Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yugoslavian film poster for DER HEXER/THE RINGER

Whatever happened to the abundance of Edgar Wallace film related items on the German Ebay site? There's barely anything about those movies or about any other Krimis remaining on it these days.

Just as well then that I at least internationally found one or two small items of interest. About the same time that I discovered the Yugoslavian film program for Der Hexer/The Ringer, I found another seller who was also selling a Yugoslavian film poster for the same movie (released as Carobnjak in Yugoslavia).

I always get a kick when I see unusual material coming from countries not generally associated with genre movies.

The item arrived in the mail the other day. Happy camper I am.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yugoslavian film program for DER HEXER/THE RINGER

I just received this original Yugoslavian film program for Edgar Wallace thriller DER HEXER/THE RINGER. It very prominently features Sophie Hardy. No idea why. I mean I really like her, but she was never the film's main selling point. Was she somewhat of a star in Ex-Yugoslavia? No idea. Maybe someone can tell.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dynamit in grüner Seide/Death and Diamonds/Dynamite in Green Silk (1968)

Despite the fact that the previous 5 Cotton movies had been filmed by four different directors, it is ironic that the series started falling apart just when Harald Reinl came on board to direct the last three movies. Having Germany’s best known action director of the time in charge for a continuous string of movies should have been an opportunity to streamline the success formula and raise the movie series to new heights.

Instead pretty much everything that had made the films so popular was discarded for Cases 6 and 7:

Richard Münch had enough of playing Mr High and went back to stage acting in Vienna. Rather than to replace him with another actor, the following movies had various non-descript actors playing Cotton’s superiors and often make clumsy attempts at having High involved despite his absence. We regularly see other actors relay High’s messages to Cotton and Decker or see Cotton talk to him on the phone off screen.

Both Death and Diamonds as well as Death in the Red Jaguar also see Cotton leave his familiar New York territory and go to California. In actual fact if watched close together it becomes painfully obvious that the two films had to rely on a very limited amount of Californian stock footage. We often see very similar looking shots of roads and airports. The semi-documentary approach was abandoned altogether for these last movies and no narrator was employed to provide commentary to the action. Even Cotton’s famous red Jaguar is rarely ever seen!

And even though the Cotton series of movies was never exactly renowned for their sophisticated plot devices, with the first two Reinl movies plot holes reached mythic proportions. In Death and Diamonds Cotton becomes the world’s worst undercover agent: Rather than draw attention away from himself when he infiltrates a gang, he behaves like an elephant in a china store and rarely misses an opportunity to start a fight, ask stupid questions or otherwise raise suspicion. Never mind his attempts at playing an Englishman. His ineptness in this department is only outmatched by the gang of killers in Death in the Red Jaguar who - even though they are very clearly on the list of suspects – can’t help but to continue killing their victims in the most obvious way and drive attention to themselves. At one stage we even see Cotton about to be crushed by an oncoming train. He is tied and bound at a railway junction and this despite the fact that the gangsters are trying to make this look like an accident!

If all this sounds as if Cases 6 and 7 are a miss, well, they’re not. These movies still are very fast paced and entertaining, but lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Despite both of them having some very memorable stand out scenes, they often come across as more conventional paint-by-numbers actioneers than their predecessors. One fight scene follows the next, but is often missing a critical over-the-top ingredient. Or at least an over the top location: Cotton seems to have also lost his love for high wire stunts.

Mind you: When these films do manage to shine, they do so with an ingenious punch that sets them clearly apart from similar productions of the area.

Following the theft of a large quantity of poisoned gas in preparation of an upcoming diamond heist, Cotton is required to go underground and expose the gang leader, a mysterious shadow figure called Stone, behind the robbery. In his guise he is not allowed to smoke, drink whisky or eat fish. He has to take a crash course in electronics in order to pose convincingly as the safecracker, is allowed to chase blondes (though we still don’t see him in any kind of romantic shenanigans) and….. play with little toy cars! Apparently the real alarm system specialist (Claus Tinney) he is impersonating is a dedicated fan of the truly manly game of model car racing and if you didn’t know it, this film will teach you that Mini Racing Centres in the 1960s were really cool places to mingle with fellow aficionados! The red toy Jaguar we see Cotton playing with is a sad reminder of the real McCoy, however, that in this film does not get an opportunity to crash.

We also learn that bars frequented by gangsters inevitably have a bunch of Go-Go Girls dancing around pool tables. A very ingenious shot has one of the pool player’s looks turn back and forward between two very tantalisingly placed pool balls and the jiggling brimming bra of one of the dancers. The gang’s HQ hangout is called “Green Silk” and explains the German and the alternative English title of the movie. Somewhat.

Following the diamond heist, Cotton gets trapped in an incinerator out of which he miraculously manages to escape, prior to running off with the diamonds himself which he then uses as a ruse to identify the master mind behind the theft.

Up til that point Death and Diamonds was a fast paced, somewhat routine, slightly uninspired actioneer. The last half hour or so, however, raises the bar by a gear or three. The moment the real Trevor is released from prison, he starts tracking his impostor’s moves and connects with a common acquaintance: an equally common damsel in a delightfully see-through négligé who writes down a contact number on a packet of Lucky Strike.

