Maximilian Schell passed away this week, and among his forgotten roles was that of Dr. Hans Reinhardt in the 1979 science-fiction film The Black Hole. Schell was typecast into many roles associated with the Nazi regime, and he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1961 for his role in the film Judgment at Nuremberg. He never lacked for work over the course of his career. Schell is credited with 106 roles according to the Internet Movie Database. (IMDb) His final role came in 2009 in the film Darkness. But among his many roles and characters, one of his most interesting was that of Dr. Reinhardt.
The Black Hole was Disney’s attempt to “cash in” on the sci-fi boom that was sweeping Hollywood after the unexpected success of Star Wars in 1977. The film itself was not characteristic of what is typically associated with Disney efforts. It was a darker film, particularly the ending which associated perishing in the black hole with the various levels of Dante’s Inferno. The film included several notable actors of which Maximilian Schell was one. He played the primary antagonist, the mentally unstable Hans Reinhardt. Another notable actor in the film was Hollywood stalwart Ernest Borgnine, who played journalist Harry Booth.
Despite the presence and performances of Schell and Borgnine, The Black Hole did not receive much critical or financial success. It built on the technical and special effects that Star Wars laid the ground work for, but the plot and performances were considered subpar and the film did not perform well financially. It has experienced a bit of a “renaissance” in recent years however. As time goes on, the film seems to be viewed more fondly by fans, and there have even been whispers recently of a possible remake of The Black Hole being in the works.
This may be due in part to the overlooked “pop culture” aspects of the film. When this film was released in 1979, its setting and characters were almost as iconic as those of more well-known franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek. Postings at review aggregators such as IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes note how movie goers at the time felt about Dr. Reinhardt, his spaceship USS Cygnus, and his monstrous robot Maximillian. Some reviewers call the design of the Cygnus one of the most unique spaceships in the history of sci-fi. Other reviewers comment on how Maximillian was the sci-fi villain that kept children awake at night, not Darth Vader. The insane genius of Dr. Reinhardt was every bit as intimidating and frightening as any other villain at the time, due in no small part to Schell’s menacing performance.
Schell’s Dr. Reinhardt would not be the first sci-fi villain to be revisited in recent years, as Star Trek recently took the bold move to reinvent fan favorite Khan for the most recent film in the series reboot. Hans Reinhardt is perhaps one of the most overlooked roles in Maximilian Schell’s long film career. As fans look back at his performances, they might find a hidden gem in this forgotten sci-fi classic. They may also get a chance to see it again, if the rumors about a remake are correct. Dr. Reinhardt is a “black hole” of forgotten roles in the storied career of Maximilian Schell.
By Christopher V. Spencer