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Anton Diffring - Type cast
Written by: Derek Malcolm
Published: The Guardian
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 1989

Anton Diffring was a German actor with fair hair and piercin bluegrey eyes whose chief claim to fame rested on a talent for being thoroughly nasty. At least he was very often so on screen, where he played a series of Nazi villains in British films of the decades still obsessed with the second World War.

He was everyone's favourite German officer, whether villain or not, and eventually got so tired of the type-casting that he fled from Britain to Rome in 1968. This helped him a little but not much: the Americans and Italians he worked for there had roughly the same idea about him.

It seemed even more unjust than type-casting usually s. He had been born into one of Germany's - and Europe's - oldest theatrical families, and studied drama in Vienna and Berlin before the war. And far from being a Nazi, he fled his homeland in 1939, and found himself interned in Canada during the conflict. He afterwards took many parts, mostly on the stage, there and in the United States, before coming to Britain in 1950 and finding a welcome at British film studios.

His first film here was State Secret, for Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, a Hitchcookian comedy thriller in which he was first seen to look the part as a nasty German. Ken Annakin's Hotel Sahara followed in 1951, and casting agents became hooked on him as the epitome of the masyet race. It meant money in the bank buy not a lot of artistic satisfaction for a good actor with a much wider range than they supposed.

Diffring was stoical in face of all this and tried to continue a broader career on first the stage and later television. But he was generally brought back to the studios to be the man the public loved to hate and appeared with some distinction in this respect in The Colditz Story, The Heroes of Telemark, House of the secrets and Where Eagles Dare. He was also in I Am A Camera, Jack Clayton's treatment of the Isherwood Berlin stories, which gave him a better, less one-dimensional part than usual, and in Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451.

Diffring could not have succeeded as well as he did in the film world without being an actor of some presence, and this was noticed and appreciated not just by the fans, who also saw a romantic edge behind his villainy, but by filmmakers like François Truffaut, Sam Fuller nad Ken Russel, who recognised him as one of those character actors who never gave a less than distinctive performance. He appeared for Fuller in Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street and for Russel in Valentino, and is was unfortunate that both filmes failed to live up to expectations.

So, in the end, it was back to beeing typecast again, or to making occasional appearances in the theatre which were less likely to push his talent into a special box marked Nazi swine.

He was of those good actors who could never transcend his fate, which brought him fame and money but less than he deserved.

Anton Diffring, died in Nice, aged 70.

User Comments:

Dimitris (2003-03-11)
I would like to add that Anton Diffring had a lead role as Reinhard Heindrich in the film "Operation Daybreak".This film referred to the successful plot to assassinate the "beast of Prague.In the film, Diffring is as cynical and evil as it can get!
Lance Otto (2003-12-11)
The villainy of Anton Diffring wasn't limited to WW2. As an adjutant to General Von Klugerman (James Mason) in 'The Blue Max' he baits a fellow German to pilot an airplane that has just been determined unsafe to fly. His clipped English speech and stiff demeanor rank him as one of the best of those typecast for such roles.
james bowen (2004-01-15)
Anton Diffring was also the announcer for the soccer game in the movie "Victory",a movie that I loved not for what it was,but for the great potential as to what it could have been.
Sue Edwards (2004-02-17)
Hi there, i really enjoyed this info about Anton Diffring. He is my favourite actor, always great in whatever he did. As you say, he was greatly underused, and he must have been so frustrated in being type-cast so often. There is very little info about him as a person, and anything that I can find out about him is appreciated. There just doesn't seem to be much info about him. so.... Thank you. Sue
M. Walden (2004-03-09)
Back in the late fifties, I saw Anton Diffring on stage at the Coventry Hippodrome in 'I am a Camera.' Moira Shearer was a dazzling Sally Bowles and Michael Gwynne, Christopher Isherwood. A memorable cast and a wonderful theatrical experience. After so many 'nasty' parts it must have been gratifying for A.D. to play a sympathetic role for a change. He had a charming stage presence and was very good.
Su Edwards (2004-04-30)
That must have been a wonderful experience to see Anton on stage! I would have loved to have seen him. He is a great actor,and as you say, he would have really loved to get away from the "nasty Nazi" roles. I did see the film with him in, and that was great too. He will always be remembered for his films and work, and he was easy to work with, and a very nice guy too.
LARRY CLIFTON (2004-06-18)
TO ADD TO THE FANDOM OF ANTON DIFFRING, I SPOKE TO HIM BY TELEPHONE SHORTLY BEFORE HE DIED. HE HAD SENT ME TWO NICE, AUTOGRAPHED PHOTOS, AND I WAS PLANNING TO VISIT HIM TO WRITE AN ARTICLE. HE WAS GRACIOUS AND, AS I HAVE BEEN TOLD, FINE AS A COLLEAGUE. DIFFRING WAS AN EXCEPTIONAL TALENT. SHOULD ANYONE HAVE ANY OTHER PERSONAL MATERIAL ON HIM, LET ME KNOW.
Anthony McCabe (2005-05-24)
Just a little bit of trivia, Anton Diffring did not always play the "nasty nazi". In one of those British war films of the 1950's he was not even on the German side, he played a polish paratrooper alongside Alan Ladd, Leo Glen, Harry Andrews, and Donald Houston.
It's the only film I believe that he played a character on the allied side.

