Der Fälscher von London

a.k.a. The Forger of London
directed by Harald Reinl
1961 | Rialto Film Preben-Philipsen | 90′ 

Peter Clifton (Hellmut Lange) and Jane Leith (Karin Dor) are getting married, but the bride at least isn’t very happy about it, seeing as she only marries Peter so his money can provide for her uncle, the not very successful postcard painter John Leith (Walter Rilla). Peter for his part should be happier, for he loves Jane madly, but he’s surprisingly moody for that, as if several dark secrets were hanging over him and his affairs.

On the couple’s (such as it is) wedding reception, some of these secrets begin to come to the fore. Firstly, there’s some curious business about a forged five pound note. When Scotland Yard inspector Rouper (Ulrich Beiger) finds it in his heart to go to a frigging wedding reception to question people about a forged five pound note, family doctor and friend Donald Wells (Viktor de Kowa) says he got from Peter, who of course and quite believably says he knows nothing about it. Still at the same wedding reception, Basil Hale (Robert Graf), an admirer of Jane appears to make a very loud nuisance of himself, insinuating much and achieving little. And because fun comes in threes, next up is a certain Mrs Unterson (Sigrid von Richthofen), who races in to loudly complain that Peter doesn’t deserve all his money. By rights, it should belong to her (dead) son, his half brother. or so says wedding crasher number three.

After the best wedding reception ever is over, the newlyweds go on their honeymoon in a dark and spooky old castle that’ll sure lighten everyone’s mood. Jane – who doesn’t want to sleep with Peter because he “bought” her, by the way, even though it really looks rather more as if she sold herself to him as neither shotguns nor blackmail were present at the wedding – soon learns more awesome things about her new family life. Turns out Peter fears he has inherited a bit of violent schizophrenia from his dear dead dad. And might be the biggest forger of Britain, known as The Cunning. And might be going around murdering rude people like Hale.

Obviously, once she finds her husband in bloody clothes and with a bloody hammer by his side, Jane decides she suddenly does love her husband. That sudden love is so gigantic, Jane’s even willing to hide murder weapons and lie to the police. Speaking of the police, another Yard inspector, Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz) is just as willing as Jane to break the law to protect Peter, for both he and the woman suspect somebody has it in for the young man, and he is a poor beleaguered innocent.

 
 
 

This early in the Wallace movie cycle, nothing about the movies was as set in stone as it would soon become, so there was still room for a movie to be quite different from those that came before or after it. Der Fälscher is quite a bit more of a “normal” mystery than most of the other Wallace krimis, though also a film quite interested in its melodramatic elements, while the pulp elements are rather underplayed. This doesn’t mean the film is totally devoid of your typical Wallace-isms, or in any shape or form interested in being realistic, its feel is just delightfully weird in ways slightly different from other Wallace films.

Sure, the film’s comparative lack of two-fistedness, evil orphanages and odious comic relief (well, Eddi Arent pops in for a curious very minor double role, but I always rather liked him) may come as a bit of a shock to the krimi neophyte, especially since the first two of these things are elements of the krimi the film’s director Harald Reinl usually excels at, but a plot that manages to be at once obvious and ridiculously convoluted and a series of well-paced revelations, semi-revelations and reversals will soon enough distract from that particular shock.

Der Fälscher‘s major positive surprise for me is the emphasis its script puts on Jane as an actually active character. I suspect the relatively heavy influence of (gothic) melodrama to be the catalyst for this not very Wallace-ian change. The melodrama, after all, is one genre in film history absolutely dominated by its female characters. In a Wallace adaptation on the other hand, the female lead is usually there to be threatened and kidnapped, and sure as hell isn’t allowed to do anything regarding the solving of the film’s core mystery.