Mabel (Marlies Dräger), a mysterious brunette in green, helps to kidnap Cotton and blonde gangster moll Lana (Sylvie 3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan Solar). Cotton had previously prevented Lana from being raped, but she is now being bullwhipped by Mabel in order to have Cotton confess. This is a violently fetishistic scene of a kind that would have previously been unimaginable for a Cotton movie, but was soon becoming symptomatic for the Reinl directed films and taken to an extreme with the last production, Fatal Gunshots on Broadway.

When Cotton manages to escape from the gang he stops an approaching car by karate jumping feet first (!) through the windscreen and knocking out the driver. In a subsequent manic chase sequence he makes quite a great figure on a motor bike.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Die Rechnung – eiskalt serviert/ Tip Not Included/A Cold-Blooded Affair (1966)

A version of this review was first published on my Hammer Glamour pages.

In Tip Not Included Yvonne Monlaur plays Violet, a nightclub singer in a Playboy Bunny-esque lounge, and gets to sing two of Peter Thomas’ catchy tunes. (“I want to be near to you/I want to be kissing you/If I close my eyes/I’m in paradise.”) Truth be told it may not necessarily be Monlaur herself who sings – I strongly suspect that she was dubbed – but she nevertheless strikes quite a stylish pose in this black and white thriller. Her character is involved with an unemployed chemist (Christian Doermer) whose expertise is needed to develop bombs for an ingenious heist by the Charles Gang. His attempt to double-cross his gang by selling the info out to a mysterious stranger (Rainer Brandt) leads to his early death.

Cotton first encounters Violet and her boyfriend when he visits the bar in which she performs in order to enjoy a relaxing after work whiskey. Needless to say, he is not able to finish his drink: A little bit less than a sip later he is already madly involved in an elevator brawl with a couple of thugs who are after Violet’s sweetheart.

From then on the film takes off with the usual breathtaking speed that can be expected from a movie of the series. The film’s heist of an armed treasury van involves a clever magnetic bomb device that gets attached to the van from underneath a bridge and blows the car to pieces. Cotton nobly accepts responsibility for sending the multi million dollar transport off to prevent the suicide of the guilt ridden director of the treasury department (Walter Rilla)… just to see him succumb to a heart attack only seconds later! That temporarily costs Cotton his licence, though it’s still him who Violet prefers to call when she gets kidnapped. When Cotton takes the call in his swell apartment he is seen wearing a suave bathrobe with JC monogram. He straight away jumps into his Jaguar to save the damsel. He can save Violet in a big shoot out, nearly gets arrested – suspended FBI agents shouldn’t carry guns! –, then follows a lead into a wrestling arena. One double cross follows the other. There just ain’t no loyalty amongst thieves any more. And just when the pace threatens to slow down we see gangster moll Mary (Birke Bruck) taking a very revealing shower. She wears nothing but her glasses which manage to stay steam free. Wow, that was a first for a Cotton Krimi! Cotton generally has little time for romantic hanky panky so fast forward to a scene where he nonchalantly jumps off a sky scraper (!) to hang on to an escaping helicopter. The subsequent flight action is marred by the dodgy rear projection, yet picks up when the helicopter approaches a lake and we see the stunt man hanging on for his life when his feet are gliding through the water.

For Monlaur this proved to be her final motion picture. She subsequently only had one more appearance in Der Tod läuft hinterher, an incredibly popular German TV Krimi serial in three parts that also starred a bunch of familiar faces from the Edgar Wallace movies such as Joachim Fuchsberger, Pinkas Braun and Elisabeth Flickenschildt.

Horst Tappert secured the part as the head of the treasury robbing Charles Gang after playing a similar part as the “Major” earlier on that year in Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse, a 3-part German TV mini-series based on the Great Train Robbery in 1963.

Rainer Brandt makes for a very convincing menacingly mysterious figure looming in the shadows. Though he is an excellent actor in his own right, he is primarily known for his dubbing work as he owns the most famous dubbing studio in Germany. He already had his first encounter with Jerry Cotton in the previous film 3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan for which he dubbed Allen Pinson’s character Harry. Ironically for someone who is widely known for his dubbing work, his part in Tip Not Included required him for the largest part to loom silently in background.

Overall Tip Not Included is a very typical and entertaining example of the Jerry Cotton series at its best. This would be the last black and white production. The remaining movies were all shot in colour, though the subsequent one (Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn/Body in Central Park) still started with a black and white pre-credit scene that consisted of material shot but not used for Tip Not Included in which Cotton and Decker discover a bunch of gangsters hidden in Cotton’s apartment that is accessed with a private lift and contains a private mini race track with toy Jaguar.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Das Geheimnis der weissen Nonne/The Trygon Factor (1966)

With costs amounting to 4 Million Deutschmarks, The Trygon Factor is the most expensive Wallace film of the series and it sure manages to show every Pfennig spent on it.

In an outrageous mix of caper and nunsploitation movie elements, we see an international gang of female beauties dressed in white habits driving motor boats and shooting and murdering their way into a bank vault that is then cracked open in an elaborately staged heist sequence.

