Maria Perschy

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Maria Perschy Pencil Portrait
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I recall Maria Perschy with wistful nostalgia for some earliest times spent at the local cinema with my parents in the 60’s. There she was, an already established film star in Germany,France and Italy, now making her mark in Hollywood under the stewardship of veteran director Howard Hawks. She would appear in a number of American films, most notably the 1962 biopic Freud and the 1964 Rock Hudson comedy, Man’s Favorite Sport?’ Her route to the American Market had also involved a stint in British films; indeed the first time I ever saw her was in 633 Squadron.’

How sad therefore, whilst researching her career, to discover that cancer had claimed the Austrian beauty in 2004 at the age of sixty six. Not everything it seems, about my website, is a pleasurable experience.

Recommended viewing

Nasser Asphalt (1958)

The Password is Courage (1962)

Based on the exploits of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward, ‘The Password is Courage’ is a rather overlooked POW escape movie, and very much the poorer cousin of ‘The Great Escape,’ released the following year. Yet in many respects, with a plot similar to its more famous counterpart, the film deserves a measure of reappraisal.

Charles Coward (Dirk Bogarde) a senior British officer and POW being held in a German Stalag, masterminds an elaborate escape attempt that involves tunnelling into the safety of the nearby woods. With the help of his fellow inmates and Irena (Maria Perschy), an attractive Polish resistance worker, Coward escapes with fellow inmate Bill Pope (Alfred Lynch). Although they are later apprehended at a railway station, Coward’s dogged determination and the availability of a fire engine, ensure that all is not lost.

The drama is interspersed with humorous escapades – Bogarde’s ingenious sabotage of a passing trainload of explosives, the commandant’s accident with a stray match – and these scenes complement without undermining the overall tension of the plot. The expertly shot cave-in scene offers a harrowing ‘fly on the wall’ perspective on the claustrophobic tunnelling process, whilst many of the movie’s planning methods – forgers and engineers at work, the utilisation of planks from bunk beds and the workings of an underground breathing machine – would be repeated on a grander scale the following year in John Sturges’s breakout epic.

Bogarde is all cockney charm, yet underneath the flippant exterior, there beats a genuine heart concerned for the welfare of Irena (Perschy). Responding to her concerns aboard the getaway train, he tells her that “We could be caught in any second, and never see each other again.” “Would that mean, much to you?” she enquires gazing into his eyes, before he answers in the affirmative, taking her in his arms and kissing her ardently. The feeling persists that he will return after the war for her. In an earlier scene, she acquits herself well when Bogarde – his suspicions aroused that she may be a German informant – attempts to ‘trip her up’ whilst recalling her time in pre-war London.

Pershchy conveys resourcefulness and vulnerability in equal measure, contributing a solid supporting role throughout.

‘The Password is Courage’ is solid entertainment – both gripping and tense – albeit British throughout. There’s even the merest hint that many POWs were content to see out the war behind wire fencing and lookout turrets.

633 Squadron (1964)

Man's favourite sport? (1964)

Witch without a broom (1967)

One of several films made in Spain by the charismatic producer Sidney Pink, and squarely aimed at the childrens’ market. Intended for showing on US television rather than domestically on the big screen, they all featured a US / British leading man (in this case the original all action Star Trek hero Jeffrey Pike), a familiar cast of Spanish character actors (Gustavo Rojo, Angel Menéndez) and lightweight, generally forgettable scripts. Directed by josé Maria Elorietta, a workaday filmmaker who dabbled in a variety of genres, often using the pseudonym Joe Lacey, the film is a throwaway piece of lightweight fluff, somewhat redeemed by Perschy as a wannabee witch.

History professor Garver Logan (Jeffrey Hunter) is distracted by a beautiful girl making eyes at him during a lecture. A beautiful girl in fact, who nobody else can see. It turns out that she’s actually from the middle ages who’s playing around with her wizard father’s equipment (and who has a penchant for Coca-Cola). While taking a quick trip to the twentieth century, she’s fallen for the Professor and tries to bring him back into her own time.

After a short distraction – a temporary stopover in 1549 where he’s arrested for robbing the dead and threatened with painful execution – he arrives at her castle, understandably peeved about the whole thing. And he doesn’t get any happier when she uses her magic cauldron to show him his girlfriend dancing with another man. An attempt to return him to the swinging sixties goes dreadfully wrong and Marianna and Garver are transported to assorted periods throughout history.

First stop is the prehistoric age, where they come up against a bunch of cannibalistic cavemen (who somehow manage to play sixties-era psychedelic music on their stone instruments). In Roman times Garver is sold as a slave and forced to take part in a chariot race. Finally, he ends up in 2019, when the whole human race has been wiped out apart from seven female astronauts. They’re rather excited to come face to face with their first authentic man.

An amalgamation of ‘Bewitched’ (64), ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ (‘65) and ‘The Time Tunnel’ (‘66), ‘Witch Without a Broom’ is a mildly entertaining piece of nonsense that uses it’s time-travel scenario to reference assorted popular films of the time, most particularly ‘One Million Years BC’ ’66) and ‘Ben Hur’ (‘59). The effects are rudimentary (red smoke, mostly), but there’s a large cast and the costumes – some of which must have been recycled from the aforementioned Sharaz – aren’t noticeably threadbare. It’s also mercifully short at a meager 79 odd-minutes and doesn’t have the slightest chance of outliving its welcome.

Despite unquestionably being a children’s movie it also has a few racier elements as well. The story is basically the same, whatever the historical backdrop, with the men wanting to rip off Marianna’s clothes and women trying to tempt Garver into their ‘bedchambers’. This could have been used as the launch-pad for all kinds of saucy shenanigans, but although there is a good deal of humor it’s all played in such a chaste manner that it’s more suited to a Saturday morning rather than late night broadcast.

Jeffrey Hunter, best known for his much derided performance in the even more derided ‘King of Kings’ (‘61), is good value here. He seems to be enjoying himself as the thoroughly bemused lead who continually tries – without any success whatsoever – to talk himself out of all kinds of trouble. This wasn’t his only attempt to break into European cinema; he also appeared in Giuliano Carnimeo’s above average Spaghetti Western Find a Place to Die (Joe… cercati un posto per morire!, 68) and another Pink escapade, The Christmas Kid (Joe Navidad, 67). Maria Perschy is very attractive as the titular witch, and puts on a spirited show even when being pawed by one of the fattest, ugliest cavemen you could imagine.

Pure nonsense, and recommended for all the wrong reasons. Perschy was on the road back to the European film circuit, heading towards thirty and disillusioned with Hollywood. It could have been all so different, as she clearly had it within her to handle more emotionally demanding roles.