The Mondo-Esoterica Guide to

Horst Frank


Born in Germany in 1929, Frank studied business in school before being called up into the German army for the last few months of the Second World War. After the war he found work as a night watchman and painter before becoming involved in stage acting. In 1956 he was offered work on Swiss television and was soon working in his first film role as a cowardly pilot in the German war film The Star of Africa (1957). German cinema at the time was still recovering from the damaging effects of the war and one of the most popular genres was the war film itself - telling the stories from the German perspectives and looking to ease some of the collective guilt, the films aimed to create a distinction between the Nazi Party commanders and the soldiers on the ground who were shown as being brave men, forced into a war that most of them did not believe in. Frank starred in a number of these films, including Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever? (1959) and U-boat drama Sharks and Little Fish (1957).

One of his few top-billed roles would come in A Head for the Devil (1959), a low budget science/horror picture inspired by the American B-movies of the 1950s and produced by the German exploitation director Wolf C. Hartwig, later responsible for the infamous Schoolgirl Report films, and a man for whom Frank would work over a dozen times down the years. By now Frank had built himself a reputation as an effective bad guy, a typecast that he rarely escaped and for most of his career, actively enjoyed. At the beginning of the 1960s he starred in a pair of French films for radical director Claude Autant-Lara. Les Bois des Amants (1960) told the story of a romance between a German officer's wife and a French resistance fighter during the War, while the incredibly controversial film Tu ne Tueras Point (1961) described the ill treatment of conscientious objectors by the French government - a very sore spot at the time, as the French were still trying to hold on to their territories in Algeria using military force and the film was banned in several countries (still being largely unseen today).

Much more popular was a key role as a henchman in the comic gangster movie Les tontons flingueurs (1961) for director Georges Lautner. With much of its comedy coming from typically French wordplay, it remained almost unknown out of France but still ranks as one of the most popular French movies. Meanwhile, across the rest of Europe, the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962) led to spy fever and Frank starred in several low budget thrillers for Wolf C. Hartwig, including The Black Panther of Ratana (1963) and Hong Kong Hot Harbour (1964). More important however was Hartwig's production The River Pirates of the Mississippi (1964) - an early Eurowestern inspired by the very popular German Karl May Western series and filmed in Jugoslavia, it saw Frank quickly associated with the genre and he was soon cast alongside Rod Cameron in the pre-Leone Spaghetti Western Le Pistole non discutono (1964), the first appearance in a genre he would revisit frequently throughout its decade long spell.

The 1960s saw the beginning of the euro-exploitation boom and Horst Frank was right in the middle - by this time he had achieved marquee name value for the German markets and was a popular choice for producers and directors wanting a German name in their production (especially one without the temperament that came with Klaus Kinski!). As well as a variety of Spaghetti Western titles, including Johnny Hamlet (1968) for Enzo G. Castellari and Preparati la bara! (1968) for Ferdinando Baldi, he starred in a duo of films by Umberto Lenzi - the action, war movie Desert Commandos (1967) and the early giallo So Sweet... So Perverse (1969) as well as a pair of titles from the master of Euro-exploitation Harry Alan Towers - The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) alongside Christopher Lee and Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969) directed by Jess Franco. There were occasional television performances, including the lead role in a German adaptation of Caligula (1966) and in an episode of the American wartime spy thriller series Blue Light (1966), filmed in Germany, one of three episodes from the series that would later be edited into a feature film - I Deal in Danger (1966).

Come the 1970s, exploitation still reigned, but alongside giallo titles Eye in the Labyrinth (1972) and Dario Argento's Cat O Nine Tails (1971), and the later Spaghetti Westerns The Grand Duel (1972) and Carambola (1974), Frank started to move back into more domestic work - appearing in German television films as well as lending his distinctive voice to a variety of radio plays and film dubs. After a very curious role as an African albino native trying to fight the white colonisers in Whispering Death (1976), that also starred Christopher Lee as a police detective, Frank had his last cinematic appearance, top billed in the German sci-fi film Operation Ganymed (1977) - the futuristic story of a group of astronauts who lose contact with Earth and return to find it seemingly desolate. Although initally a television production, it did play theatrically in Germany in 1980 as Hero - Lost in the Dust of Stars. Throughout the 1980s Frank appeared in a range of television films and series including the popular romantic drama Dreamship and the fantasy, mystery serial Mandara (1983). As well making a series of stage tours, he published an autobiography „Leben heißt Leben“ (Life is called Life) in 1981. Into the 1990s he was still making appearances in a variety of television series - his last major work was in the big budget German television film Catherine the Great (1995) which starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Rhys-Davies and Paul McGann - and he continued to act up until 1999 when he died, just 3 days short of his 70th Birthday.

Ultimately, despite over 100 film and television appearances to his credit, Horst Frank was never able to achieve the international fame of many of his contemporaries - the lack of a major American film on his credits prevented him from receiving top billing across the Atlantic. However, among the ranks of cult European actors, the eternal "bad guy" is certain to always be recognised for his many fine performances, even in the depths of the exploitation cinema where he spent much of his career.

DVD Reviews: Films starring Horst Frank

Desert Commandos (1967)

Pegasus UK R0 DVD
A rather uninspiring Macaroni Combat film, enlivened by a rare chance to see Frank in a heroic role.
Of interest but not recommended.
Hate Thy Neighbor (1968)

Wild East US R0 DVD
Frank plays the white suited villain in this erudite story-line based Spaghetti Western from Ferdinando Baldi.
Of interest to genre fans.
The Head (1959)

US Alpha Region 0 DVD
A rare lead role for Horst Frank here, as a scientist performing body transplants in this rather unoriginal but enjoyable film.
Partly recommended to fans of 1950s sci-fi.
Johnny Hamlet (1968)

Koch Media Germany Region 2 DVD
Shakespeare meets the Euro-Western in this cleverly written, well directed, scored and acted film.
Highly recommended to fans of the Euro-Westerns.
The Moment to Kill (1968)

Global Video South Africa Region 0 DVD
Yet another villain part is well played by Frank, but the dull generic script makes this one easily missable.
Of interest only to completists
Pistole non Discutono (1964)

Ripley Home Video Italian Region 0 DVD
Shot just before Leone's famous Western of the same year, this interesting genre entry makes a great contrast to the later film.
Preparati La Bara (1968)

German E-M-S Region 2 DVD
Surprisingly original and good looking Django follow-up film, with some impressive set-pieces
Recommended to fans and newcomers alike.
Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1965)

Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
An interesting twist on the story line and genuine locations make this third entry to the series the most enjoyable.
Partly recommended.


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All text in this page written by Timothy Young - August 2007/July 2010.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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