Whenever I watch the old British War time Films,
of the 1950,'s I will always remember Anton Diffring as the "nasty nazi", a part he always played extremely well.
Christopher (2006-05-21)
Anton Diffring also played a Nazi in the Dr.Who story "Silver Nemesis" in the late 1980's. It was a Sylvester McCoy story which also featured the Cybermen. It was an utterly appalling story, and I must say, nowhere near as entertaining as the recent Cyberman story which has just aired in the UK.
Christopher Dalton (2007-02-16)
I first saw Anton in the 1966 sience fiction classic Fahrenheit 451. That was later followed by his role as the announcer in the 1981 film Victory. Some years after that, I saw him in the 1971 adventure film Zeppelin. From what I could tell, he was an excellent character actor.
Caroleann (2008-10-15)
Hello all, sorry I have come to this site so late in the day! I am a life-long fan of Anton and have around twenty of his appearances on video and dvd. I see that Anthony has posted a message about Anton's role as an allied prisoner of war in "The Red Beret" with Alan Ladd, he was billed as "The Pole" in this and I think only spoke one word! In the film "The Traitor" aka "The Accursed", Anton played a German who was a member of a resistance group so he wasn't a "baddie" in this one either!
Nicola (2008-10-31)
I use to live next to Antons sister in Essex and as a small child played ludo with Anton and his friend Jean Kent.
Joseph Debono (2008-11-19)
Anton Driffring was a fine actor especially where Nazism is concerned. I believe he also starred in a film called `Circus of Horrors' but I could be wrong. I loved watching him play the role of Reinhard Heindrich in the film `Operation Daybreak' but it was a pity that his part in the film was limited.
Caroline (2009-05-16)
Anton was simply the best.The so-called actors of today could learn a lot about acting,and being truly gracious,by watching antons films.He was one of the best,and most definately underated actors of all time.He Is really and so deeply missed by his fans like me.He had such a gorgeous face.truly handsome.Not like the pretty boys of hollywood today!
N Thomson (2009-06-05)
Correct me if i`m wrong, I `m sure Anton appeared in the film;- Valentino...
Vawlkee (2010-04-15)
Why is it that IMDB always credits John Mc Enery as Captain Von Schoenvorts in "The Land That Time Forgot" instead of Anton Diffring?? It makes me crazy!
Chris Gullo (2012-08-21)
I have read all the interesting comments on this page and was wondering if M. Walden and Nicola could contact me at cgullo@juno.com I am working on a special project related to Anton Diffring and would like to contact you both.
simon s 20 09 2012 (2012-09-20)
anton drifting played a leading role of a british officer in a italian film called KILL ROMMEL
spanswick (2013-01-19)
Anton played a german civilian in a TV short with Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring Dads Army). They were both in a cable car along with their wives.
kooshmeister (2014-01-29)
He is pretty decent as the Polish chief of security in The Beast Must Die, a rare good guy role of his.
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