Thursday, 26 June 2008

Das Siebente Opfer / The Racetrack Murders

The world of horseracing was one which Edgar Wallace knew well, but not as well as he might like, given that part of the impetus for his extraordinary workrate stemmed from his chronic inability to back enough winners. He also however used his knowledge of the subject to good effect by using it as a backdrop to a number of his thrillers, including Never Back Losers and Thank Evans.

Wallace's son Bryan Edgar Wallace also used racing themes and settings on occasion, as with this krimi based on his novel Murder is Not Enough, produced by Artur Brauner's CCC and released in 1964; as a rule of thumb a CCC krimi will be a Wallace junior adaptation, featuring him in the opening credits and an 'authentic' Rialto krimis a Wallace senior adaptation, featuring his supposed voice, in English or German, over the credits.

Bryan Edgar Walace's customary appearance

The story opens on a country estate. Lord John Mant's horse, Satan, is the hot favourite for the Derby. It soon becomes clear, however, that someone does not want Satan to compete, with two shady characters planting a snake in the horse's path, causing his to throw the jockey, breaking his neck.


It seems like a terrible accident, but not enough for Lord Mant and his associates to really get bothered about, with their garden party going ahead as planned – “Why cancel it, just because some wretched jockey breaks his neck; it's outrageous,” as Lady Jenny remarks. Then one of the bandsmen, who had earlier indicated his need to talk to Lord John about an important matter, is shot dead.

Inspector Bradley is soon on the case, bringing all of the Many family and their servants, as the suspects in the case, into the drawing room, followed by the arrival of Peter Brooks, a painter who is a friend of Lord Mant's son.

As with his fathers' work, Bryan soon gives us a number of intersecting stories and conspiracies to work through: in addition to a successions of murders we have a missing will; a coveted painting of the Madonna worth £20,000; further attempts at taking the racehorse out of commission via doping; a noble scion with a mass of IOU's needing paid off to the shady figure who has acquired them, and an unidentified man wearing black gloves and puffing on cigars who is pulling the strings on at least some of these crimes.

The horse's name provides a running gag throughout the film, as the various genteel English country types, including the parish vicar, keep discussing Satan, his wellbeing and prospects, all the way to the final race – by which time several more characters have dropped out of the running in rather giallo-like subjective camera murder set pieces – where assorted punters amusingly chant “Satan, Satan” like members of some black metal band or their fans.

Franz Josef Gottlieb's direction is impressive even in the less than pristine version under review, with elegant camera movements and arresting expressionistic compositions, placing the camera at low and canted angles, with every shot beautifully lit and lensed by cinematographer Richard Angst.

Expressionist atmospheres and distortions

Whether on account of being of more contemporary vintage or the progressive tendencies of producer Artur Brauner, who had himself made one of the first West German films to deal with the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust and who was also financing the so-called “risky wave” of non-genre films around this time from the proceeds of these krimis, The Racetrack Murders feels more class-conscious than many krimis.

In addition to the boozy Lady Jane's comments – she continues by remarking of the dead bandsman that “this is going too far: generally speaking things of this kind only happen among the working classes” – we also get Lord Mant accidentally-cum-deliberately mistakenly referring to Inspector Bradley as a sergeant until corrected, and thereafter expressing a clear annoyance at the Inspector's lack of deference and respect:

“In view of the circumstances I suspect every one of your guests”

“You're overreaching your professional duties Inspector”

“That, My Lord, is a purely personal point of view”

Indeed, just about all the characters are reduced to the same base level, more reminiscent of later gialli: regardless of their social origins and current positions they are out for what they can get, including the minister of religion, with this being a point which giallo fans may also wish to pay closer attention to.

There are also some untrustworthy foreigners, like the Italian jockey Giuseppe Ranova and an Oriental coded moll type, though in common with some of the other working-class characters they tend to minor rather than major villains.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "satan" screenshot looks great !