable cast of characters.

Hatari! (1962)

One of Krüger’s next features was in Howard Hawks’ Hatari! (1962) starring John Wayne. The film was a huge hit and still has fans today. While the film has issues such as the fact that it didn’t have a complete script (which is kinda obvious considering the movie’s second half comes across as tonally different from its first half and plot points appear out of nowhere), it is still an enjoyable movie that benefits from charming actors and beautiful location shots. It was the location and the animals that Krüger fell in love with during filming, and he bought the film’s location where he built a home. He opened the location to the public and hotels so tourists could see the animals (hunting is forbidden). Today the getaway area is called “Hatari Lodge” and you can visit there yourself.

with Patricia Gozzi in Sundays and Cybèle (1962)

Krüger then made one of his most important films, Sundays and Cybèle (1962). The film won “Best Foreign Language Film” at the Oscars and is the story of an amnesiac veteran who befriends a lonely young girl. The movie can be somewhat connected to Krüger’s own life in that both he and the protagonist have lost their youth (Krüger through Nazism and his character through his memory) and the movie has Krüger’s character attempting to recapture what he lost. The French film remains a classic.

with Richard Attenborough and James Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Krüger soon made another one of his best movies, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). The movie features an all-star cast of international names, but Krüger’s role may be the film’s most important. Krüger plays a member of a crew of plane crash victims stuck in the desert and since he is a plane designer, he has to build an aircraft that the team can use to fly out of the desert to safety. The film was also apparently a good set to be on as the cast and director Robert Aldrich would go out at night and basically cause mayhem.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Next in line, Krüger’s films continued with The Battle of Neretva (1969), The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), The Red Tent (1969), the classic Barry Lyndon (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977), and The Wild Geese (1978). In a number of these movies, Krüger played a Nazi. In between takes of A Bridge Too Far, Krüger wore a coat over his uniform so he wouldn’t have to look at it. Krüger then decided to largely retire from acting and become a writer instead. His written works include novels, short stories, autobiographies, and travel writings. Writing has always been one of Krüger’s greatest passions.

with Hardy Kruger Jr.

Over the years, Krüger has cited most of co-stars to be among his closest friends. In other relationships, Krüger has been married three times, the first was at the young age of 17. His first two marriages ended in divorce, but he had three children from them (including Hardy Krüger Jr. and Christine Krüger). His last marriage was to Anita Park, an American photographer and writer. They were married from 1978 until his death in 2022.

Krüger’s life has been important among politics, wildlife, and media. He has managed to make a difference both on-screen and off-screen. While the horrors of his young life cannot be overstated and Krüger has made it a mission of his to keep Nazism from happening again, he has indeed led an interesting and impactful life during his 93 years on Earth. Krüger didn’t just talk the talk, but he walked the walk by protecting wildlife and stopping fascism from ever spreading again.

~Virginia

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