Saturday, February 4, 2017

Character Analysis: Maximilian von Mayerling

Character Analysis: Maximilian von Mayerling

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Award show season has kicked off again in America.  People are marking their predictions as to what films will win what awards, and the best and brightest of Hollywood anxiously await to hear their names called at Award Show ceremony’s, waiting for their moment in the sun.  Many Hollywood celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Hellen Mirren, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jack Nicholson have stood the test of time.  But for every Hollywood icon there are thousands more whose 15 minutes of fame has run out, and their left to reflect on their former fame and glory.  Yes, the “Hollywood Lifestyle” is often viewed as world of glamour, privilege, and absolute perfection, but there is also a dark seedy underbelly of the Hollywood life that not a lot of people like to talk about or see.  One of the best films that captures the Hollywood lifestyle after the limelight fades in the 1950 classic “Sunset Boulevard”.  This is one of those films that not everyone sees, but still knows the plot and still understand pop culture references being made about it (similar to “Jaws” and “Star Wars”).  The film doesn’t have a large cast, but does feature some very memorable characters, and I’m here to talk about probably the most overlooked character in the film, and that would be, Max von Mayerling.

CHARACTER: Maximilian von Mayerling from “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

Max from "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)
Maximilian “Max” von Mayerling is the loyal and dedicated house servant to Norma Desmond, a former silent film star.  Max is the only employee of Miss Desmond.  He serves as her butler, chauffer, and special assistant.  It is revealed towards the end of the film by Max, himself, that he was a film director.  He discovered Norma Desmond when she was 16-years-old, and “made her a star”.  Max boasts to Ms. Desmond’s house guest, Joe Gills, that years ago he was as good of a director as Hollywood legends D.W. Griffinth and Cecil B. DeMille (who also has a cameo in the film).  Max also confides to Joe that he was also Norma’s first husband, and after she left him, his life became unbearable, but he returned to be her house servant, and vows to do anything he can to protect her.    It’s blatantly obvious to anyone watching the film that Max still loves Norma, but one can’t help with wonder if he’s also suffering from some delusional disorder like his employer.  It really makes you wonder if Max is also losing a grasp on reality.
      It’s also safe to say that Max is an enabler.  He constantly praises Ms. Desmond for her works, and constantly reassures her that she is still a star, even though her fame and popularity have been pretty much extinguished.  Max is so bent on keeping Ms. Desmond happy that he even handwrites and mails Ms. Desmond hundreds of fake fan letters. 


Max is played by Austrian-American Actor Eric(h) von Stroheim.  Stroheim’s family immigrated to the U.S. in 1909, and six years later he was working in Hollywood along legends like D.W. Griffinth, just like his character in the film.  For his role of Max, in “Sunset Boulevard” Stroheim earned his only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (which he lost to George Sanders who won it for his role of Addison De Witt in “All About Eve”).  Stroheim had a lot of directorial positions early on in his career, and towards the end he took on more supporting actor roles in films.  With all his experience and expertise in the field, it goes without saying that Eric von Stroheim was the most qualified person to play the role of Max in “Sunset Boulevard”.


I believe Max is probably the most famous movie butler of all-time.  And yes, I’m saying he’s more famous and well known than Alfred Pennyworth from “Batman” because he was originally from a comic book and did not appear in films or television until much later on.  How many times have you seen a butler on TV or in a movie named, Max.  It’s kind of become the generic butler name. Seriously, he’s been parodied in children’s films such as “Cats Don’t Dance”, and children’s TV shows like “The Rugrats” and even “Tiny Toon Adventures” did a whole episode parodying the movie “Sunset Boulevard” with Hampton Pig playing Max.  Eric von Stroheim set the standard of how butlers are shown and portrayed in film in television in the same way that Anthony Michael Hall showed everyone how to play a sympathetic nerd in every movie.


After Norma Desmond murders Joe Gillis (Spoilers!), Max finds her in a delirious state.  It has appeared that she has finally snapped.  Max is the person who helps the police convince Norma to head downstairs by—once again enabling her—and convincing her that they were all there to start shooting her new film.  With Max acting as the (fake) assistant director, he coaxes Ms. Desmond downstairs, and that’s really the last we see of him.  If I had to make an assumption as to whatever became of Max, I’m sure he must be visiting Ms. Desmond every day at whatever Psychiatric Hospital she was brought to, and is still enabling her delusions of grandeur.

1 comment:

  1. Love, love, love this article! Max really is a fascinating and enigmatic character and you did this was a unique analysis of him.