Horst Otto Gregor Wendlandt, producer of numerous German box office hits with his company Rialto, died Aug. 30 of cancer in Berlin at the age of 80.
Wendlandt’s name is primarily linked with two long-running bigscreen series of the 1960s that have become local examples of often-copied modern folklore.
When Wendlandt became chief of production of the German offspring of Copenhagen-based Rialto Film Preben Philipsen in 1961, the company had just acquired the rights to all vintage detective thrillers by Edgar Wallace.
Under Wendlandt’s management, the 30-odd films that followed, most in black-and-white, became successful showcases for Germany’s actors’ generation of the time.
A few years on, Wendlandt’s teenage son gave him the idea to another line of populist B-movies, pitching his father on the Wild West novels of German 19th century youth book writer Karl May, which to that day had not been discovered for the screen. Augmented by U.S. actors Lex Barker and Stewart Granger, Wendlandt produced nine Euro-Westerns, on location in Yugoslavia, most of them international co-productions. The films recently were the blue print of the largest single local box office hit ever, parody pic “Manitu’s Shoe” in 2001.
Both series have since been safe bets for reruns on TV and have just been announced by ProSiebenSat 1 for another round on retro channel Kabel 1 this fall.
Born as Horst Gubanow to parents of Russian origin in 1922, Wendlandt entered the film biz in 1937 as an apprentice at Tobis Filmkunst. After a subterranean intermission working as a POW in French coal mines, Wendlandt after the war joined Artur Brauner’s CCC before joining Rialto in 1961. By 1972, he was the single owner of the company.
His films in the 1970s and ’80s included R.W. Fassbinder’s “Lola” and Berlinale Bear winner “Veronika Voss” as well as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg” and “Fanny and Alexander.”
His biggest coup was the first feature film of oddball comedian Otto in 1985, which held the local No. 1 box office spot until it was dethroned by “Manitu’s Shoe” last year.
As the final of many European kudos, Wendlandt in February received the Berlinale Camera for lifetime achievement.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years Ilsegard, and his children Matthias and Susan, both co-owners of Rialto.