Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Das Verrätertor / Traitor's Gate

This 1964 krimi departs from the norm in two obvious ways. First, it's a West German / UK co-production, with Freddie Francis in the director's chair and Jimmy Sangster – concealed beneath his Henry Samson pseudonym – responsible for adapting the Edgar Wallace source novel. Second, it's got a different emphasis from usual, with no murder mystery component whatsoever. Instead it is more of a heist thriller in the tradition of Jules Dassin's Rififi, with a gang of jewel thieves hatching the audacious plan of stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The colour on black and white animated titles are interesting as always

As such, Scotland Yard has less of a part to play, with the main audience identification figures instead being a young couple – he's a guard at the tower, she's a means by which he can be coerced into cooperating with the gang – and a hapless German tourist who become involved up in the gang's plans by design and accident respectively.

Money-directed professional voyeurism

Though the former are classic Wallace types – the girl is even taken prisoner by yet another one of those cars that dispenses knockout gas into the passenger compartment at the flick of a dashboard switch – the tourist is the obvious invention of the filmmakers, presumably intended to make the film more accessible to German audiences, especially given that he is played by series regular Eddi Arent.

The touristic gaze

Otherwise it's largely business as usual, with Klaus Kinski prominent as one of the robbers and another escaping from Dartmoor, seemingly the only correctional facility in the Wallaceverse, pursued by those firearm equipped policemen that curiously go against the myth of the British police his work otherwise promulgated.

Having said this, the presence of Francis and Sangster does however seem to give the British aspects of the production a touch more authenticity than was often the case on the all-German productions, with more substantial location shooting around the Tower and Picadilly Circus.

If both locations highlight the imagined / inauthentic aspect of the krimi, this is also more deliberate than usual thanks to Arent's character and the inherently touristic nature of the Tower itself, with Beefeater guards and suchlike already 'putting on a show'.

Soho sleaze; note the apparent lesbians behind Arent

The device of having the robbers first do a dress rehearsal with a mock up of the chamber in the tower also helps here, self-consciously foregrounding the studio bound nature of other aspects of the production to provide that convenient get out whereby the failure of something to look like the real thing could be passed off as a knowing gesture.

This said, the dramatic explosion on board a ship at the film's climax is all too obviously a bit of modelwork, while the execution of the real robbery proves fairly perfunctory compared to Rififi's daring silent centrepiece sequence and the in some ways comparable Grand Slam, in which Kinski also appears.

Fans of Francis and Sangster's work for Hammer and company may care to note the presence of Evil of Frankenstein's Katy Wild and dancer / choreographer Julie Mendez, who also appeared in She, in small roles; the latter also briefly exposes her breasts in the obligatory Soho club scene to provide an early instance of the kind of more daring material increasingly commonplace in the colour krimis.

Those seeking giallo connections will find them in the fact that the camera operator is none other than Ronnie Taylor, later to serve as director of photography on Argento's Opera and Sleepless.

With future Academy Award winners Francis and Taylor on board it's little surprise that Traitor's Gate looks good, although Francis's characteristically skilful but anonymous approach towards direction – as David Pirie argues, he was probably a better craftsman than Terence Fisher, but sometimes only brought craft to his work – means that there also less of the experimentation and neo-expressionism characterising Harald Reinl and Alfred Vohrer's krimis.

While there are plenty of subjective shots through telescopes, binoculars and so forth, as the robbers stake out the Tower, there is nothing comparable to the skull's eye view shots in The Skull nor the filter lighting effects in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Kinski and weapon in a shot that would look good in 3D

Though Kinski is a bit more subdued than his usual this can be accounted for more positively as being an indication of his character being a solid professional. In contrast it's the same old thing from Arent, either welcome or a necessary evil depending on your tolerance for his comic pratfalls and to-camera mugging; to the uninitiated, think of Arent as the Michael Ripper or Luciano Pigozzi of the krimi, that kind of reassuring figure whose presence reassures that you're going to get what you expect, even if not always anything beyond this.

In line with this Peter Thomas delivers an effective score characterised by his usual quirks of unusual (male) vocalism and odd noises against the swing and lounge beats, making one wonder if he might be considered as something of the krimi equivalent of Ennio Morricone in the Italian western.


junkevil said...

wonderful blog. i really enjoyed the read.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this stuff is good. See you at CG :)

K H Brown said...

Thanks guys :-)