Thursday, February 26, 2009

Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen/The Devil’s Daffodil (1961)

A version of this review was first published on Dantenet.

The Devil’s Daffodil was Rialto’s first co-production with Britain. Both an English and a German version of the film were shot simultaneously.

At first glance the film seems to have all the typical Wallace ingredients: A mysterious killer who always leaves daffodils as his trademark at the scene of the crime. People get tortured, knifed, hanged and shot, not to forget the nasty death of an old biddy whose wheelchair gets pushed down the stairs. Everyone’s a suspect and everybody seems to lead a double live with secrets of their own.

Nevertheless, the film ends up being a very pedestrian contribution to the canon. Where other films of the series have mysterious monks, skeletons, archers or killers hiding behind frog masks stalking the grounds, in this production the chief culprit simply wears a black stocking over his head. The only secret doorway is actually not very secret, but pretty openly covers the entrance to an office in the Cosmos Club. Even the “mystery” of the daffodils that are placed on all the murder victims is not very mysterious: From one of the first scenes on, it is obvious that they are used to smuggle drugs. And not even an Eddi Arent in sight as comic relief.

The Devil’s Daffodil even fails when it comes to the location. Shot in Shepperton Studios and being a UK/German co-production it had every chance of reproducing the “typical” English flair better than most other parts of the Edgar Wallace series. Despite a few scenes shot on location on Piccadilly Circus and in other parts of London, the majority of the film, however, comes across even less English than most of the other films. Most sets look strangely sterile, deserted and non-descript. Even the Cosmos Club – apparently one of Soho’s most notorious hot spots - rarely ever has more than one or two guests. How that club ever managed to make money is beyond me.

Christopher Lee as Hong Kong detective Ling Chu, anxious to avenge the murder of his own daughter, has by far the best role in the film. This is his third outing in Chinese make-up after Hammer’s The Terror of the Tongs (1960) and an episode of the TV series Tales of Hans Andersen (1953), The Nightingale, in which he played the Emperor of China. All of these were, of course, only precursors to his most famous Chinese part as Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu in five instalments of the series shot between 1965-68.

His character appears in both the English and the German version of the film. Being multi-lingual you can hear his own voice in both versions.

Though dressed in a very un-Asian pervy looking raincoat and – as Joachim Fuchsberger’s character’s friend - clearly on the right side of the law, Lee’s part already has a healthy dose of Fu Manchu in him. In the most memorable scene of the film, he is shown gleefully torturing a suspect in search for information. To drown the cries of the victim he has a radio blasting at full power.

For the rest of the film, his main contribution is to dispense bits of Confucian wisdom that have been oh-so popular ever since Charlie Chan was teaching son Number One the ways of the world. At least in this case his character admits that he has them all made up.

In The Films of Christopher Lee he is quoted as saying:

“I played a Chinese detective in English and German. It wasn’t exactly easy playing in German with a Chinese accent, but I seem to have managed it.”

Well, he didn’t… Though his German is pretty much faultless, there sure is no trace of any kind of Chinese accent in it.

The other memorable part of the film – at least in the German version – goes to Klaus Kinski. In the English version his character was played by Colin Jeavons.

Kinski plays Peter Keene, ex-convict and loyal to the point of obsession to his boss and mentor, Raymond Lyne (Albert Lieven). From one scene to the other, his character can switch from being a slimy, flattering lick arse to a maniacally raving psycho, defending his boss against anyone that may stand in his way like an obedient dog who just wants to please his master and protect him from any attacks.

Fuchsberger has his standard role as the clean living, straight-faced hero of the Wallace films. This time he is Jack Tarling of Global Airways’ security service. That profession seems to give him semi-offical status as Scotland Yard opens all doors and files for him. He clearly has carte blanche to do anything he wishes to progress in his investigation, even going as far as allowing Ling Chu to torture a witness in the line of duty. In one if his best scenes, he barely escapes death by falling through an elevator shaft.

Ingrid Van Bergen plays Gloria, performing artist in a nightclub. She sings and also does a very innocent strip tease. Van Bergen was later involved in a real life murder mystery: She was imprisoned for 5 years for the murder of her lover in a fit of jealousy. A passion crime if ever there was one.

Walter Gotell, who plays Superintendent Whiteside in The Devil’s Daffodil, also appeared in From Russia With Love (1963) as Morzeny and subsequently had a regular part as General Gogol in a couple of later Bond movies.

Albert Lieven’s lecherous businessman would have sexual harassment charges against him left, right and centre in these more politically correct times. Lieven later returned for other Wallace Krimis (Das Verraetertor/Traitor’s Gate, Der Gorilla von Soho/Gorilla Gang).

Overall The Devil’s Daffodil is worth a look for Lee and Kinski alone, but otherwise only a very average Wallace production, and a missed opportunity to take proper advantage of its English location shots.



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