On a plot level, the damsel in distress here is really Peter, who may not get kidnapped but is knocked out and confused more often than not, and is utterly unable to help himself in any way. Even though Jane isn’t allowed to solve the whole mystery herself – that’s what Siegfried Lowitz in an unusually sympathetic and finely ironic performance is there for – she is the audience identification figure of the piece, not given to hysterics, and resolute when she needs to be. Even more surprising is how well Dor – all too often an actress with much beauty but little presence – sells the role. She’s still as stiff as usual, but here, her stiffness seems to be there to tell us something about her character, and not because she’s totally lacking in personality. If it weren’t for a slight subtext of helping one’s spouse during a murder investigation seen as a married woman’s duty, I’d even call the film’s gender politics progressive instead of just progressive for a German film made in 1961. But I’m not complaining.

While Reinl’s direction has been more obviously strong in other krimis, he still shows his usual fine, often clever, sense for the blocking of scenes, an eye for the slight gothic touch – especially whenever the plot concentrates at the rather fantastic looking castle and his surroundings -, a hand for pacing that works for this melodramatic pulp mystery as well as it does in the pulp adventure movies most of his other Wallace krimis are, and of course an un-Germanic love for dynamic set-ups in the movie’s few action scenes. Add to Reinl’s talents some rather beautiful, moody, photography by series mainstay Karl Löb (who I think might be as responsible for the actual look of the krimi as any of the various directors he worked with), and a fine semi-jazz soundtrack by Martin Böttcher (who somewhat unfairly always stood in the shadow of the slightly more crazy and original Peter Thomas, even though his scores are generally nearly as good), and you have yourself a Wallace krimi as fine and entertaining as they get.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Der Schwarze Abt

a.k.a. The Black Abbot
directed by
 Franz Josef Gottlieb

1963 / Rialto Film85′
written by Johannes Kai and Franz Josef Gottlieb
cinematography by Richard Angst and Rudolf Sandtner
music by Martin Böttcher
starring Joachim Fuchsberger, Grit Boettcher, Dieter Borsche, Charles Regnier, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Eva Ingeborg Scholz, Werner Peters

The new owner of the hunting cabin (whose inside looks more like that of a bungalow to me, but what do I know about hunting cabins) on the estate of Lord Chelford (Dieter Borsche) is knifed in the back by a man dressed up as the legendary Black Abbot. Said Abbot is supposed to protect a mythical gold treasure hidden in the ruins of an abbey on Chelford’s estate.

Scotland Yard sends Detective Puddler (Charles Regnier) and his comic relief assistant Horatio (Eddi Arent, of course) to deal with the problem by living in Chelford’s estate for a time, which seems eminently reasonable once you’ve gotten to know Chelford’s surroundings.

The Lord himself is clearly on the verge of some sort of breakdown, obsessing over finding the legendary treasure and charming his fiancée Leslie Gine (Grit Boettcher) with talk about “owning her”. Leslie, you see, is the sister of Chelford’s lawyer Arthur (Harry Wüstenhagen), who – as we will learn – is in the habit of selling his sister, a woman so pliable it’s difficult to imagine a better argument for feminism, off to the highest bidder to help with his betting debts. Early in the movie, the bookmakers Arthur is indebted to will all turn out to be one single person, Arthur’s office manager Fabian Gilder (Werner Peters). That villain will then proceed to blackmail the lawyer into selling his precious sister to him instead of Chelford. Gilder also would very much like to get his hands on the gold treasure and has planted a crook going under the delightful and totally believable nom de plum of Thomas Fortuna (Klaus “KINSKI!” Kinski) as a Butler with Chelford. Gilder also cooperates with Chelford’s former secretary Mary Wenner (Eva Ingeborg Schulz). Wenner promises to lead Gilder to the treasure if he only somehow manages to stop the engagement between Chelford and Leslie so that she can have the Lord – and especially his title – for herself.

Having a headache already? Then you won’t be pleased to hear of the existence of Dick Alford (Joachim Fuchsberger), Chelford’s cousin and financial administrator. Dick is doing his best to protect Chelford from any suspicion the police may have against him, but his loyalties are torn between Chelford and the fact that he is also romantically interested in Leslie – and his interest, Leslie actually reciprocates. But Dick has other secrets too, secrets that may not be quite as innocent; or are they?

Clearly, this volatile mix of interests and shady people can only lead to violence, madness, and KINSKI! skulking through abbey ruins.

