Helmut Dantine (October 7, 1918 – May 2, 1982) was an Austrian-born American actor who often played Nazis in thriller films of the 1940s. His best-known performances are perhaps the German pilot in Mrs. Miniver and the desperate refugee in Casablanca who tries gambling to obtain visa money for himself and his wife. As his acting career waned, he turned to producing.
According to one obituary, "He specialized in portrayals of Nazis, sometimes as the handsome but icy SS sadist battling Allied heroes, sometimes as a sympathetic German soldier forced, against his better judgment, to fight."
Dantine's father, Alfred Guttman, was the head of the Austrian railway system in Vienna. As a young man, Dantine became involved in an anti-Nazi movement in Vienna. In 1938, when he was 19 years old, the Nazis took over Austria during the Anschluss. Dantine was rounded up with hundreds of other enemies of the Third Reich and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp outside Vienna.
Three months later, using their influence, his parents obtained his release and immediately sent him to California to live with a friend. His father later died in Austria; however, his mother, Ditha Guttman, was safely brought from Austria to California in 1960, with the help of her son. Ditha lived in California until her death in 1983.
Dantine enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles. His relatives thought he would go into business but he became interested in theatre. He began his U.S. acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse, running two gas stations to pay the bills. Dantine was spotted by a talent scout from Warner Bros who signed him to a contract.
Dantine had uncredited parts in International Squadron (1942) and To Be or Not to Be (1942), before his first credited role in MGM's Mrs. Miniver (1942), playing a downed German pilot captured by the title character (played by Greer Garson). This film was a huge hit and Dantine received much positive attention.
In August 1942 Warners signed him to a new contract. The studio kept him busy in war films: The Pied Piper (1942); Desperate Journey (1942), fighting Errol Flynn; and The Navy Comes Through (1942).
He had a sympathetic role in Casablanca (1942), as the young refugee trying to earn money for a visa via gambling who is helped by Humphrey Bogart. Warners begin to give Dantine more sizeable roles in "A" films: Edge of Darkness (1943), playing a Nazi officer, again fighting Errol Flynn; Mission to Moscow (1943), as a Russian, a sympathetic role; Watch on the Rhine (1943).
Dantine's good looks caused him to receive a lot of fan mail and, in the words of one profile, "the studio began to realise it had something else besides a Hollywood Hitlerite on its hands." Warners announced they had bought Night Action by Norman Krasna as a vehicle for Dantine but the film appears to have not been made. Instead he went back to villainy in Northern Pursuit (1943), as a Nazi running loose in northern Canada fighting Errol Flynn – but it was a very large role.
Warners did cast him in a sympathetic role, as a convict in Passage to Marseille (1944), and he was one of several stars in Hollywood Canteen (1944). In 1944, exhibitors voting for "Stars of Tomorrow" picked Dantine at number ten.
Warners gave him a sympathetic lead in Hotel Berlin (1945) as the leader of the German underground. He was a Nazi on the run again in Escape in the Desert (1945), a remake of The Petrified Forest. His last film for Warners was in a film noir, Shadow of a Woman (1946). Then he left the studio.
He was in the lead for a film noir Whispering City (1947) for Eagle-Lion Films.
In 1947, he co-starred with Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway play The Eagle Has Two Heads, replacing Marlon Brando. According to Jean Cocteau, Bankhead made alterations to the play, and the production was a flop, lasting only 29 performances.
He was in No Time for Comedy on stage in Washington and also performed in the 1950 Broadway play Parisienne and was in Arms and the Man at Cambridge Summer Playhouse.
Dantine starred in the short-lived live television series Shadow of the Cloak during the 1951–52 season. He had the lead in a B, Guerrilla Girl (1953), then did a small role in a musical, Call Me Madam (1953), and supported Patricia Neal in Stranger from Venus (1953).
Dantine acted in the 1956 film production of Tolstoy's War and Peace as Dolokhov, a Cossack officer assigned to harrying the retreat of the French Napoleonic army from Moscow. He also had a small role in Alexander the Great (1956), Kean: Genius or Scoundrel (1957) and The Story of Mankind (1957) and played the lead in Hell on Devil's Island (1957).
Dantine directed the 1958 military aviation film Thundering Jets, starring Rex Reason. He continued to act: Fräulein (1958) and Tempest (1958).
As his acting career wound down, he became a vice-president of Hollywood mogul Joseph Schenck's company, Schenck Enterprises, in 1959; Schenck was his wife's uncle.
He later went to work as producer with Robert L. Lippert Productions and then as president of Hand Enterprises Inc.
Among Dantine's screen appearances were in three films for which he was the executive producer: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and The Killer Elite (1975), both directed by Sam Peckinpah, and The Wilby Conspiracy (1975). He was in The Fifth Musketeer (1979) and Tarzan the Apeman (1981).
