UNDER THE RED ROBE. 20th Century Fox, UK/US, 1937. Conrad Veidt, Annabella, Raymond Massey, Romney Brent, Sophie Stewart, Wyndham Goldie. Based on the 1894 novel by Stanley J. Weyman. Director: Victor Seastrom.

   Everyone remembers Conrad Veidt as the Nasty Nazi in Casablanca; a few recall him as the baddie in Thief of Baghdad, and, at a stretch, might recollect his forays into Warner Brothers villainy in A Woman’s Face or All Through the Night.

   There was a time, though, when Veidt was a Big Star in the early German Cinema, starting in Cabinet of Caligari,  and on through Student of Prague  and Hands of Orlac,  and when he and his Jewish wife exiled themselves from Germany in the 30s, there was a serious attempt to translate his stardom to English-speaking moviegoers.

   He even became something of a cause celebre when he visited Germany just prior to World War II and was “detained” by the Nazis for “health reasons”, eventually being rescued by a team of British doctors.

   Red Robe is one of the films they were making in England when they thought Veidt would be a Big Star, but weren’t quite sure what to do with him. He plays a 17th century swashbuckler in the sometimes-employ of Cardinal Richelieu (Raymond Massey) who is sent to the Spanish border to capture a rebellious nobleman and ends up enamoured of his target’s sister (Annabella).

   Not a very exciting film, but not a bad one either. Victor Seastrom directs with an eye for Pomp and Tapestry, Veidt plays the lethal swordsman in the jaded style of a William S. Hart gunfighter, and there’s a charming turn by Romney Brent as Veidt’s watchdog. With a cast like that, Under the Red Robe has barely enough star-power to illuminate even a tiny TV screen, so it’s not apt to turn up at video stores or on television, but it’s worth catching.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #78, July 1996.