  
  
  
  

Der Schwarze Abt is another one of the half dozen krimis (all adaptations of either Edgar – like this one – or Bryan Edgar Wallace) director Franz Josef Gottlieb made in 1963 and 1964 which suggest a talent that doesn’t show in anything the man directed before or after. If you told me these six films were made by Gottlieb’s secret twin, or a mysterious masked director using his name for equally mysterious reasons, I’d believe you at once. It’s a more satisfying, and obviously less boring, explanation than “he had a talent for this sort of film he never used before or after”.

In the film at hand, Gottlieb’s visual imagination doesn’t get quite as bizarre as in the later Das Phantom von Soho, but that’s mostly because he seems to have made the surprising choice of mirroring the slow increase of the plot’s derangement and complexity (or is it mere complicatedness?) in his visuals. So the film starts off slowly, with a lot of scenes of nasty people being nasty to each other that are shot flatly, staged simply, and are lit too brightly for my tastes in black and white films. But the more the plot increases in bizarrery and density, the stranger Gottlieb’s approach to the framing and staging of scenes becomes; the brightness is becoming less and less bright, the fog more artificial and the ruins ever more gothic and picturesque. Dialogue scenes that would have been filmed in a very standard manner in the film’s early parts are now filmed from behind the swinging pendulum of a clock, and Richard Angst’s camera becomes increasingly mobile. Despite their general visual superiority over other German post-war films (seeing as most German post-war films were absolutely allergic to anything that smelled of visual interest or elegance), this sort of ambitious set-up is uncommon even for the Wallace films, rather pointing towards the giallo, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear it were explicitly Gottlieb’s films rather than those of Reinl or Vohrer that influenced that genre visually.

Der Schwarze Abt is very proto-gialloesque in other aspects too, with its concentration on nasty people being nasty to each other, a plot that’s even more complicated than usual for the krimi, and its relegating of the titular masked evil-doer to more of a normal murderer than the masked pulp super-villain of many of the other Wallace krimis. Often, the less pulpy Wallace adaptations are the less interesting to me too, but that’s only because many of the lesser films of the cycle seem to relegate the villains to the side lines only because they seem ashamed of those villains’ lurid pulpiness, exactly the part I find most enjoyable about them. Der Schwarze Abt just knows other places where it can also find that pulp feeling, namely in headache-inducing plot convolutions and some very well done melodramatics, and so decides to provide all the luridness and excitement its audience could ever wish for through them.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor

dir. Harald Reinl
1963 / Mosaik Film / 84′
a.k.a. The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle
written by Ladislas Fodor and Gustav Kampendonk
cinematography by Ernst W. Kalinke
music by Oskar Sala
starring Karin Dor, Harry Riebauer, Dieter Eppler, Rudolf Fernau, Ingmar Zeisberg, Hans Nielsen, and Hans Reiser

Former colonialist bureaucrat Lucius Clark (Rudolf Fernau) has found a pretty sweet set-up for himself. He’s soon to be knighted for his crimes against humanity/deeds for the British Empire, and spends his life sponging off the money belonging to his niece Claridge Dorsett (the inevitable Karin Dor) which he is uses to rent most of the castle of a certain Lord Blackmoor (Walter Giller). Oh, and he also has an oven full of stolen raw diamonds he’s slowly selling off to the – of course – shady bar owner Tavish (Hans Nielsen). Because Clark’s lazy, he has hired on ex-con diamond cutter Anthony (Dieter Eppler as Klaus Kinski) as pretend butler, so that everything needed for the illegal diamond trade is happening in house, or rather in castle.

Alas, all good things have to come to an end, and so Clark soon enough finds himself confronted with various problems, most of them connected to his dark past (so it’s all his own fault). First and foremost, a masked man who knows quite a lot about Clark’s past wants him to hand over the diamonds, and kills whoever gets in his way. That guy, let’s call him “The Strangler”, strangles his victims and then cuts an “M” into their foreheads before he decapitates them for extra fun and games. Then there’s the fact that Tavish, the shady lawyer Tromby (Richard Häussler) and barmaid Judy (Ingmar Zeisberg) – in varying configurations – would very much like to acquire some of Clark’s diamonds without having to pay for them. Oh, and did I mention Claridge’s colleague Mike (Hans Reiser) and Lord Blackwood are also acting quite suspiciously? Or that Anthony’s raving mad, wants to make sweet sweet love to the diamonds, and would prefer to make Clark rich by killing Claridge instead of seeing his boss sell his precioussss?

