Forst, Willi (Wilhelm)

(1903–1980)
   Boyishly handsome, with a small but intimate voice, Forst was born in Vienna and died there. A theatrical virtuoso, he was acclaimed as an actor and a director who could also sing and incorporate music into film very skillfully. Maskerade (Masquerade in Vienna, 1934), which he directed, has been called the finest Austrian film ever made. It also made the actress Paula Wessely (1907–2000) a serious movie star, much admired by German Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945), among others.
   Forst’s high standing in the Vienna films of the National Socialist era laid him open to charges of collaborating with the regime’s agenda. Nevertheless, his distinctively Viennese accent, mastery of ironic repartee, and urbane acceptance of the moral ambiguity that runs through his films was read by many, Forst included, as a putdown of Nazi social clumsiness. He could perform in quite standard German if he chose to. Forst’s refusal to film Jud Süß, a relentlessly anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda tract, incurred the open displeasure of the regime. His life, however, was never in danger, and his movies drew enthusiastic audiences during the war years. Typical of his work were Operette (1940), Viennese Blood (Wiener Blut, 1942), and Viennese Girls (Wiener Mädeln, 1945–1949), the first Viennese feature film in color.
   Forst hoped to revive the independent Austrian film after 1945. Though one of his productions, done in Germany, Die Sünderin (The Sinner, 1951), provoked enough displeasure from Austria’s Roman Catholic hierarchy to become a succès de scandale, Forst failed to regain his earlier artistic luster. The last film that he made in his homeland came out in 1957.
   See also Theater.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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