Before graduating from UCLA, he married fellow theater student Gwen Anderson; they divorced in 1943.
He was in a car accident in 1943. In January 1945 he was arrested for biting Ida Lupino's assistant on the arm during a New Year's Eve party, but was released after apologizing.
He became an American citizen in April 1944.
In 1947, he married Charlene Stafford Wrightsman (1927–1963), the younger daughter of Charles B. Wrightsman, an oil millionaire whose collection of French furniture and decorative arts fills several galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The couple had a son, Dana Wrightsman Dantine, before divorcing in 1950. His ex-wife claimed Dantine was after her father's money.
In 1958, Dantine married Nicola Schenck, daughter of Nicholas Schenck, one of the founders of Loews. His wife acted under the name Niki Dantine; the couple had three children: Dita, Nicola and Shelley. In 1971, Helmut and Niki Dantine were divorced.
On May 2, 1982, Helmut Dantine died in Beverly Hills from a heart attack at the age of 63. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.
Escape (1940) – Porter (uncredited)
International Squadron (1941) – Flyer (uncredited)
To Be or Not to Be (1942) – Co-Pilot (uncredited)
Mrs. Miniver (1942) – German Flyer
The Pied Piper (1942) – Aide
Desperate Journey (1942) – German Co-Pilot (uncredited)
The Navy Comes Through (1942) – Frightened Young German Seaman (uncredited)
Casablanca (1942) – Jan Brandel (uncredited)
Edge of Darkness (1943) – Captain Koenig
Mission to Moscow (1943) – Maj. Kamenev
Watch on the Rhine (1943) – Young Man
Northern Pursuit (1943) – Col. Hugo von Keller
Passage to Marseille (1944) – Garou
Hollywood Canteen (1944) – Helmut Dantine
Hotel Berlin (1945) – Dr. Martin Richter
Escape in the Desert (1945) – Capt. Becker
Shadow of a Woman (1946) – Dr. Eric Ryder
Whispering City (1947) – Michel Lacoste
Guerrilla Girl (1953) – Demetri Alexander
Call Me Madam (1953) – Prince Hugo
Immediate Disaster (1954) – The Stranger
Alexander the Great (1956) – Nectenabus
War and Peace (1956) – Dolokhov
Kean: Genius or Scoundrel (1956) – Lord Mewill
Hell on Devil's Island (1957) – Paul Rigaud
The Story of Mankind (1957) – Marc Antony
Fräulein (1958) – Lt. Hugo Von Metzler
Tempest (1958) – Svabrin
Operation Crossbow (1965) – General Linz
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) – Max
The Wilby Conspiracy (1975) – Prosecuting Counsel
The Killer Elite (1975) – Vorodny
The Fifth Musketeer (1979) – Spanish Ambassador (final film role)
1. "Helmut Dantine, Film Actor; Often Played Arrogant Nazi". The New York Times. UPI. 6 May 1982.
2. Aljean Harmetz. The Making of Casablanca. Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. (New York: Hyperion, 2002) p. 211
3. Helmut Dantine graduate of Pasadena stage (1943, May 03). Los Angeles Times
4. OUT OF THE FRYING PAN. E. G. (1944, Feb 13). New York Times
5. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD. By Telephone to The New York Times (1942, Aug 5)
6. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD. (1943, Oct 27). New York Times
7. A film nazi on his way to stardom H. H. (1943, Jun 06) The Washington Post
8. "SAGA OF THE HIGH SEAS". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 11 November 1944. p. 9. Retrieved 24 April 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
9. Jean Cocteau. Past Tense: Diaries: vol.1; translated by Richard Howard. (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987) p. 36
10. R.L.C. (1949, Aug 02). Edith Atwater, Helmut Dantine are effective in Behrman play. The Washington Post
11. Parisienne at the Internet Broadway Database
12. Helmut Dantine starring with Beatrice Pearson. E. F. (1950, Jun 28). The Christian Science Monitor
13. "Actor-producer Helmut Dantine dead at 63". The Miami News. Associated Press. 6 May 1982.
14. ACTOR HELMUT DANTINE ACCUSED IN HIT-RUN CASE. (1943, Aug 13). Los Angeles Times
15. Dantine freed as he apologizes to actress' aide. (1945, Jan 03). Los Angeles Times
16. Nisei soldier given 15-year prison term. (1944, Apr 15). Los Angeles Times
17. Helmut Dantine weds. (1948, ). The Washington Post
18. Heiress says actor mate sought money. (1950, May 20). The Washington Post
19. Kennedy, D. (1982, May 10). Political activities as youth lent credibility to film roles. Los Angeles Times