Thursday, 25 January 2007

The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle

Lucius Clark has just learned that he is to be made a peer of the realm for services to Queen and Country. His joy is short lived, however, as a masked avenger visits and informs that his life will be made into a living hell until he divulges the whereabouts of some stolen diamonds.

With the avenger murdering one of Clark's servants – and branding a letter M into the dead man's forehead – Scotland Yard, in the form of Inspector Jeff Mitchell and his sidekick Watson (sic), are called in to investigate, their arrival coinciding with those of Lucius's journalist niece, Claridge (Karin Dor), and a rival reporter.

To further complicate things Claridge is about to turn 21, and thereby come into a sizeable inheritance. If Lucius cannot present her with the money then, according to her lawyer Tromby – a sinister figure who has plans of his own – the peerage will be forfeit.

Unfortunately for Lucius when he attempts to send one of his servants to sell some freshly cut gems – butler Anthony is actually a gem-cutter; albeit one whose obsessive desire to prevent his precious masterpieces leaving led to jail and disrepute – to his contacts at the Old Scavenger Inn, the strangler is waiting and decapitates the man, then sends his head back in a hatbox.

The only clue to his identity is that he is missing a finger, but this is not much help when just about everyone except the nine-fingered Lucius habitually wears gloves...

The M allows the seemingly Lang-obsessed Reinl the opportunity to pay hommage to his master, Fritz Lang; Reinl also directed a couple of Dr Mabuse films and a two-part version of Der Nibelungen.

Directed by frequent series contributor Harald Reinl from Bryan Edgar rather than Edgar Wallace source material, this 1963 krimi is slightly disadvantaged by the general absence of familiar genre faces – only Reinl's then-wife Dor is really immediately recognisable – but nevertheless otherwise delivers the goods with that reassuring combination of convoluted mystery, quirky characterisation; askew view of London, England; stalwart Scotland Yard investigator; damsel in distress; femme fatale; plentiful red herrings; an old dark house replete with secret passages and hidden chambers, and so on.

Black glove action

Though there is an emphasis on black gloves throughout, their function is a narrative rather than fetish one – whodunnit; who is the nine-fingered man? This in turn indicates a key difference between the typical krimi and giallo, with psychoanalytic approaches fundamentally less appropriate here, where to decapitate is just a convenient murder method, with the strangler also happily using a gun, a knife and even a diamond cutter where convenient, and a cigar – a box of which are used by Lucius in his attempt to transfer the stones – really just a cigar.

This is not, however, to discount that the preponderance of foundlings and illegitimate children and general concern with origins in Edgar Wallace's oeuvre as a whole could be unconsciously related to his own biographical circumstances, nor that in imitating his father's style Bryan Edgar Wallace also perhaps mimicked these subtexts.

The pragmatic Strangler really uses whatever is to hand, including some proto menacing with power tools

Oskar Sala's score is more experimental than those provided by regular krimi composers Martin Bottcher and Peter Thomas elsewhere, foregoing jazzy themes in favour of the weird tonalities of his mixture-trautonium, a synthesiser-type electronic instrument. As with Hitchcock's The Birds, on which Sala also worked around the same time, it is questionable how far one would want to listen to it in its own right but in the context of the film it certainly adds an extra unnerving edge to the proceedings.

The US DVD from Alpha is difficult to recommend, on account of a a washed out, pan and scan and probably cut presentation, evidently prepared for the American market by the reference to a “station wagon” rather than the more British / English term “estate car”.

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