Thursday, 18 December 2008

Another Giallo/Krimi locandina poster

'A giallo by Edgar Wallace'; for The Hunchback of Soho, but broadened out to The Hunchback of London:

Die Toten Augen von London / The Dead Eyes of London

[Note that this review contains a spoiler]

This is one of the quintessential krimis, part of a select group along with The Hexer and The Sinister Monk that would inspire sequels or remakes. It is also noteworthy for having a relatively famous predecessor in the form of the Bela Lugosi vehicle The Dark Eyes of London, one of the few pre-war Wallace adaptations to reach a wider audience; here we might have a quick straw poll on how many have heard of the Weimar German versions of, say, The Hexer or The Squeaker, or have seen them?

It is also important for being the series debut of Alfred Vohrer, who would go on to direct approximately half of all the titles in the series, far outstripping his closest rival Harald Reinl. Putting it another way, Vohrer was to the krimi what Terence Fisher was to Hammer horror, or Mario Bava to the giallo: the man without which the genre would otherwise be just about impossible to imagine.

As Tim Lucas and others have noted, Vohrer and Reinl's directorial styles are different, each man putting his own particular stamp on the material. The thing that really stands out here is how much fun he and his team appear to be having with all sorts of trick shots.

Though some, like the impossible POV shot from inside a man's mouth as he cleans his teeth with a water pick, exist purely as moments of cinematic spectacle, others, like the repeated use of anachronistic irising effects; the device of having a character move in front of and away from the camera in lieu of an obvious cut; or the reflection of one character in another's mirror shades, are more neatly intertwined with the theme of vision running through the film.

Another of Dead Eyes's merits is the sadistic glee with which Vohrer handles the murder set pieces, ranging from the burning of a man's hands with a lighted cigarette so that he plunges to his death down an elevator shaft, to a strangulation to a shot-through the eye a la Argento's Opera some 26 years later. (The killer, along with almost everyone else, wear black gloves, extending the 'fashion to fetish' trajectory identified by Gary Needham in relation to Bava's The Girl Who Knew too Much and Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; giallo fans will also appreciate some loving close-ups of gleaming knife blades.)

Plot wise it's the usual clotted affair, where just everyone who shows up on screen is improbably inter-related and involved in one way or another, beginning with the recruitment of Karin Dor's Eleanor Ward - a meaningful surname in the Wallace universe, where very few young women appear to have been brought up by their natural parents - to read a barely legible Braille message on a scrap of paper. Said scrap was found in the pocket of a wealthy Australian gentleman fished out of the Thames, an apparent accident of a type that has been occurring with alarming frequency of late, leading to well-founded suspicions of foul play.

But there are also those near certainties you can use to make sense of it all; I say near because as the series wore on the film-makers would occasionally experiment with casting someone against type for an added frisson.

To wit: Joachim Fuchsberger's Inspector Larry Holt is above suspicion and reproach, as is Eddi Arent's comic relief, Sergeant "Sunny" Harvey, while Klaus Kinski's Edgar Strauss is either a suspect or red herring and Dor's foundling the woman-in-peril cum love interest for Fuchsberger. (Is it just me or would anyone else like to see a krimi where it's the Scotland Yard man who is behind the conspiracy as a means of capturing the love interest and the fortune she typically seems about to inherit.)

The nature of Ady Berber's Blind Jack, the henchman who provides the murder gang with muscle is also of interest. A mentally subnormal ape-like throwback, with a tendency towards violence and a string of previous convictions behind him, he's the type of somewhat un-politically correct 1920s Wallace character whose existence in a 1960s German krimi seems daring, naive or something of both in the light of the Nazi period with eugenics, extermination und so weiter.

Since we see Blind Jack in the pre-credits scene, bundling a victim into a van, his role is not a mystery, rather it is the identity or identities of the leaders of the gang, the ones controlling him.

[spoiler warning]

On the krimi-giallo connection it also worth noting here the occupation of one of the gang's leaders, as a presumably Protestant counterpart to the Catholic priests and fake priests who pop up with alarming regularity in the giallo.

[spoiler warning]

Heinz Funk's score again mixes the conventional and the unusual, with some of those not quite sure what they are, or are supposed to be, timbres. It's all in good fun, nonetheless, just like the rest of the film.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

A couple of Italian krimi posters

More evidence of the krimi-giallo crossover, if any were needed: Italian locandine for a couple of German krimis

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Die Bande des Schrekens / The Terrible People

The second krimi to be made for Rialto by director Harald Reinl, Die Bande des Schrekens / The Terrible People begins much where his first, The Fellowship of the Frog, had ended, as the mysterious master criminal Shelton who has hitherto run rings around the police is captured at last.

