Saturday, 11 October 2008

Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Koffer / The Secret of the Black Trunk

This was the first krimi to be based on the work of Bryan Edgar Wallace rather than his father and thus to be made by CCC rather than Rialto Film who, together, were responsible for almost all the cycle from 1959 to 1972.

The English credits

Unlike some of CCC's later Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptations, however, the author appears here not to play any role in adapting his material for the screen - a role he was well equipped to perform, having long had a parallel careers in the cinema - nor does he perform an on-screen introduction.

The Hans Reiser here is not the same as his file-system creating, wife-murdering namesake

But barring a few concessions to the contemporary world of the 1960s, with the plot involving a drugs ring and a vengeance-seeking FBI agent - the agency did not take this name until 1935, three years after Wallace senior's death - and the inspector coming from New Scotland Yard rather than Scotland Yard, it is very much a case of like father, like son.

Thus, we have a murder mystery with the killer employing a somewhat rarefied modus operandi. Each victim receives finds his bags packed and then falls victim to an expertly thrown knife in the back. The plot is suitably convoluted and improbable, also featuring a set of disparate characters - including a kindly if absent minded doctor; his assistant, a potential the love interest / damsel in distress type also searching for a brother she believes is still alive; a would-be blackmailer; an expert in the criminal mind, and an Eddi Arent style comic relief "sound hound" who inevitably inadvertently records a vital clue on his ever-present portable tape recorder - whilst the various locations, represented by that familiar mix of stock footage and German studio and streets, include the inevitable dungeon and sleazy nightclub, in turn incorporating a laboratory and nude painting concealing a spyhole respectively.

A contemporary concession?

Another amusing incidental in this regard is the Latin knife thrower the Yard brings in to assist in their inquiries. Though he's neither a suspect nor guilty, as one suspects he would have been in one of Wallace senior's works, he does however still express a somewhat suspect admiration for the killer's unerring accuracy in a manner that a more respectable Englishman never would...

The cast is less memorable than the Rialto krimis, with both the Klaus Kinski style victim or villain and the Siegfried Schurenberg 'Sir John' type conspicuous in their absence. Senta Berger,, however, makes for an entirely adequate Karin Dor stand-in.

Veteran Werner Klingler's direction is restrained and by the book, showing none of the personality or style of Alfred Vohrer and Harald Reinl and thus emerging as very much the competent craftsman rather than the potential auteur. Thus, whereas Reinl undoubtedly relished the opportunity to later work on CCC's Mabuse series as a means of exploring his Lang obsession, one suspects that Klingler, whose other assigmnents around this time include the Nazi 'master race' breeding programme exploitationer Lebensborn and the self-explanatory Notes from a Gynaecologist's Diary, probably just regarded it as just another job.

Cinematographer Richard Angst provides his usual expressionist visuals, though on account of the somewhat less than ideal transfer on the Sinister Cinema copy under review these unfortunately come across as more shades of lighter and darker grey than stark blacks and whites, while composer Gerd Wilden is behind the agreeable crime-jazz beats, albeit understandably less trashy, sleazy and quirky than his later work.

In sum, a reasonably satisfying ersatzprodukt for the hungry krimi completist.

No comments: