Piel turned director in 1912, turning out such box-office successes as Mann Gegen Mann (1928), Achtung! - Auto-Diebe! (1930 and Artisten (1935). His last directorial effort was 1953's Gesprengte Gitter (aka Panic), which he also produced, wrote, and starred .
Soon Piel received the nickname "the dynamite director" because of his penchant for including explosion sequences in his films. These were authentic: Piel had befriended a demolition engineer who was often commissioned to dynamite bridges and other condemned structures slated for demolition. The engineer notified Piel of these assignments in advance: Piel filmed the explosions, then inserted the footage into his films.
In 1915, Piel became too bored with just standing behind the camera and he started to act before the camera. The first film with him as a leading actor, The Large Bet (Die Grosse Wette), was a Science Fiction adventure, where he had to deal with robots. Into Under Hot Zone (Unter heißer Zone, 1916) included for the first time scenes with wild animals, which were used by him afterwards in other films, and partly trained by him.
This was followed by a number of films between 1918-1919, in which he played the detective "Joe Deebs" eight times and with the film To the Large Unknown Quantity (1919) began to be credited by the name "Harry Peel" internationally.
In 1927 he played himself in a double role with Marlene Dietrich together in the film His Greatest Bluff. Likewise in 1927 Piel married the actress Dary Holm (1897-1960), who appeared in several of his films
In 1930 he directed the comedy Him or Me (1930) but still had many successful adventure films follow, such as Shade of the Underworld (1931), for Johnny Steals Europe (1932), The Ship Without a Port, The Call of the Jungle (1935) and His Best Friend (1937).
Then however difficulties began with the Nazis, and his film "Panic" (1940-43) was banned for showing too-realistic air attacks. Seventy-two negatives of his films, nearly all his silent movies, were destroyed in an air attack. After the collapse of the Third Reich, Harry Piel, who had been sustaining member of the SS, and had at first concealed this, was sentenced to six months detention and five years professional disqualification. After his denazification, he founded the "Ariel film" in 1950 in Hamburg with which he had however only moderate success.
Piel's film "Panik" depicted a German hero who traps wild animals in Africa for German zoos. At the film's climax, an air-raid on a German city frees the zoo animals from their cages; when they run loose in the streets, the people are terrified and only the heroic trapper can recapture the beasts. During World War Two, this film was suppressed by Reich censors who did not want the German people to believe that Germany was in danger from aerial bombardments.
After one of his last films, "Exploded Lattices" (1953), Piel withdrew from movie-making business and died ten years later in 1963.
Innocent Action and Splendid Spectacle: Fascism and Entertainment in Harry Piel's Movie Die Welt ohne Maske (1934)1
Oct 01, 2004; Actor, filmmaker, and producer Harry Piel was the first pop-culture icon of the German movie industry during the early decades of...