German producer Wolf C. Hartwig, best known for Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 blockbuster “Cross of Iron,” has died in Paris at the age of 98. He was a controversial figure within the Teutonic film biz given his role as the mogul behind a series of sexploitation movies.
Hartwig’s career as a producer began in 1953 with a controversial WWII documentary and, while the style and subject-matter of his projects would change markedly over the next three decades, controversy remained at the core of most of his work. He truly believed there was no such thing as bad publicity.
In the early ’60s Hartwig saw profit in the Near and Far East, where he would use European funding to bankroll international co-productions with projects shot in Asian countries. These films where often Westerns or based on popular pre-war pulp-fiction characters.
Starting in the late ’60s, the bulk of his career catalog reads like a glossary of Penthouse Forum stories, and in 1970 the producer hit it big with the salacious, not-quite pornographic, “School Girl” film series. The first film racked up more than six million admissions in its theatrical lifetime, and inspired 11 further instalments in the series.
Although his films were often suggestive, Hartwig adamantly defended his “sex report” films, a genre he is largely credited with initiating, while condemning what he considered pornography. In a 2010 interview with Zeit Online, he clarified the differentiation and betrayed some old-world homophobic views: “No coitus in close-up, no naked man from the front, no homosexuality, disgusting. Otherwise I had no taboos.”
In 1977 Hartwig produced his first big-budget blockbuster, Sam Peckinpah’s only war film, “Cross of Iron,” starring James Coburn, Maximilian Schell and James Mason. The picture was the most expensive German post-war film up to that point. And, although U.S. admissions were hampered by the concurrent release of “Star Wars,” the film took in Germany’s largest box-office returns since 1965’s “The Sound of Music.”
At the time, Variety said of the film, “’Cross of Iron’ more than anything else affirms director Sam Peckinpah’s prowess as an action filmmaker of graphic mayhem.” A sequel, “Breakthrough,” was released in 1979, directed by Andrew McLaglen, and starring Richard Burton and Rod Steiger.
Hartwig worked another eight years, producing 11 more films before retiring in 1985 to spend his later life in Paris with his wife, French actress Véronique Vendell.