Classic Music Legend Tribute: Max Von Sydow

Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend Max Von Sydow, born April 10th, 1929!

Fate has an interesting way of creating legends. One way (although I am in no way advocating this) is to go out while you’re on top — as in ‘live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse’ for us all to remember. Many of classic Hollywood’s most notable symbols of youth and beauty — think James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow — leave behind a legend stuck in time, never to age or have beauty fade. Other legends, however, transcend the still-frame of youth and age gracefully into the title of legend. Max Von Sydow, today 84, is that legend.

Max Von Sydow playing against Death in The Seventh Seal (1957, director Ingmar Bergman)

Max Von Sydow began his career in Sweden by training at the Royal Dramatic Theatre where he made his screen debut in Alf Sjoberg’s Only a Mother in 1951. A few years later, in 1955, he would go on to met the man destined to shape his career, the ever-great, ever-talented Ingmar Bergman. With Bergman as his mentor, Sydow not only honed his skill as an actor but would also star in The Seventh Seal. In the film’s opening act, Sydow portrays a knight who plays death in a game of chess. The film, along with several other Bergman flicks, would ascend him to the top of the Art House film world. After years of working on both stage and screen in Scandinavia, Sydow finally agreed to go to Hollywood to play none other than Jesus Christ in George Stevens‘ epic tale, The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Max Von Sydow making his Hollywood debut as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, Director George Stevens)

And from there, he just kept working. In the seventies, he eased his way into the American pop culture as Father Lankester Merrin in the now classic horror film The Exorcist. In the eighties he courted with the New York intelligentsia in what is considered one of Woody Allen’s best, Hannah and Her Sisters. In the nineties he showed even the best of actors can make a mistake by co-staring in the Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd, and in the 2000’s he is still a force to be reckoned with, having starred in films such as Minority Report, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Robin Hood.

Max Von Sydow a living legend gracing the screen in Minority Report (2002, director Steven Spielberg)

Decade after decade, Sydow would consistently give one great performance after the next. And with his next film, The Letters, set for a 2013 release, he doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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