Silent films 1916-1927: Europe

Nils Asther
1: 1916-1926: Silent Movies in Europe

Vingarne (The Wings) 1916 (Sweden, dir Mauritz Stiller)

Vingarne was Asther's first film. At 19, he played an aspiring actor.
As part of the story, Asther has to audition a love scene with an actress, is found "too young and inexperienced"and rejected in favour of another actor, Lars Hanson. This storyline of casting the actors wraps around the main plot, creating a film within a film.


Hittebarnet (The Foundling, The Foundling of Fate) 1917 (Denmark, dir Madsen-Holger)

Nils Asther plays Kurt, the grown up foundling.



(aka Ship to the Stars, Excelcior, 400 Million Miles from Earth, The Airship, Ship to Heaven, Trip to Mars, Fourteen Million Leagues from Earth) 1918 (Sweden)

A group of explorers take a trip to Mars and meet some peace-loving Martians (one of which is Nils Asther in a white tunic).  

Himmelskibbet was ground breaking in terms of early science fiction - it has been described as "the film that marked the beginning of the space opera subgenre."

Scene from the film: Martian Nils Asther is helped walk by the Earthling space commander (Gunnar Tolnæs) after an explosion


Solen der dræbte (The Killing Sun, Die tötende Sonne) 1918 (dir Hjalmar Davidsen, Denmark)

Nils Asther plays Jan, Elizabeth's son from her first marriage.



Retten Sejrer (aka Justice) 1918 (Denmark)


 Gyurkovicsarna (Gyurkovic's Saga) 1920 (Finland)

Nils Asther plays Bandi Gyurkovics, the solid heir of the Gyurkovics household, while his twin brother Géza (Gosta Ekman) is a troublemaking soldier. Geza plays pranks on the colonel's daughter, Jutka, and dallies with a married Baroness. So mother Gyurkovics sends Bandi to the garrison to keep an eye on him.

Nils Asther and Violet Molitor as Bandi and Jutka, the lovers


Vem dömer (Love's Crucible, Mortal Clay) 1922 (Sweden, dir Victor Sjöström)

 During the Renaissance, a young wife plans to poison her aged husband in order to be with her young lover. The husband discovers the poison and dies of shock. In a film full of Christian symbolism, she she offers to walk through fire to be judged by God. Nils Asther has a small part as an apprentice to the husband, who is a carver of religious statues.

behind the scenes
Director Victor Sjöström holding a megaphone, Mauritz Stiller, Nils Asther's mentor, in the foreground


The Nurtull Gang (aka Norrtullsligan, The Female Bachelors, The Northgate League) 1923 ( director, Per Lindberg, Sweden)

 Based on a very modern novel for the time, the film is about four girls who share a flat and work as secretaries. Nils Asther plays the boyfriend of one of the girls, the 18 year old 'Baby'.  Hjalmar Bergman, the screenwriter, was the son in law of Asther's former mentor, Augusta Lindberg. The director was her son.


- Swedish Wikipedia

Carl XII's Kurir (King Carl XII's Courier) 1924 (Sweden)

This movie is based on a poem from 1821. The noble general Axel Roos (Gosta Ekman) must ride through hostile Europe to bring a dispatch to the Swedish king. Nils Asther plays Baron Stanislaus Botocki, owner of a castle that the general arrives at, and takes offence when the general falls for Countess Maria, his intended.


- Swedish Film Institute

 Wienerbarnet (Das Wiener Kind, The Little Austrian) 1924 (Denmark)

The film is set in the Viennese countryside. Nils Asther plays Charles Dupont, a dance music composer. In the Danish film booklet, he is described as an energetic lover with an elegant appearance but prone to high-sounding platitudes.
 - Danish Film Institute

Adventure Mad (Die Drei Kuckucksuhren, Three Cuckoo Clocks) 1926 (dir Lothar Mendes, Germany) Universum Film (UFA) (released 1928 US)

Nils Asther stars as Reginald Ellis in this comedy thriller, a rich idle cuckoo clock enthusiast who keeps his own personal clockmaker. Unfortunately, the clockmaker turns out to be a crook. Asther is kidnapped and spirited off to Cairo, where he gets more than enough adventure.

review by the New York Times

Der Goldene Schmetterling 
(The Golden Butterfly, Papillion D'Or, The Road to Happiness), 1926 (dir Michael Curtiz, Germany)

Lowly cashier Lilian (Lily Damita) is secretly attracted to her restaurant's owner, but says nothing as every night after work she goes to practice dancing. Finally, she is given her chance to dance, but as she leaves the restaurant, the owner declares his love in return. Now she must choose between him and the handsome dance impresario she has just met. Then, while dancing as a butterfly, she falls from the golden web and becomes lame. Nils Asther is Lillian's brother.

Der Goldene Schmetterling was written by P G Wodehouse and mostly filmed in London, with scenes in Cambridge, Berlin and Paris. It called the attention of Hollywood to nearly everyone in it, with Curtiz going on to direct Casablanca, White Christmas and many more.

Lily Damita


Das süße Wienermädel (Das süße Mädel,  Das Suesse Maedel, Kabaretprinsessan,The Little Viennese, My Viennese Lover) 1926 (dir Manfred Noa, Germany)

The title, Süßes Mädel, was a fin de siecle Viennese term for a certain type of sweet, lower class girl who associated with the upper classes without much hope of marriage. Nils Asther plays the Prince's son in this film based on an operetta by Leo Stein.

Imogene Robertson (aka Mary Nolan)

Wrath of the Seas 
(aka Conquest of the Holy Land, Die Versunkene Flotte) 1926/9  Germany
 (released 1926 Germany, 1929 US)

Nils Asther plays a philandering German lieutenant on a warship just before the Battle of Jutland. He clashes with his commander (Bernard Goatze) over the affections of the commander's lady (Agnes Esterhazy).

review from 1929 by the New York Times - modern NY Times review

Sorrell and Son, 1927 (United Artists, England)

 In a family saga based on a popular book, Asther plays the grown-up son of an Englishman abandoned by his wife. The son makes good and become a surgeon through his father's toil, but then has to take extreme measures when his father is suffering.

Movie card: Nils Asther and Mary Nolan, husband and wife in the film
Alice Joyce and Nils Asther
Lobby card: Nils Asther and Swedish superstar Anna Q Nilsson as estranged mother and son. In his later autobiography, Asther claimed that they enjoyed a liaison.
behind the scenes

- review from 1927 by the New York Times- more reviews

More on the films of Nils Asther
4: Talkies with MGM 1930-1933
5: The Bitter Tea of General Yen
7: Later career 1941-1960