With his blond good looks, Hardy Krüger, who has died at the age of 93, came to epitomise the ‘sympathetic German’ in postwar combat pictures. Indeed, as a teenage soldier in the SS, he was sentenced to death for cowardice for refusing to fire on an American unit – a fate subsequently overturned. He later claimed that his support for Nazism had left a scar on his soul.
Uninspired by anodyne West German movies, Krüger got himself noticed as the playboy architect in the German version of Otto Preminger’s dual language The Moon Is Blue (1953). He was lured to Britain to give a spirited display as prisoner of war Franz von Werra in the biopic The One That Got Away (1957).
He donned uniform again to survive the North African desert with some French commandos in Taxi for Tobruk (1961) and instilled civility into the commandant seeking an Italian wine stash in Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969). In 1977, he proved more ruthless as a Waffen-SS officer seeking to blow up the Waal Bridge in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far. Later, he played Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in the miniseries War and Remembrance (1988).
But Krüger shouldn’t be defined by such uniformed roles. He had an easy charm that translated well in Anglo-American and European features alike. Rank presented him as a dreamy Cambridge student in Bachelor of Hearts (1958) and a moody Dutch artist caught in a murderous conspiracy in Joseph Losey’s Blind Date (1959). In 1962, he made his Hollywood debut as a retired racing driver alongside John Wayne’s game catcher in Howard Hawks’ Hatari!, while the same year saw Krüger court controversy, as the amnesiac war veteran whose friendship with a young orphan comes under scrutiny in the surprise Oscar winner Sundays and Cybèle.
Robert Aldrich cast him as the aeronautical engineer who devises the ingenious plan to restore a crashed plane in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), and he took to the skies again as Swedish aviator Einar Lundborg in Mikhail Kalatazov’s Arctic rescue reconstruction The Red Tent (1969), in which Sean Connery plays Roald Amundsen.
Having witnessed Montgomery Clift’s last performance in the Cold War espionage thriller The Defector (1966), Krüger played a debauched 17th-century priest in the early nunsploitation outing The Lady of Monza (1969), and the distant father of the teenager with an unhealthy interest in his stepmother in the erotic thriller What the Peeper Saw (1972).
Stanley Kubrick offered the classier supporting role of dashing Prussian captain Potzdorf in Barry Lyndon (1975), and he appeared opposite David Niven and Toshiro Mifune in the same year’s tall-tales caper Paper Tiger. He was in august company again in The Wild Geese (1978), playing an Afrikaaner helping Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris rescue a deposed African president.
But Krüger was becoming disillusioned with cinema, and he essentially quit acting in the early 1980s to concentrate on his writing and anti-fascist activism.