This production was filmed in English with some scenes being shot with alternative actors (Siegfried Schürenberg replaces James Robertson-Justice as Sir John) for its German dubbed version. Being filmed in the Shepperton Studios and at actual locations around London The Trygon Factor may lack some of the usual Teutonic inconsistencies, but for that very reason is also the most accessible one for non-German audiences.

It is an exceptionally well cast production: Stewart Granger is the most suave Wallace hero and was very popular in Germany at the time due to a series of Karl May movies for which he played Old Surehand. Robert Morley plays his usual pompous character and Brigitte Horney is excellent as the head of the nuns’ order. The biggest surprise is Eddi Arent who had his final appearance in the series here: Cast completely against type in a serious role he is absolutely convincing as a professional safe breaker. The first time we see him seemingly dead in a coffin during his funeral. For the robbery he is seen wearing something resembling the original yellow Iron Man suit of armour while shooting bullets against the safe from a futuristic looking high power machine gun. Not a sight you’re bound to forget in a while.

Sophie Hardy goes topless in a well staged murder sequence that alternates her bathroom scene with the killing of another girl in an adjoining room and that would not have been out of place in a giallo. We also have a cross dressing crook straight out of an Ed Wood movie and an infantile man who still wants to play with his mammy. Add a mysteriously masked killer and we have one helluva of a zany and fast paced production and quite possibly one of the best Wallace movies of the entire series. A definite Must See and a lorra lorra fun.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Der Todesrächer von Soho/The Corpse Packs His Bags (1972)

Directed by Eurotrash hack Jess Franco, The Corpse Packs His Bags was a coloured remake of the very first black & white Bryan Edgar Wallace movie, The Secret of the Black Trunk. Franco’s film very closely follows the plot of its predecessor and Franco even goes so far as to copy entire scenes from that one. Whenever he strays, however, he pushes the irreverences to the n-th degree.

Siegfried Schürenberg (Rialto’s Sir John) is delightfully cast against character as the unscrupulous leader of the drug ring with a laboratory that appears to have been left over from a previous Frankenstein shooting. One beautiful shot has Inspector Robert Redford [sic!] (Fred Williams) and Horst Tappert stand in front of two oval mirrors that reflect their images ad infinitum. A couple of shots from staircases invoke German expressionism or a camera man with a few drinks too many.

These occasional glimpses of talent, however, are only very few and far between and for the most part Corpse is one of the most amateurish and blandest Krimis ever to see the light of day: The film was quite obviously not shot anywhere near London. Instead Soho appears to be just minutes away from the Spanish countryside. It is littered with Franco’s trademark blurry close-ups and rather dodgy day-for-night shots; Luis Morris as Andy Pickwick, a crime scene photographer, is an annoying Chris Howland copy who himself was really a second rate Eddi Arent in the original movie, though he at least carries a few nudie pictures with him of women that are better looking than the ugly wenches that are cast as hookers for this film. Franco himself plays a knife expert.

It is just so annoying: Nothing wrong with a film that fails on some levels, but the director should at least have tried. Franco, however, leaves the impression that he just couldn’t give a toss.

Filmed in April 1971, it took until November 1972 for the film to find a cinematic release. Not surprisingly it proved to be a financial flop and was effectively the last of the classic Krimis to grace the screens.

As tempting as it would be to blame Franco personally for the demise of the Krimi genre, the German public was simply Krimi-d out at the time. From the following year on they would also be able to watch the Rialto series on TV and get their fix on the small screen.

Still, the genre would have deserved a better swan song than Corpse.

Krimi R.I.P.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Das siebente Opfer/The Racetrack Murders (1964)

A series of murders at a race track. A dead man who appears to come back alive to seek revenge years after his execution. Thanks to Franz Josef Gottlieb’s superior direction, The Racetrack Murders is the best of all Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptations, a true gem of a Krimi that is well worth checking out and easily stands its own ground even outside the true canon of Rialto Wallaces.

Gottlieb loves long sweeping camera movements and bizarre angles. We see a fight scene filmed through the legs of the fighters; reflections captured in pools of rain; life footage captures the exciting atmosphere at a race course including the bookmakers’ bizarre secret hand communication.

The action never stops. One killing leads to another: a horse throws off its rider when a snake is thrown in its path, a trumpet player gets shot in the middle of a solo, people get killed by pitchfork, harpoon or hangman’s noose. The hookers in the local pub, The Silver Whip, wear the most amazing pieces of highly revealing strap tops.

It is also one of the best cast films of the series: Hansjörg Felmy wears goofy metal-rimmed glasses and paints cartoons. Trude Herr is his fat dietician. Ann Savo is drop dead gorgeous – though quite clearly not a Chinese as she is meant to be – and allows her breasts to be groped by Harry Riebauer. Peter Vogel as a butler for a change is not really comic relief, although he is allowed to make a few quips. Wolfgang Lukschy is a wonderfully ruthless loan shark who puts pressure on Helmut Lohner. Also starring Ann Smyrner, Hans Nielsen and Walter Rilla. Oh, and also look out for Werner Peters in a blink or you’ll miss it silent walk on cameo!

