Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Die Tote aus der Themse / The Body in the Thames

Danny Fergusson (Uschi Glas) arrives in swinging London to the news that her sister Myrna, who was involved with a heroin smuggling operation has been killed. Though the police have the heroin, they have neither Myrna’s body, which mysteriously disappeared from a Soho brothel between the time its manager reluctantly called the police and their arrival, nor any clue as to who might be responsible.

Then a photographer who was at the scene and snapped some shots of the dead woman notices something strange: in between the first and the second sets that he took, Myrna put on her shoe and moved changed her position slightly. In other words, she wasn’t dead. She might well soon be, however, if the mysterious assassin who is now working his – or her – way through all those connected with the operation, always one step ahead of the men from Scotland Yard, has anything to do with it…

This Edgar Wallace adaptation was made late in the krimi cycle, at the point where it was increasingly looking tired compared to the Italian giallo. The lighting and direction are for the most part flat, having little of the neo-expressionist styles of either the earlier black and white krimis themselves nor the contemporaneous gialli.

The most obvious exception to this, the slaughterhouse which forms of the base of operations of one of the criminal conspirators, is meanwhile too realist, merely unpleasant rather than grotesque / symbolic – though thankfully there is no mondo-style animal slaughter footage, merely the near-surreal sight of pig carcasses bobbing about in water.

Though the location shots actually include a scene at Piccadilly Circus and show Uschi Glas’s Danny crossing in front of Scotland Yard, as situations whereas earlier krimis would only feature stock footage (though there are ), the attempts at evoking “swinging London,” like the Blow Up-esque photographer, who shoots the dead woman as if it were for a fashion spread, misfire somewhat.

Whereas in the earlier krimis the skewed attempts at recreating the milieu of pre-WWII yet with-it England had a certain charm, here the evocation of the near contemporaneous “swinging London” is merely that bit too out of date, too close to the reality, too kitsch; insufficiently naïve / charming.

Though the killer wears black gloves, this was a visual element common to both krimi and the giallo, with the fact that his weapon of choice is a silenced pistol or rifle – even if it is treated somewhat fetishistically – and his motive fiduciary rather than psychosexual cumulatively indicating where the film can better be situated. Yet, against this there is the killer’s identity,c revealed in the end as one that quite possibly impossible or unrepresentable a decade before; to say much more would run the risk of ruining the whodunit.

Krimi regulars will also appreciate the presence of Siegfried Schurenberg, Gunther Stoll and Werner Peters amongst the supporting cast, while giallo fans may note the departure from the airport at the film’s close a la The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. (As a random more “academic” point, one gets the increasing impression that one of the failings of the giallo and krimi essays in the first edition of the Fear Without Frontiers is the failure of their respective authors or, more pointedly, their editor to really bring the interconnections, similarities and differences between the two forms out: how far is the Italian giallo Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso different from its German krimi counterpart Edgar Wallace - Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds; how far does the national-cultural framework with which we approach the same film affect our interpretation of it?)

In sum, too little, too late, but intriguing for fans of the form nonetheless for these selfsame reasons.

1 comment:

Hungarian Great Bela Tarr. said...

Enjoyed this post -- and like the blog in general. Nice work!