In case anyone doubts that we're really in London, England

Gunning down a policeman in a desperate bid to escape Shelton is sentenced to death by hanging. Facing the executioner in prison, Shelton seems remarkably calm, indicating that he will have his revenge on those present and the others he holds responsible for his death.

The hanged man's revenge?

Believing Shelton's warnings to be nothing more than an idle threat, Inspector Long (Joachim Fuchsberger) is about to resign from the force and take up a job in his father's Lord Long's bank.

Two things put paid to this plan.

The first is the Inspector's promotion to Chief Inspector, received on account of his bringing Shelton to justice. The second – far more important – is the question of whether Shelton, who apparently took his own life with poison to cheat the hangman, is in fact dead as a series of apparitions and accidents ensue.

Not believing in ghosts, Long orders the exhumation of Shelton's body, revealing a coffin filled with bricks and a hit list of targets, some already effectively crossed off and the remainder including himself and beautiful young bank worker Nora Sanders (Karin Dor, Reinl's wife at the time).

Though things get somewhat bogged down at this point with a confusing number of characters and subplots and a locked room mystery as another victim is somehow shot in the head in his hotel room – the various individuals having been gathered there to better allow Long to protect them whilst contuining the investigation – they pick up for the third act with a suspenseful game of cat and mouse between hero and villain(s) in the latter's trap-laden hideout.

Shelton's appearances and disappearances are well executed

If there is perhaps already a sense of deja vu about some of the characters and situations, the more Mabuse-like figure of Shelton provides Reinl more scope to play Langian games than the Frog did, pointing the way towards his actual Mabuse films, whilst the introduction of Eddi Arent's soon to be patented comic relief figure – here a police photographer who habitually faints at the sight of blood or a corpse – points the way forward for the Rialto series as a whole. (Arent had appeared in Der Racher, but it was not a Rialto production and proved to be a one-off from Kurt Ulrich Studios.)

Visually the film presents an advance on its predecessor, with some pronounced expressionist touches around the phantom Shelton's brief appearances in the shadows and / or fog, various chiaroscuro effects and some attention-grabbing but nevertheless restrained compositions alongside the elegant dolly work.

The good-humoured Long responds to the phantom's note by correcting his rank to Chief Inspector

There are also some repeated visual motifs such as the frequent Langian clocks – Reinl tellingly overlaying the first with his credit and cutting away from it at the exact moment of Shelton's intended execution – and the sudden appearance of a noose before the hangman in an ironic reprise of the noose he had placed before Shelton. (Reinl's way of introducing the nooses into the frame is also somewhat reminiscent of Leone's in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly)

The process shots, featuring racing cars and speedboats, are less satisfactory unless we work on the possible but unlikely seeming premise that this was intentional on Reinl's part, as a way of giving the film more of a 1920s or 30s feel, or of further drawing attention to its filmic nature beyond Arent's character. (Here it's worth remembering, however, that some of critics who would likely have taken Reinl to task here may well have been more sympathetic to the equally obvious process work in Hitchcock's Marnie, indicating the difficulty of drawing a clear distinction between bad filmmaking and Brechtian distanciation.)

Shelton as Mabuse

Heinz Funk's score is more experimental than its immediate crime-jazz predecessors, featuring some suitably disquietingly weird timbres and effects alongside the more usual suspense cues.

There is no ende gag yet, nor any Hier Spricht Edgar Wallace, though the Goldmann's novel is specified – nummer 11 in the series.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Der Rächer / The Avenger

The Avenger is one of the odd films out amongst the 40 odd krimis made between 1959 and 1972, as the sole film within the cycle to be produced by Kurt Ulrich Filmproduktion rather than the more familiar Rialto or CCC.

Seeing the success of The Fellowship of the Frog, Ulrich quickly moved to make an unofficial Edgar Wallace adaptation, beating Rialto's Die Bande des Schreckens to West German screens by a few weeks in August 1960. Rialto had the last laugh however, taking Ulrich to court and preventing his company from making subsequent films – a decision which in turn explains why CCC used the work of Bryan Edgar Wallace rather than his better known father when they began making krimis shortly thereafter.

Though Kurt Ulrich Filmproduktion only made one krimi, it was nevertheless to prove an influential one, featuring the genre debuts of a number of krimi stalwarts in Heinz Drache, Siegfried Schurenberg and Klaus Kinski, along with one of the cycle's more memorable monsters in the form of Al Hoosman's Bhag, a non-too PC primitive type (variously referred to as “a negro”; “an animal from the jungle”; “a demented creature”, and “The best servant in the world: he doesn't think, he doesn't speak, he doesn't answer” brought to England from the wilds of Borneo.