Although this is Krimi entertainment at its best, The Racetrack Murders flopped at the box office so it took CCC a few years before they decided to go back on Bryan Edgar Wallace territory.

The next few films marketed as such really had absolutely nothing to do with Bryan Edgar Wallace’s oeuvre and in some cases bore more resemblance to Fredric Brown adaptations. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) were Dario Argento’s first three films. The Etruscan Kills Again (1972) was directed by Armando Crispino. Although co-produced with German money these movies belong quite clearly more to the Giallo genre and as such will be not be up for discussion here.

The last proper Bryan Edgar Wallace Krimi, however, would prove to be Krimi’s final hour: Der Todesrächer von Soho/The Corpse Packs His Bags (1972).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Das Ungeheuer von London City/The Monster of London City (1964)

A play in the Edgar Allan Poe Theatre depicting the murders of Jack the Ripper leads to a number of copycat killings in the film’s contemporary London.

With The Monster of London City Edwin Zbonek returned to familiar Bryan Edgar Wallace territory after his previous directorial stint for The Mad Executioners.

Though much is made of the fictitious play’s apparent accuracy towards the Autumn of Terror, a lot of the details are more part of Ripper fiction. The whole stance of having a West End play spark a series of vicious murders and invoke debates to have the drama banned is not so much thought provoking, but exposes the more typical middle class, conservative audience of the 1960s Krimis. At a time when London started to swing, students worldwide were on the verge of revolt and pop culture became a political force it must have been comforting to see a rather old fashioned drama involving actors wearing suits and ties causing a stir. And potential son-in-laws would still ask a father for the daughter’s hand. Not exactly Helter Skelter.

But then again, Krimis were never shot to deal with serious social issues, but first and foremost served as pure escapist entertainment. And though not a master piece, this film does give us a healthy dose of midnight murders and red herrings. We even get short glimpses of black and white nudity and a scene with a child witnessing one of the murder scenes would later become a common motive in Gialli. Overall this is one of the best Bryan Edgar Wallace movies.

Hansjörg Felmy is slightly miscast as the drug riddled troubled soul of an actor who finds it ever more difficult to separate reality from fiction. Dietmar Schönherr is his doctor and friend. He would later turn into a popular German talk show host like his colleague Joachim Fuchsberger. Marianne Koch as the girl admired by both later got a medical degree and became a celebrity doctor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Der Henker von London/The Mad Executioners (1963)

The Mad Executioners marks one of the few times when a Bryan Edgar Wallace movie featured mysterious villains in disguise. This time a bunch of hooded judges - who look remarkably similar to the baddies in later “proper” Wallace films such as The College Girl Murders - hold judgment over criminals who managed to escape the traditional justice system. Their verdict is invariably death by strangulation courtesy of the hangman’s rope that gets stolen in regular intervals from Scotland Yard’s Black Museum. Their court room is full of coffins and skulls just for added atmosphere. Their macabre success even spawns copycats: criminal gangs who use the imminent threat of execution to terrorise some straying gang members.

Half way through the film it switches focus to an apparent sexual predator who decapitates young girls, one of them the sister of Inspector John Hillier (Hansjörg Felmy). The killer needs those heads to perform Frankensteinian experiments.

Chris Howland is a crime reporter in various disguises. He sings… badly. He cross dresses... badly. Dieter Borsche is a pervy old man who still manages to get the gals with the help of some incredibly bad chat up lines. A veritable lady killer.

Also starring Wolfgang Preiss as Hillier’s superior in Scotland Yard, Harry Riebauer as Hillier’s friend and police surgeon and Maria Perschy as the token blonde love interest and decoy to help catch the decapitating mad doctor. Rudolf Fernau is a butler with a wonderfully fixed gaze.

The final solution does for a change come as a surprise and is unusually downbeat.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Der Würger von Schloss Blackmoor /The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963)

On the eve of his knighthood, Lucius Clark’s (Rudolf Fernau) dodgy colonial past comes back to haunt him. He is in illegal possession of millions worth of raw diamonds that are hidden amongst the secret vaults of Blackmoor Castle and that an anonymous strangler is aiming to unearth.

Overall The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle is a very pedestrian affair. Action director Harald Reinl does not shine in a lot of scenes and the film just keeps plodding along at a very leisurely pace. Most of the actors (Hans Reiser, Harry Riebauer) are unfamiliar faces without the slightest bit of charisma and even Karin Dor is very mousy and unmemorable in this production. Dieter Eppler also shows up from the Rialto series as a diamond obsessed butler.

Composer Oskar Sala wrote a track that unlike most other Krimi scores just uses electronically manipulated sounds. Though interesting as a concept and well ahead of its time, this is an experiment that ultimately fails as these sounds are incredibly slow and monotonous and only underline the film’s general lack of direction. Sala put a similar concept to much better use for Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The identification of the killer also centres on the fact that he only has nine fingers, yet no-one seems to have been aware of this more than revealing missing digit in the case of the true perpetrator of these crimes.

