CNQ has made available the first chapter of Andrew Steinmetz's soon-to-be-published This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla, a book that exquisitely unravels the mystery of his late uncle who had a brief cameo as a Gestapo agent in John Sturge's famous film The Great Escape.
He’s had perhaps a minute on-screen in one of the most watched war movies of all time. Yet as a bit player he is uncredited for the role. In fact, soon after the film was made, he disappeared completely. Shortly after his star flickered, he died, aged 32, from a drug overdose in Hamburg. Watched by millions yet almost completely unknown. And there’s a further irony. He was a refugee from Nazi Germany, partly Jewish and the son of one of Germany’s most famous left-wing actors, playing a Gestapo agent, a role reprised on thousands of television repeats.In fact, watching television is how I came to know of my uncle Michael. Alive but not living, stranded in the no man’s land of a motion picture. His character was staged and scripted, but I was spellbound—Michael was convincing. Fedora and trench coat. Elegant. Blond. His smooth transitions. His lively walk, his coat unbuttoned, his fashion the casual flair of some fresh-as-the-breeze fascist. This image, I now understand, years later, is counterfeit, a convenient archetype, manufactured by the American film director John Sturges and his sidekick Bert Hendrickson in Costume Design and Wardrobe. But it is him, close enough to the real thing.