Additionally, it also pushed the self-referential aspect that bit further than its immediate predecessor by locating the investigation amidst the making of a film, giving Kinski an early opportunity to play the tortured artist as its highly-strung screenwriter.

Though far from this type himself in own approach to writing, Edgar Wallace had started working for the cinema in the 1920s (most famously penning the original story for King Kong shortly before his death) while Bryan Edgar Wallace would subsequently actually work in the film industry, including with CCC on adapting some of his own thrillers.

A painting that may or may not prove important

Besides this, we also see an early – albeit quite possibly coincidental – instance of the krimis influencing the later Italian giallo when the film's director, Mr Jackson, elevates an extra, Ruth Sanders, to the position of lead after getting fed up with the diva antics of his star, Stella Mendoza, in a manner reminiscent of Dario Argento's Opera. It is, as Jackson says, the sort of incredible thing which normally only happens in the movies.

If this connection seems a spurious one, we can also note that the German name for the killer, der kofpsjager, or 'the headhunter', also prefigures that of the maniac in the Italian director's Trauma. (Admittedly here the killer does not keep the heads, however.)

Faces at a window

Similarly while The Fellowship of the Frog had featured covert filming that revealed a vital detail, here we have a similar detail – a woman at the window, no less – being captured purely by chance, much like the murder in the park in Antonioni's anti-giallo Blow-Up.

Some nice old dark house thing lurking in the shadows action

The typically convoluted plot opens in media res: An apparent maniac known as 'The Executioner' has struck no fewer than 12 times, decapitating his victims on each occasion. The last victim was beyond reproach, a fact which seems to have spurred the authorities into action at last, the majority of the previous victims having been incorrigible criminals.

Fortunately special investigator Brixan (Drache) has several clues to work with: the killer is extremely strong, having beheaded his victims with a single blow from a heavy blade; uses a typewriter on which a couple of the keys are distinctively out of alignment, and posts cryptic messages in the newspaper under the name of “the Benefactor”. (Curiously, however, Brixan is not a Scotland Yard man, rather being associated with the Foreign Office.)

Posing as a journalist sent to cover the making of the film, Brixen is quick to uncover a number of potential suspects, including the aforementioned Bhag – albeit as the tool of his white master Sir Gregory Penn, a womanising adventurer type – and Kinski's screenwriter, Voss, on whose typewriter the messages seem to have been written...

Of course this surfeit of suspects only serves to further complicate things, as do the array of quirky supporting characters, such as the harmless old eccentric Longman and – in one especially 'what the' moment – a swordsman who seems to have stepped out of a wuxia, coupled with the inevitable romantic subplot that develops between Brixen and Ruth, herself also another of Wallace's orphans / nieces / wards in peril.

Director Karl Anton was an industry veteran whose career dated back to the Czech cinema in the 1920s. Though clearly a competent filmmaker, his direction here old-fashioned and routine, though he does use the zoom lens to nicely augment / express the undoubtedly shock of finding a severed head in a box on a couple of occasions.

Admittedly, however, a fair evaluation of Anton's contributions is not helped by the overly dark, somewhat panned and scanned copy under review, originally released on video by Sinister Cinema in the 1990s.

[More information on the versions of the film and its relationship to the Wallace text:]

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Some krimi posters

From Germany:




and the former Yugoslavia:

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Edgar Wallace - Der Frosch mit der Maske / The Fellowship of the Frog / Frøen med masken

To quote Frank Booth: “This Is It!”

The it in question being the beginnings of the modern krimi film, the first of some 40 odd works based on the work of Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace to be made in West Germany between 1959 and 1972.

But whilst many such European genre film firsts are necessarily somewhat tentative, as with the 25 or so Italian westerns made before A Fistful of Dollars that imitated rather than transformed the pre-existing American models, it emerges as a surprisingly confident production whose imprints can still be felt in many a later entry in the series.

Certainly the missing elements, such as stock footage establishing that the film was 'really' shot in London – or more to the point wasn't – the colour credits sequence, and the twelve gunshots followed by the “Hier spricht Edgar Wallace” announcement are in the minority and only really become evident when the film is considered in the light of hindsight.

To itemise what we do have: a strangely attired master criminal; professional and amateur investigators, the former from Scotland Yard; a Soho nightspot, complete with singing femme fatale; a damsel in distress; a would-be avenger; a comic-relief butler; a blind peddlar who isn't all that he seems; a country house; the criminals' secret base; some neat self-referential touches – one investigator goes undercover as a lighting man and records a crucial crime scene with a concealed camera; a distinct propensity for British bobbies to seemingly carry firearms as a matter of course; and a confusingly large number of somehow interconnected characters to provide intrigue, victims and suspects as and when required.