But all is of course not lost with this production: The film features a scene in which a biker gets decapitated by a steel line cast across the street, a scene more violent than usual for the time. Decapitations appear to be quite common around Blackmoor Castle. One of the victims who manages to keep his head on then has the letter M cut into his forehead, a nice homage to Fritz Lang. Walter Giller in kilt and massive handle bar moustache makes for one of the most entertainingly ludicrous Teutonic Scotsmen the Krimiworld has ever seen. And Ingmar Zeisberg as a fake blonde and gangster moll oozes sex appeal out of her low cut tops. Even a telephone operator manages to identify her as a Blonde just by listening to her voice! Zeisberg was to return back to Krimi territory that same year with The Inn on Dartmoor (1964).

The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle proved to be a resounding commercial success and pathed the way for further Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptations: Next on the list was the strange Mabuse/Wallace hybrid Dr. Mabuse Vs. Scotland Yard (1963).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Koffer/The Secret of the Black Trunk (1962)

Artur “Atze” Brauner’s Bryan Edgar Wallace series kicked of with The Secret of the Black Trunk: A series of murders committed via an oriental knife leads Scotland Yard on the trace of a drug ring. All victims have just recently arrived in London and to their surprise discover shortly before their demise that their suitcases had already been packed for them. After the murders these cases all go missing.

The Secret of the Black Trunk is a solid start for the new Bryan Edgar Wallace series having many of the ingredients of the original and fulminates in a chase through some underground caverns that had also been used for other Krimis.

The male lead Joachim Hansen is a colourless character and a relatively unfamiliar face although he ended up having a long, though not very distinct film career. Following up on one single clue that could have easily been discussed on the phone, Inspector Finch is even allowed to travel to the United States under the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Senta Berger brings star quality into this production. Confusingly enough we end up seeing her in captivity at one stage without ever being given the benefit of watching the actual kidnapping.

Chris Howland became a very popular discjockey in Germany. Born in London his distinct English accent became his trademark that also proved popular in a lot of Karl May movies and another Bryan Edgar Wallace Krimi, The Mad Executioners. In The Secret of the Black Trunk he plays an Eddi Arent like comic relief character, a collector of sounds who constantly stumbles across clues with the help of his portable reel-to-reel recorder.

The Secret of the Black Trunk is Wallace Lite, a quick fix if you don’t have the father’s movies at your disposal. Though full of illogical plot holes it does have some charming off-the-wall moments especially when we are confronted with one of the character’s nieces (Elfriede Irral) who for no apparent reason decides to dress as the Queen’s page boy. A tree with a Cyrillic inscription reading “MONTI 1945” gives away the fact that this was filmed in Berlin, not London. Helga Sommerfeld who is the film’s token sexy bar maid also featured in Playboy’s November 1964 issue as one of the “The Girls of Germany”. Director Werner Klingler’s next film was to be The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. The Secret of the Black Trunk was later to be remade by Jess Franco as The Corpse Packs His Bags.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Das Gasthaus an der Themse/The Inn on the River (1962)

A harpoon killer called “The Shark” is terrorising London’s docklands.

The Inn on the River feels like a Best of version of the Wallace thrillers. Although it has some tremendous stand alone scenes and quirky ideas, it still fails to establish this certain Je Ne Sais Quoi that would raise it to an absolute Must See level. It is a very good average for the series and – based on audience numbers – actually became the most popular entry.

Although the plot as such is not very original, the film itself oozes atmosphere: A lot of the scenes are set near the Thames – well, Hamburg’s Alster river – and even have some wonderful underwater photography and underwater fights which slightly predate similar ones in Thunderball, albeit in a more basic fashion. Alfred Vohrer has some of the scenes in the eponymous inn beautifully lit with strong black and white contrasts and loves to play with mirrors, reflections and close-up shots of human eyes.

Martin Böttcher’s music absolutely rules this film: In the first quarter of an hour alone we first have one of the looniest Jazz hybrid tunes ever composed including the sounds of barking dogs, manic screams and cuckoo clocks being followed shortly afterwards by one of the best songs of the series (about all the things that can happen at night) sung – or better hoarsely whispered – by Elisabeth Flickenschildt.

Eddi Arent dances the twist and rows a boat. Joachim Fuchsberger returns back to the series as a member of the river police. Brigitte Grothum is a very tomb boy-ish and asexual love interest. Klaus Kinski catches us by surprise as a mysterious moustachioed hoodlum in a white suit… or does he?

The Inn on the River marked the departure of scriptwriter Egon Eis from the series. Up until now the source novels were relatively closely adapted for the screen. From now on they would gradually stray further from the originals up to the point where they would be nearly completely new productions with only the remotest link to Edgar Wallace himself.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern/The Door With Seven Locks (1962)

One by one the owners of seven keys for a door leading to a mysterious treasure get killed off.

The Door With Seven Locks marks the Rialto Wallace debut of hedgehog lookalike Heinz Drache. He was previously seen in CCC’s The Avenger and an incredibly popular German TV star thanks to the mega success of the TV series Das Halstuch, based on Francis Durbridge’s novel The Scarf. Drache plays Inspector Martin, amateur Magician and fan of Krimi radio shows, who is assisted by Eddi Arent.

Siegfried Schürenberg also made his Wallace debut as Sir John. Klaus Kinski has an ultra short part as a Mac wearing nervous crook who approaches Inspector Martin for help and gets killed pretty much instantaneously.