Fortunately for the blandly innocent Claridge, Scotland Yard sends its most wooden inspector, Jeff Mitchell (Harry “I’m so emotionless, I’m two pieces of wood” Riebauer) to romance her painfully somehow solve the strangler cases.

 
 
 

Der Würger is yet another of those non-Edgar Wallace krimis that are doing their best to emulate the successful formula of the Rialto movies; that’s certainly easier to do when you have, like krimi veteran director Harald Reinl does here, a Bryan Edgar Wallace novel to adapt. Edgar Wallace’s son did, after all, make a career out of emulating his father and selling his surname to the highest bidder (frequently German producer impresario Artur “Atze” Brauner, who is as close to one of the eccentric producer impresarios of the US and the UK as we Germans ever got), so the shoe fits perfectly well.

Of course, with the sort of movies I generally champion, keeping as close to a successful formula as possible is not necessarily a bad thing as long as one knows what to do with it. Reinl (and scriptwriters Ladislas Fodor and Gustav Kampendonk, both men of excellent names, interesting filmographies, and a talent for writing absurdly confusing scripts) is as good at producing excellent, low budgeted entertainment out of a formula as one can be. Whenever I praise one of Reinl’s krimis, I mention his highly mobile camera, his talent for serial-like action sequences and the noir-like mood of the slower scenes (often also thanks to cinematographer Ernst W. Kalinke), and these three elements are again what turn Der Würger into a pretty great time.

Sure, the action isn’t quite as good and frequent as in some of Reinl’s higher budgeted Rialto productions, but what is there of it is as exciting as action in German movies of this period (or, frankly, any period, for German director almost always just suck at this sort of thing) gets, showing off some nicely creative touches.

The art direction also isn’t quite up to the Rialto standards; fake Britain is not as playfully fake as it sometimes gets, nor does the film show quite the absurd imagination of its big predecessors. There’s your standard castle, there’s fog, there’s a boring bar, and for most of the film’s running time, that’s perfectly enough to put me in the not-Britain of the krimis.

 
 
 

The film’s other big flaw is clearly the acting. While German movies of this period always tend to the stiff and slightly melodramatic, most of the performances here are just the decided bit stiffer than usual (that might vary with the dubbed versions, of course); the performances aren’t horrible, they’re just not as good as the could be. There are two exceptions to that in the cast: Riebauer who plays exactly the same character Heinz Drache or Joachim Fuchsberger usually played lacks so heavily in charisma I have a hard time understanding why anybody would want to cast him as anything, not to speak of as the male lead, while Dietler Eppler may not be a Klaus Kinski, but sure as hell does his utmost to channel the great actor’s spirit by ranting, raving and making bug eyes at Karin Dor, something I do heartily approve of.

I also do approve of the production’s peculiar choice of soundtrack. The krimis always had a tendency to involve some of the better German film composers like Martin Böttcher and the godly Peter Thomas, but Der Würger goes one step further by (like a few other films did) employing the pioneer of electronic music Oskar Sala, co-inventor of the Trautonium and all-around eccentric musical genius. His weird, abstract electronic score probably isn’t what one would expect to hear in a piece of pulpy entertainment like this (some of Sala’s musical decisions seem somewhat perverse) but it’s often exactly what the film needs to feel more unique than it actually is. Sala’s music even turns what may be the most boring bar in the krimi genre into a place of weirdness and (slight) wonder.

Now, even though I’ve been pretty critical about nearly every part of the movie, I do like Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor quite a bit, even ignoring Sala’s and Eppler’s contributions. The film may not be quite up to the standards of the best of the Rialto Wallace krimis, but those films are as good as this genre gets; Der Würger may not be quite as excellent, yet it’s still an all-around fun film despite all of its flaws.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.