The master criminal is the titular Frog, the head of a three-hundred strong gang identifiable by their numbers and the brand they all wear. His own identity is unknown, with the quest to unmask him propelling the story onwards at a characteristically breathless Wallace pace, wherein one year of undercover work by Inspector Higgins is telegraphed into a single sentence and a brief scene in which he tries, unsuccessfully, to apprehend the Frog.

As Higgins' body is found, complete with a couple of potential clues, footprints which do not match and a reside of cement dust in the dead man's mouth, the true investigators are revealed in the form of Inspector Hedge of the Yard and Richard Gordon, an American of independent means who affects the manners and lifestyle of an English gentleman – he is also the employer of the butler – and might as well be one.

Gordon and his butler are played by Joachim Fuchsberger and Eddi Arent, soon to become typed as the definitive hero and comic relief figures respectively, although Fuchsberger's heroes would hereafter tend more to be offficial representatives of the law.

With the man with the non-matching footprints soon identified as Mr Bennett we are next introduced to his son Ray and daughter Ella, whom the more attentive viewer might already recognise as one of the Frog's next targets, Higgins being the other.

While Ella is the dutiful daughter, concerned for her father's and brother's well-being – Mr Bennett always seems pre-occupied by his trips into London on unspecified business – Ray is somewhat wayward, with a desire for an easy life that leads him into trouble as in a short space of time he goes on to ignore the advice of the avuncular Mr Johnston at his work; anger their employer, the fearsome permanently be-gloved Mr Maitland, and winds up in a Soho club where he falls for the resident singer, named Lolita.

Sure enough, she is also involved with the Frog; even if we're still no clearer as to his identity – though Gordon suspects he may be wearing the mask to conceal his identity as missing master criminal Harry Lime, on the grounds that some sort of disfiguring mark would be too obvious / straightforward – we at least now have a number of suspects to work through.

Lime, of course, is also the name of 'The Third Man,' the post-war profiteer in Graham Greene's story memorably brought to the screen by Carol Reed, with that Anton Karas zither score and Lime / Orson Welles's speech about cuckoo clocks and the Borgias; there was also a TV series around the time of the film in which he was reinvented as a detective hero.

Whether intentionally or otherwise Ray and Lolita are vaguely reminscent of characters from Weimar German films such as Asphalt, to recall the era of the first Wallace craze within Germany – one swiftly ended by the Nazis – and the way in which the novels and these films, though now coming across as naïve, harmless kitschy reminders of a more innocent-seeming age, were often shocking and controversial enough in their day.

Lolita's song, entitled “Night and Fog on the Thames,” has some interesting connotations here, in suggesting not only the danger of the area as presumably intended by its authors but also the phrase used by the Nazis when they arranged the “night and fog” disappearances of those they deemed undesirable.

Two other shock moments of note here the dispatching of an unfortunate policeman who happens upon the Frog's gang in the middle of a robbery and the way in which the Frog silences an over-noisy female prisoner. In the first, we don't get any POV shots of the attack as we might get in a later film, nor the actual the moment when throat is slit, but do get a surprisingly graphic hands clutching throat shot. In the second the Frog unexpectedly whips out a submachine gun and somewhat needlessly drills the woman full of holes to shut her up for good.

Away from Fuchsberger and Arent two other krimi regulars making their debut genre appearance are Fritz Rasp and Dieter Eppler, the latter also a familiar face from a number of straight horror productions of the time such as The Head and Castle of the Walking Dead.

Coincidentally or otherwise, Castle was also directed by Fellowship of the Frog helmsman Harald Reinl, who would go on to direct a further half-dozen Edgar Wallace entries, making him the second-most prolific director in the series after Alfred Vohrer.

With most of the camera set ups, angles and movements functional and the editing classical, the Expressionistic aspects of the film come primarily through elements within the frame, as this street or that interior is made darker and more dangerous looking or a light source 'just happens' to cast some suggestive pattern; the one time Reinl does break out some Third Man-esque Dutch angles is when a fist-fight breaks out, with this being a scene that also features some more dynamic camerawork and editing.

Willy Mattes's jazzy score is pleasing if comparatively lacking in the quirky qualities.that would came to the fore in later films.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Some krimi links

Some key websites on the Krimi:

Latarnia's krimi corner at

Evilskip's Movie Joint at

And The Kinski Files at

Welcome to Krimi-nality

Welcome to the Krimi-nality blog.

My intention here is to post reviews and other material related to the West German krimi film cycle of 1959 to 1973, with an eye to providing a viewer's guide to the films and a general background resource on them.

Posts will probably be a bit less frequent than on my other blog, Giallo Fever, and be a bit more structured in that I intend to go through the films in chronological order.