Another Wallace debutant is Werner Peters who hams it up wonderfully as Bertram Cody: In one scene we seen him sitting on a throne-like chair that is quite obviously too large for him. His legs keep dangling in the air. The chair is in the shape of an African woman with legs ending in high heel shoes; its body contains a record player that plays Bach’s Toccata, a piece that Cody’s wife (Gisela Uhlen) pretends to play on an organ which in actuality hides a house bar.

Unfortunately, those inspired moments of madness are few and far between in this production. For its first hour The Door With Seven Locks is a very pedestrian affair with little to speak of in its favour. In the last half hour, however, it switches gears when Pinkas Braun’s Dr. Antonio Staletti surprisingly brings us into Mad Scientist territory.

We have previously seen Ady Berber killing people as a wonderfully sweaty brute with a huge scar around his forehead who gets distracted in a surprisingly innocent childlike fashion by a music box that plays God Save the Queen. We now discover that he is the result of one of Staletti’s experiments aimed at creating an immortal Übermensch by transposing human heads on simian bodies. We see Pinkas Braun holding a skull in true Hamlet style while an actor in ape suit grimaces behind the bars of an underground laboratory. When exposed as a charlatan, Braun goes into maniacally cackling overdrive and jumps on his laboratory table while shaking his head uncontrollably. One of Germany’s best and most OTT cinematic Modern Day Frankensteins who manages to save an otherwise very mediocre Wallace production.

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.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Die toten Augen von London/Dead Eyes of London (1961)

A gang of blind peddlers terrorise London under cover of night and fog and kill rich visitors from overseas who all had insurances with the same company. Messages left behind in Braille give Scotland Yard the first clues as to the identity of the killers. 
  Dead Eyes of London was Alfred Vohrer’s Wallace debut. With 14 Krimis he was soon to turn into Rialto’s most proficient director.
 In this movie he already established a lot of his typical cinematic quirks that were often reminiscent of Dario Argento’s ideas a decade later: The camera films a mouth wash from behind a set of teeth; Kinski’s dark sun glasses clearly reflect a roulette table and Harry Wüstenhagen’s image; a victim’s eyes are shown approaching through a little spy hole in a wall shortly before he’s being shot.
 Vohrer’s most ingenious directorial ideas, however, were in the use of classical music. In contrast to most of the other Wallace movies which generally relied on specially composed, often jazzy, tracks, Vohrer opted to have Beethoven’s 5th symphony played to accompany scenes of torture, murder and general mayhem, a device which predates Kubrick’s similar use of the composer’s music for A Clockwork Orange by more than a decade.
 Although this was also Klaus Kinski’s Rialto debut he had his first Wallace outing a year earlier in Kurt Ulrich Film’s rival production Der Rächer/The Avenger (1960).Though his character can see, he is constantly wearing large, dark sun glasses that obscure his eyes and underline his involvement with the gang of blind men. Any time he removes his glasses, he goes into widely staring overdrive.
 Joachim Fuchsberger unsurprisingly plays the lead, a Scotland Yard inspector. What else?
 Eddi Arent is his colleague and comic side kick who knits woollen jumpers incessantly in order to calm his nerves and is nicknamed “Sunny” on account of his cheerful disposition.
 Dieter Borsche is a blind Reverend who runs a soup kitchen for blind down and outs. Or is he?
 Karin Baal is a young girl who reads Braille and helps Scotland Yard by going undercover in Borsche’s church community.
 Franz Schaftheitlin introduces the character of Scotland Yard’s Sir John who was subsequently played by a couple of different actors until finally finding his quintessential interpretation with Siegfried Schürenberg from Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern/The Door With Seven Locks (1962) on.
 The film’s most memorable part, however, is cast with Ady Berber. His Blind Jack, a big, blind brute of a man, is the kind of iconic role that would otherwise have been cast with Tor Johnson or Milton Reid and like these two he also was a professional wrestler before going into films. His hulking, threatening presence is emphasised by the fact that he never seems to utter a word and just looms quietly. His massive, hairy hands that he uses to choke his victims are genuinely frightening. When we finally hear him talk, he begs for his life in incomplete baby-ish kind of German, just to emphasise the childlike mind set that is hidden behind his murderous persona.
  Dead Eyes of London is a relatively violent Wallace production for its time. We see a torture chamber complete with specially designed drowning tanks and attacks by Bunsen burner. We also have smoky gambling joints, a happy hooker with strong Eastern European accent, a death through an elevator shaft, a TV set that shoots bullets and a skull that doubles as a cigarette dispenser.
 This is the first Wallace Krimi that presents the title sequence blood red on top of the otherwise black and white images - a gimmick that was soon copied by other Krimis outside the Rialto series - and is overall one of the best of the early Wallace series.
  Dead Eyes of London was previously filmed in 1939 with Bela Lugosi and Rialto themselves subsequently made an unofficial remake of sorts with Der Gorilla von Soho/Gorilla Gang in 1968 again directed by Vohrer.

Der grüne Bogenschütze/The Green Archer (1961)

If it wasn’t for the domineering presence of Mr Goldfinger himself (Gert Fröbe) this Wallace film could otherwise be considered something of a flop as the film is trying too hard to be ironically self referential in a pre-Scream kind of way.

