Sunday, 17 August 2008

Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen / The Devil's Daffodil / The Daffodil Killer

With newspaper hoardings announcing a second daffodil murder a young woman goes to make a call to Scotland Yard, but is herself murdered by a black clad masked figure before she can can be put through to them.

The daffodil killer strikes again in a scene full of giallo-style iconography but comparatively lacking in style

After leaving a daffodil on the body the killer then goes after Global Airlines investigator Jack Tarling, played by archetypal krimi detective hero Joachim Fuchsberger, finding him with a cargo of fake daffodils containing heroin intercepted by customs officials as part of a cargo from Hong Kong.

While successful in blowing up the customs officials the daffodil killer fails to kill Tarling, who then meets with his Hong Kong counterpart, Ling Chu, played by the unlikely seeming figure of Christopher Lee, as planned.

Fuchsberger and Lee

After announcing their presence to Scotland Yard the two men then investigate the convoluted mystery, beginning with the daffodils' importer, Lyons, before moving on the Soho nightclub where the first three murder victims all worked, the Cosmos...

Yet more daffodils and a characteristic mirror shot

With the subsequent proceedings continuing very much in the conventional krimi vein – Klaus Kinski is also on hand in characteristically twitchy mood, though Eddi Arent's comic relief is absent – the most interesting aspect of The Mystery of the Yellow Daffodil is arguably its production context, as one of the few collaborations between German and British filmmakers on an Edgar Wallace adaptation.

From the point of view of the krimi productions, the chief benefit of the co-production emerges as its affording more location shooting and less stock footage than usual. Even here, however, while Picadilly Circus is effectively used as the backdrop for one assassination – the victim ironically falling into a flower-seller's basket after being shot – Scotland Yard is still represented by a plaque on some random building elsewhere over which, inevitably, Big Ben chimes.

On location in exotic Soho

Insofar as the German audience would happily accept this attempt at conveying London-ness, what really hurts the film is the blandness of the Shepperton Studio interiors, which generally have a somewhat flatter and anonymous look to their lighting and lack the kind of production details that are so much a part of the charm of their German counterparts.

In fairness Terence Fisher's Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace suffered from a similar aesthetic discomfort when moving geographically in the other direction, suggesting that both British and German filmmakers of this type were perhaps somewhat set in their own comfortable ways of working at home.

Certainly if the later example of Cave of the Vampires is taken into account director Akos Rathony gives the impression of being a competent veteran but one who never found his particular niche, the first signalling his similarity with Fisher and the second his difference.

Ultimately one thus feels that it is the film's very title that indicates what it most lacks: an expressive use of colour.

If it is Blood and Black Lace rather than Hammer that would prove the catalyst here, The Mystery of the Yellow Daffodils' intersection of a drug smuggling plot with a masked killer working his way through a number of glamorous women, all from a particular place, and the prominence given elegant yet sleazy sounding bongo rhythm heavy music combine to suggest that some influences may conceivably have gone in the other direction.

It's as if, having seen what the British could bring to the krimi the Germans then sought to see whether the Italians could do any better, with the colour flooding into the antique shop from the adjacent dance hall and the more surreal look given the masked killer in Bava's film indicating that they most certainly could. (Not that this prevented future German-British krimi collaborations, as Circus of Fear demonstrates, but the results were decidedly uninspired.)

With Fuchsberger's investigator operating in the same respectable, s(t)olid manner as his more usual Scotland Yard men, it is Lee's character who is given responsibility for the more ruthless aspects of the investigation, including a spot of torture where he drowns out the victim's screams by turning up the radio.

Much like the notion of having a white actor playing a non-white this is a piece of stereotyping whose implications – these sadistic Orientals with their history of fiendish tortures as per Fu Manchu etc. – are decidedly awkward today.

This is however partly offset by Lee's always respectful performance, alongside the simple fact that at the time the ability to perform the role would have likely appeared a positive sign of his versatility as an actor rather than as negative display of potential cultural insensitivity; here it must be remembered that Lee also appeared in all manner of European productions with no-one ever really seeming to complain that his portrayal of, say, a WWII veteran German officer in The Virgin of Nuremberg was offensive or taking away work from indigenous actors.

More important than this, however, is that within the context of The Mystery of the Yellow Daffodils itself the filmmakers actually make an oblique comment on the performative rather than essentialised nature of identity by having Ling Chu have a habit for quoting Confucian proverbs and epigrams in a Charlie Chan manner only to eventually reveal that he has been making them up as he went along.

Finally, it should be noted that the film was shot in both German and English language versions, with some differences in the casting of the smaller roles. That the German version is the only one available, complete with a commentary track but no English subtitle option, presents a clear indication of the differing popularity of Wallace in the two territories today.

Another review of the film:

1 comment:

Mirko_di_Wallenberg said...

I love those old Edgar Wallace movies not only do they remember me of my youth but I find it great to see like in this movie how Soho was in days long gone by!