Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Der Fälscher von London / The Forger of London

Released in 1961, this was the seventh Edgar Wallace krimi overall and the third of five to be directed by Harald Reinl, here working with his then-wife Karin Dor for the second time in the series.

Based upon Wallace's 1927 novel The Forger, it's an unusual piece in that it begins with a marriage – that of Dor's heroine Jane Leith to Peter Clifton – and then proceeds to suggest that Peter may well hereditarily insane with schizophrenia and amnesia, and the titular Forger of London to boot, before moving onto more familiar territory as Inspector Burke of the Yard proceeds to conduct his investigations along the lines that the mounting evidence against his friend – including the facts that he was known to have passed one of the forged notes, is an expert lithographer and is discovered by Jane in a secret room late one night working a printing press – is just that little bit too cut and dried...

We open at the Derby, with Edwardian class distinctions in full effect

Director Harald Reinl's Fritz Lang obsession is again apparent both in the wonderfully expressionistic mise en scène and the Mabuse-like plot machinations that ensue, ultimately revolving around a heard but not seen “acousmetric” figure behind the crimes who issues orders and counsel to his many minions from a room behind a one-way mirror, Blomberg.

Burke also fits into a Langian framework somewhat, being something of an ambiguous Scotland Yard man whose tactics, like those of like his counterparts in Lang's Dr Mabuse der Spieler and Spione, do not seem particularly different from those of his quarry at times, while another departure from the krimi norm circa 1961 raises the spectre of corruption within the ranks of the Yard itself.

Three views from Blomberg's lair

Indeed, with a bit more Door with the Seven Locks-style mad science on display one could almost imagine the film working as a Dr Mabuse entry, a point perhaps not lost on production company Rialto's rivals CCC who would release Scotland Yard jagt Dr. Mabuse, directed by Paul May and featuring several krimi film regulars including Klaus Kinski and Werner Peters, two years later. (As a throwaway speculation, we might also wonder whether May adopted his surname in reference to Joe May, one of the founding fathers of German popular cinema and the man who gave Lang an important early break.)

The obligatory Home Counties ancestral pile

Another thing worth noting is the way The Forger of London deals with psychological themes, especially when at one point modern art is deployed in an ambiguous 1940s Hollywood meets Nazi entartete kunst manner, hinting at a character's badness. (Within Lang's Scarlet Street, Edward G. Robinson's character Chris Cross, encouraged to embark on a life of crime by the woman he obsesses over, paints in a distinctly modern, non representational style, though there is a distinct irony if we consider Lang and Robinson's Jewish heritages – Robinson's given surname, which he reduced to his middle initial in the often racist Hollywood of the time, was Goldenberger – and the actor's own interest in abstract art and progressive politics.)

When the woman looks

Beyond the Langian references, the film is pretty much business as usual, with an effective Martin Bottcher score; reasonably well integrated if still obvious library footage; atmospheric use of location and studio sets; stock players like Eddi Arent performing their stock characters with customary aplomb, and that general sense of a group of filmmakers who knew where to fine tune their formula to keep things fresh and interesting and where to leave well alone.

A blade in the dark

The Joyless Street, 35 years and one war later

If there's an element of “what's in a name” emerging throughout this piece – Blomberg or Mabuse, the world of Wallace or Lang – it's perhaps best to conclude by indicating that, regardless of where else you might place it, The Forger of London belongs in the 'worth seeing' group of krimis.


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