Maximilian Schell, an Austrian-born actor who was a fugitive from Adolf Hitler in his youth and who later won an Oscar for his role as a defense attorney in the 1961 film “Judgment at Nuremberg,” died Feb. 1 at a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria. He was 83.
His agent, Patricia Baumbauer, said he died of a “sudden and serious illness,” the Austria Press Agency reported.
Mr. Schell earned international acclaim in only his second Hollywood role, as defense attorney Hans Rolfe in Stanley Kramer’s classic “Judgment at Nuremberg,” about the Nazi war-crimes trials that followed World War II.
Mr. Schell’s impassioned but unsuccessful defense of four Nazi judges on trial for sentencing innocent victims to death won him the 1962 Academy Award for best actor. He first played the role of the defense attorney in a 1959 episode of the television program “Playhouse 90.”
“Schell dominates the film and easily outdoes his more celebrated co-stars,” a reviewer for Time magazine wrote about “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
Mr. Schell was cast in numerous critically acclaimed Nazi-era films, including “The Odessa File” (1974), in which he played a war criminal seeking to revive the Third Reich. And in both “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) and director Sam Peckinpah’s “Cross of Iron” (1977), Mr. Schell played Nazi officers.
He received an Academy Award nomination for best actor for “The Man in the Glass Booth” (1975), portraying a Nazi war criminal captured years later and tried in Israel.
Mr. Schell was also nominated for a supporting-actor Oscar for his performance alongside Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards in “Julia” (1977), in which he played an underground figure fighting the Nazis in World War II.
Maximilian Schell was born in Vienna on Dec. 8, 1930, and grew up in Switzerland after his family fled Germany’s annexation of his homeland. His father was a playwright, and his mother was an actress.
The young Mr. Schell grew up in Zurich and attended the University of Zurich and the University of Munich. He was a member of a champion rowing team, briefly played professional soccer and was a skilled pianist.
Mr. Schell followed in the footsteps of his older sister Maria and his brother Carl, making his stage debut in 1952. He then appeared in a number of German films and performed throughout Europe before moving to Hollywood in the late 1950s.
By then, Maria Schell was already an international film star, winning the best actress award at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “The Last Bridge.”
Maximilian Schell made his Hollywood debut in Edward Dmytryk’s “The Young Lions,” playing a Nazi officer in the 1958 World War II drama starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin.
Later in his career, Mr. Schell portrayed a number of Jewish characters, including Anne Frank’s father in a 1980 television production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and a family patriarch in the 1998 Dutch film “Left Luggage.”
Mr. Schell produced several films, beginning in 1968 with an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Castle.” He also produced, wrote, directed and starred in “First Love,” a 1970 film adapted from an Ivan Turgenev novella. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film.
Mr. Schell also produced and directed “The Pedestrian” (1973) about a German businessman with a secret Nazi past. The film won a Golden Globe for best foreign film and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category.
Perhaps Mr. Schell’s most significant film as a director was his 1984 documentary on Marlene Dietrich, “Marlene,” which was nominated for a best documentary Oscar. Dietrich allowed herself to be recorded but refused to be filmed, bringing out the most in Mr. Schell’s talent to penetrate images and uncover reality.
Mr. Schell sometimes performed as a concert pianist and conductor and appeared with such classical music luminaries as Claudio Abbado and Leonard Bernstein. In the early 1980s, he and Bernstein were co-hosts of a PBS television series in which they discussed the music of Beethoven.
In the 1990s, Mr. Schell made appearances in films including “The Freshman,” “Telling Lies in America” and “Deep Impact.” He received a Golden Globe for his supporting role as Lenin alongside Robert Duvall in the 1992 HBO miniseries “Stalin.”
In a documentary titled “My Sister Maria,” Mr. Schell touchingly portrayed his loving relationship with his sister, who died in 2005.
His marriage to Russian actress Natalya Andrejchenko ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife since August, singer-actress Iva Mihanovic; and a daughter from his first marriage.