Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Der Fälscher von London / The Forger of London (Germany, 1961)

The Edgar Wallace book on which this film is based, The Forger, was originally written as a serialized novel in England for the Daily Mail. The first film version, directed by G. B. Samuleson, came out the same year as the novel, 1928, but it was less than well received; according to the publication Kinomatograph Weekly, "Wallace’s story obviously seems to have been too complicated for the director, [for] he filmed it in an extremely fragmented style and manner, leaving one behind unconvinced and annoyed." (Translated from German, page 81 of Die Edgar Wallace Filme, 1982, by Florian Pauer.)
Thirty-three years later The Forger was once again the basis of a film, this time around as an entry of the famous Rialto Edgar Wallace film series of Germany; it was one of four made in 1961 (the others being Das Gehemnis der gelben Narzissen / The Devil’s Daffodil [trailer], Der Grune Bogenschutze / The Green Archer [trailer], and Die toten Augen von London / The Dead Eyes of London [trailer]). It is also one of five Rialto Wallaces that director Harald Reinl was to direct, beginning with the first film of the series, Der Frosch mit der Maske / Fellowship of the Frog (trailer) in 1959 and ending with Der unheimliche Monch / The Sinister Monk (trailer) in 1965; likewise, it is one of 21 films (four being Rialto Wallace films) he was to make together with his then-wife Karen Dor, a beautiful brunette best remembered in English-language countries as the (first) German "Bond Girl" who becomes shark fodder in You Only Live Twice (1967 / trailer). Of further trivial note, the script of Der Fälscher von London was supplied by no less than Johannes Kai who, in 1960, wrote and directed one of the truly Ed Woodian German films of the 60s, Flitterwochen in der Hölle / Isle of Sin; "Johannes Kai" was born Hanns Wiedmann, but due to his writing activities under National Socialism he was no longer permitted to write under his real name after the war, so he took a pseudonym based on his place of birth, Cairo.
But to end the trivia and get to the film, the question of course arises, how is Der Fälscher von London? It is, to say the least, a confusing mess, but it is also probably one of the best-shot of the black and white Rialto Wallaces. Director Reinl, who was stabbed to death on Tenerife on 9 October 1986 by his third wife Daniela Maria Delis, does a damn fine job in Der Fälscher von London, filming most of the movie as if it were the bleakest of film noirs; the film overflows with strongly contrasting blacks and whites as well as the intriguing use of depth of field, lighting and cropping. For that reason, the visuals of the film are often more satisfying than the film itself, which, although a relatively straight and mundane detective story, suffers from a confusing screenplay and an excess of characters—if you are distracted for but a moment, you’re sure to miss something. The intentional humor is also kept in check in this film, which nonetheless doesn’t mean that the film is overly dry for more than one unintentional giggle is indeed instigated.
One of the biggest flaws of Der Fälscher von London is probably that with the exception of Inspector Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz, who took part in a total of four Wallace films), none of the characters are initially likable; even the initial behavior of the “good guys” is alienating—Jane (Karin Dor), for example, marries Peter Clifton for his money, while Peter (Hellmut Lange of Vier Schlüssel [1966]) marries Jane even though he knows she doesn’t love him. Likewise, the playboy Basil Hale (Robert Graf) is such a dislikable asshole that the fact that he and Jane were once "friends" cast serious (if unwarranted) doubts upon her character. Even her Uncle John (Walter Rilla of The Scarlet Pimpernel [1934 / trailer], The Gamma People [1956], and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava [1971 / trailer]) loses likability points by being the driving force in convincing Jane to marry Peter. Everyone is in it just for the money... but then, the whole film is also about money, both real and fake.
Following their marriage, Jane and Peter Clifton spend their honeymoon (not just in separate beds but in separate rooms) outside London at Longford Manor (Castle Herdringen in real life), where mysterious things occur. First Jane is attacked by an unknown assailant and then she sees her husband printing banknotes in a secret room; later, Peter appears just as shocked about the secret room, as he can remember nothing—could he being developing schizophrenia, just like his father, a convicted murderer? When Basil turns up hammered to death in the park, Jane removes the clues that lead to the unconscious Peter as the guilty party. Peter’s overacting doctor (Viktor de Kowa of Unheimliche Geschichten [1932]) is also convinced that Peter is losing it, and tries to convince Jane to have him declared insane and put away, after which she would be in control of his fortune. The lawyer Radlow (Otto Collin) has some important information, but is murdered before he can share it—and just who is the mysterious "Mr Blonberg", a man that remains unseen in the background but seems to be pulling all the strings? Inspector Rouper (Ulrich Beiger), in any event, is as obsessed to prove Peter as the forger and murderer as Inspector Bourke is set on protecting his friend and proving his innocence....
For all its flaws, Der Fälscher von London is nonetheless highly entertaining and zips by quickly enough. Though hardly a true highlight of the Rialto series—with the possible exception of its cinematography and lighting—it is also far from the worst. The strength of the film's visuals go a long way to make it pleasing to the eye even as the plot gets too confusing to really make sense, but if you pay attention to the dialogue you just might figure out who the bad guy is before he is revealed. It is, in the end, yet another fun film for a rainy day....

Needless to say, by the way, the main theme to Der Fälscher von London / The Forger of London, by the great Martin Böttcher on his first job (of five) as composer for a Rialto Wallace film, is supercadrafristicexpealodocious
– or, as they say in German, Affentitten geil!


Holger Haase said...

Great work! I guess you are starting to work your way through your Wallaces now? ;-)
I always wished Helmut Lange had made more Wallace movies or Krimis in general.
Now I gotta go out and trace ISLE OF SIN. I hadn't even heard of this one before.

Abraham said...

Isle of Sin is jaw-droppingly bad – you really have to enjoy bad films to like it – but of the trio of island films the producer (Wolf C. Hartwig) made one after the other, it’s directly in the middle: I seriously fell asleep for Die Insel der Amazonen/Seven Daring Girls (which is why I never reviewed it), but I love Ein Töter hing im Netz/Horrors of Spider Island.

waldog2006 said...

I really enjoyed this film, not least because of the noir cinematography, but the biggest unintentional laugh is when a bloodcurdling scream is heard in the middle of the night, something like one of Baron Blood's victims being slowly tortured, and when Karin Dor says, "What was that?" the reply is: "Must've been an owl."

Abraham said...

I wouldn't even be sure that the laugh is unintentional; the humor of the Rialto Wallace krimis were often so ironic that it flies over the heads of the viewers, especially when dubbed. But then again,who knows by now. But a fun film it is.