Eddi Arent knowingly introduces himself to the camera at the start of the film questioning why people would even want to see it. At the end he explains that some shooting in the background was the noise of the next Wallace movie being made, then unknowingly gets shot by the archer and asks the audience to leave the arrow behind should they find it in the cinema. During the film he regularly glances into the camera and at one stage mentions that he saw a similar murder before in Stahlnetz, director Jürgen Roland’s TV series. These scenes are trying very hard to be playful winks for the viewer – and already indicate how successful the Wallace series has become with only its forth outing -, but in reality they are just plain annoying and interrupt the viewing pleasure.

While trying to score points with a contemporary knowing audience, the film forgets to properly concentrate on its thriller aspects by making the Green Archer of the title a completely secondary figure with nary an important scene until well past the film’s halfway mark.

But it is Fröbe who saves the day. His roaring and screaming bully of a man is one of the series best ever performances. When we first see him he descends from an airplane’s gangway and (at least in the original German score) shouts in his native Saxonian accent that, as an American millionaire, he shouldn’t be a suspect in the Archer murder. That’s rather funny as it is the equivalent of having a Good Ol’ redneck boy from the Deep South pretend he’s French!

We also have Karin Dor in a hot pant pyjama and pony tail and Klausjürgen Wussow in his second and final appearance in a Wallace film. He plays an undercover Scotland Yard inspector and Master of Disguise who wouldn’t fool a blind man with his tricks. We also have Stanislav Ledinek as a Bar Manager: He’s big, he’s bald, he’s brute, wears sun glasses and looks like an overblown Easter Egg. Heinz Weiss (Jerry Cotton’s Phil Decker) has a small, but important role. And even in the middle of a gun battle English police insist on their traditional tea break. An informer strikes himself with a whip when calling the police. Fröbe’s character hides girly pictures in a drawer and his mansion has an abundance of secret doorways and passages.

Looking back at it: Maybe the film isn’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Die Bande des Schreckens/The Terrible People (1960)

Just minutes before being executed Clay Shelton (Otto Colin) vows he will take revenge from the grave and kill all those responsible for his capture. He swears it by his “gallow’s hand”. Inspector Long (Joachim Fuchsberger) who is present and a known gambler places a bet against this, but will soon start doubting the sanity of this judgement when several murders are committed under the sign of the gallow’s hand. Shelton is seen present at some of the crime scenes and his corpse has mysteriously left his coffin.

The Terrible People from all the Wallace movies until then has by far the highest body count. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie hardly a scene goes by without a more or less ingenious murder: The hangman ends up in a noose. A telephone shoots bullets. We also have a gal in a swimsuit (Karin Kernke) who caresses a cheetah and is very adept at throwing knives. Kernke had previously lost her head in 1959’s wacky production of The Head where she plays a hunchbacked nurse whose (you guessed it) head gets transplanted to the body of a stripper.

The final solution again comes as quite a surprise, though doesn’t bear too much thinking about as it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This is Harald Reinl’s second Wallace Krimi, and the first that he shot with his wife Karin Dor. Dor gets tied and bound twice in this film. Those bondage scenes are something of a specialty for Reinl who later on relished in these with his stint for the Jerry Cotton movies.

Eddi Arent plays a police photographer who faints every time he sees a corpse. Fritz Rasp for a change plays a relatively positive and less sinister figure than in his previous outings. He is Inspector Long’s aristocratic father. Long’s friends call him “Blacky”, i.e. Fuchsberger’s real and well known and publicised nickname. Elisabeth Flickenschildt, the Grande Dame of German stage and film, has her glorious Wallace debut has Mrs Revelstoke, a domineering lady who does not appear to be afraid to be on Shelton’s Death List and lives in a manor full of quaint gadgets.

Der rote Kreis/The Crimson Circle (1960)

The Crimson Circle, the film’s eponymous bad guy, bears an uncanny resemblance to Walter Gibson’s Shadow: In his first pulp fiction outing, The Living Shadow (1931), the character saves Harry Vincent’s life by preventing his suicide from jumping off a bridge and subsequently makes Vincent one of his crime fighting agents. 

The Shadow wears a broad brimmed hat and cape and can be identified by his very distinct laugh. One of the later novels is even titled The Shadow Laughs. Halfway through the film The Crimson Circle prevents a bank manager from jumping to his death. He, too, wears similar looking hat and cape and can be identified by his laugh. In one scene we see several policemen cackling away in the vein attempt to help spur a witness’ memory. 

Edgar Wallace’s source novel pre-dates The Shadow’s debut by a full nine years. Of course, The Crimson Circle is no crime fighter like The Shadow, but on the other side of the law. 

Eight years previously his execution in France was botched up by a drunken henchman who overlooked a nail stuck in the guillotine. The Crimson Circle subsequently escaped and went on a killing and blackmailing spree. He always leaves behind the mark of a red circle as his calling card.

 Klausjürgen Wussow and Karl-Georg Saebisch repeat the previous film’s buddy team of old Scotland Yard Detective and young private eye. Saebisch returned to the Wallace canon in the next film where he played twins in a double role. 

