The oldest son of the successful actor Carl Wiene, Robert Wiene was born on April 27, 1873 in Breslau. While his younger brother Conrad steped into his father's profession and later became a director and film script author, Wiene originally began law studies in Berlin in 1894. A year later he transfered to the University of Vienna, but it is unknown if he ever graduated. In the spring 1908 he began acting in small productions in Vienna and eventually took part in the establishment of a new Viennese theater which he left in May 1909.
Wiene's first contribution in film was the script for The Weapons of Youth (1912), a film in which he may have done his first directing. In 1914 he was put under contract by Berliner Messter-Film, for whom he served as director and a film script author in approximately 30 productions. At the same time he was also active with two other major film companies, Deutsche Bioscop and Wiener Sascha Film, as well as for several smaller companies. Beginning in 1916 he worked in close colaboration with Walter Turszinsky (the two wrote several film scripts together during this time), as well as with Henny Porten, one of the biggest German silent movie stars, and the director and actor Rudolf Biebrach. Wiene was at this point a competent film script author and director, and by 1919 had worked on 18 Henny Porten films, directing three (Der Liebesbrief der Königin, Das wandernde Licht, and Die Räuberbraut, all 1916).
In 1919 Wiene helped create, with Heinz Hanus in Vienna, a professional association of film directors, which he managed until 1922. That same year he began a production for Erich Pommers of Berlin's Decla Film on the project The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Acknowledged by contemporary critics as the epitome and starting point of the expressionist films, the picture, for which Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz supplied the film script and Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig the set design, marked a turning point in Wiene's career. Werner Krauss played the role of the mad physician Dr. Caligari, who puts on fair-ground shows by day and uses his somnambulistic slave Cesare (played by Conrad Veidt) to commit murder for his master by night. The film was an extraordinary public success, both in Germany and abroad.
Wiene attempted to repeat this success one year later with Genuine (1920), based on another script by Carl Mayer. The film tried again to capture the exotic and fantastic world of Caligari, but failed both artistically and financially. In 1922 Wiene formed his own production company, Lionardo-Film. His company produced, among others, Die höllische Macht (1922), Raskolnikow (1923) the highly-praised filming of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Der Puppenmacher von Kiang Ning (1923), and in the same year the monumental Bible film I.N.R.I, which featured a large cast of German film stars.
In 1924 Wiene moved back to Austria in order to take over direction of the Wiener Pan-Film company, as well as to work with the author Ludwig Nerz who was under contract there. The Hands of Orlac (1924), which was enthusiastically directed, was the second film he made in Vienna. Also for Pan-Film Wiene directed Der Rosenkavalier one year later, an adaptation of the opera of the same name by Richard Strauss with benefited from direct cooperation with the composer and the Librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and generated much public interest.
Wiene returned to Berlin in 1926, where he produced a strong series of films during the last years of the silent movie era, including Die Geliebte, (1927), Die Frau auf der Folter (1928), and Die grosse Abenteurerin (1928). In 1930, with the coming of sound, his psycho-thriller The Other, appeared in theaters. He followed that with films from other genres, Der Liebesexpress (1931), Panic in Chicago (1931) and Taifun (1933), which was banned in Germany and was only shown after substantial changes under the title Police File 909.
In 1934 Wiene left Germany for Budapest (One Night in Venice, 1934, was produced in both a German and Hungarian version), London in 1937, and finally to Paris. He tried in vain to produce, together with Jean Cocteau, a sound remake of Caligari. The espionage film Ultimatum was his last film but, before it could be finished, Wiene died on July 17, 1938 in Paris. Director Robert Siodmak finished the film.
--HANS-MICHAEL BOCK, from
Encyclopedia of German Film.
A selection of Robert Wiene films.
Find Robert Wiene on eBay
A selection of Robert Wiene in books.
A History of Horror
THE SILENT ERA
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