 This film proved to be the only part in the Rialto series for Renate Ewert who plays seductive and mysterious Femme Fatale Thalia Drummond. The actress ended her life prematurely by committing suicide in 1966. 

 Fritz Rasp has his second Wallace outing, this time as misanthropic cheapskate and millionaire Froyant, another one of The Crimson Circle’s victims. 

Eddi Arent is a Yard detective who draws a lot of attention to himself by appearing in a variety of different disguises. 

 The revelation of who is behind the mask does come across as a real surprise twist and is supported by the fact that the voice of the man behind the mask is dubbed by a different actor than the one playing the part.

The Crimson Circle was a movie debut for Jürgen Roland. He had previously become known as director of the German TV Krimi series Stahlnetz (“Net of steel”). As an in-joke the credits of this movie are played on top of an image of a net of steel.


Der Frosch mit der Maske/Fellowship of the Frog (1959)

The Harald Reinl directed film that started the whole Krimi wave already has all the ingredients one came to expect from the series.

A criminal master mind dressed up in an off beat costume - ever thought anyone could be scared of… a frog? – terrorises foggy London with his dock side murder gang. Red herrings and dodgy characters are abound; several plot layers cleverly intertwined.

Siegfried Lowitz plays an underappreciated Inspector Elk - Hedge in the English version - who turns deaf at convenient moments. Joachim Fuchsberger is Sir Archibald’s (E.F. Fürbringer) American playboy nephew and amateur detective and teams up with Lowitz to expose the Frog and woo the leading lady (Elfie von Kalckreuth, later to become a very popular German TV announcer, plays under her then pseudonym Eva Anthes). Eddi Arent is his butler and comic relief who also gets to practise some judo tricks on him.

Fritz Rasp plays Maitland, a genuinely scary boss from Hell and prime suspect who teaches Ray Bennett (Walter Wilz) how not to apply for a pay rise. The menace of his character is further highlighted by the fact that – bar a couple of sentences in his last scene – he never utters a word and only communicates through frightening glances. Eva Pflug gets to sing - or at least lip synch - a song about not being left alone on a foggy night at the Thames.

With the mysterious and even tragic figure of Old Ben, the executioner (Carl Lange), Fellowship of the Frog manages to capture one of the series most fascinating and memorable characters.

One of the suspects of the film (and the true culprit of the source novel) is called Harry Lime. Though Orson Welles’ Third Man is the more famous name sake, Wallace created his character nearly a quarter of a century before Graham Greene wrote the script for Carol Reed’s movie.

The film was shot in Copenhagen. Stock footage of London was shot over two days and added in to create more genuine British atmosphere.

Overall this was an excellent start to the Wallace series and rightly acted as a pattern for further episodes of the series. In the characterisation of its protagonists, this film still has a bigger emotional impact and slightly more depressive mood than any of the other later Wallace Krimis that are more action oriented.

Krimi? What's that?

Does the world really need another film related blog? Well, if it is dedicated to Krimis, I think it does as this is one genre that – at least in English – has not been written about too much yet and deserves to be more fully explored.

“Krimi” is a German term. It is the short form for either “Kriminalroman” (crime novel) or “Kriminalfilm” (crime movie) and in German can refer to any crime or mystery related novel or film. An Agatha Christie novel e.g. would be a “Krimi”. A Film Noir? A Krimi. A Sherlock Holmes story? Yep, you guessed it: That, too, would be considered a Krimi in the Fatherland.

In the English speaking world and amongst movie buffs, the term “Krimi” is more closely associated with a series of German film productions from the late 50s to the early 70s. Following the success of the Edgar Wallace adaptation Der Frosch mit der Maske/Fellowship of the Frog in 1959, dozens of other Krimis were produced for more than a decade. The series finally came to a stop with its last adaptation Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds/Seven Blood Stained Orchids (1972), a film that was co-produced with Italy and features in lots of giallo overviews. I would personally define the Jess Franco movie Der Todesrächer von Soho/The Corpse Packs His Bags as the last true Krimi production. Though filmed in April 1971 it didn’t hit the German cinemas until November 1972 and as such marks the real true end of an era.

The following series would all constitute Krimis and will over time all be covered in this blog:

• Edgar Wallace movies (produced by Rialto or other companies)
• Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptations
• Jerry Cotton series
• Kommissar X movies
• Dr Mabuse series (of the 1960s)
• Louis Weinert-Wilton adaptations
• Father Brown duo of films
• a number of individual productions outside of regular series (such as Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes/Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962) or Das Wirtshaus von Dartmoor/The Inn on Dartmoor (1964)

A cursory glance at this list will show that there may at times be a certain amount of overlap with other sub-genres such as Giallo, Eurospy or even Science Fiction.

While I will focus primarily on these movies I can envisage to occasionally also focus a bit more on the talent in front of and behind the cameras. Krimis had their fair share of easily identifiable talents, either in form of the actors (Klaus Kinski anyone?), directors (Alfred Vohrer, Harald Reinl) or composers (Peter Thomas) to name but a few.

Looking forward to sharing those reviews and initiating some discussions with all of you about one of my favourite genres.