Monday, February 2, 2015

Die Toten Augen von London (Germany, 1961)

(Spoilers.) Edgar Wallace wrote The Dark Eyes of London in 1924, and since then it has been filmed "officially" three times. Alfred Vohrer is responsible for two film versions of the book, this one and the color version made seven years later in 1968 as Der Gorilla von Soho (trailer). The very first version, directed by Walter Summers in 1939 and starring Bela Lugosi and the long-forgotten Norwegian-born blonde Greta Gynt (a highly popular star in Britain for most of the thirties and forties) is said to follow the novel the closest. And, according to the book The Films of Bela Lugosi, it is "possibly one of the best horror films of the 1930s". Of course, a book such as that one tends to be written by a fan of the subject, so the high praise should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Most other sources simply say that the film, released as The Human Monster (trailer) in the USA, is a plain ol' crime film and average at best, only distinguished by some bizarre sets.
Decide for Yourself —
The Human Monster (full film):
On the other hand, Vohrer's version of the story, the fifth film to be made in the Rialto series of Wallace films, is definitely one of the best of the early phase of the Rialto series. (It is also the first of fourteen Wallace films that director Alfred Vohrer was to eventually make for the company.) What is meant by "early phase" is that though many of the aspects of the more "swinging" and Baroque Wallace films — such as the outlandish story, odd black humor, fabulously wild music and extreme violence — can be found in the film, none is taken to the excessively intense level that began to later appear and that dominated up until around 1972's Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds (trailer), when the series went decidedly giallo. (Actually, in regards to the music in this film, the soundtrack from Heinz Funk, who also supplied the music to 1960's Die Bande des Schreckens [trailer], is so nondescript and dull that it is hardly surprising that he never again thereafter did another soundtrack for a Rialto Wallace film.)
The quick-paced script for Die Toten Augen von London was supplied once again by "Trygve Larsen", one of two pseudonyms Egon Eis wrote Wallace scripts under in addition to those he supplied under his own name. (His other favored pen name was "Albert Tanner", under which he wrote the highly entertaining Wallace homage Die Weisse Spinne in 1963 [full movie].)
Filmed very much in the mostly static fashion of US crime films — i.e., few panning shots or fancy camera tricks — Die Toten Augen von London is definitely more violent than most American product and also still has a pleasant wisp of horror to it, despite the misplaced humor supplied (as normal) by Eddie Arndt as Sunny Harvey, the knitting-addicted assistant (with an ever so light platonic homosexual attraction) to Inspector Larry Holt (series regular Joachim Fuchsberger). Holt refuses to believe that it's a simple coincidence that various old men, all insured by the same big company owned by Stephan Judd (Wolfgang Lukschy), are found dead floating in the Themes. For some unexplained reason he thinks the men have all been victims of the legendary "Blind Jack" (Ady Berber) and his band. His big clue is that pieces of papers with Braille writing are found on the bodies. Enter Nora Ward (Karin Baal, who began her career at 16 in the 1956 BRD teen-film classic Die Halbstarken aka Teenage Wolfpack [trailer]), nurse for the blind, whom they end up getting a job at Reverend Dearborn's (Dieter Borsche) home for the blind. Ward does not know that she is in line to inherit a big insurance settlement from one of the dead men (her unknown father), so of course she too is in danger. Could it be that Judd's slimy personal secretary Edgar Strauss (Klaus Kinski) is behind everything? That would be too simple, of course, so after a lot of other people die — at his hands and at those of others — he too eventually takes a swan dive. Everything all leads up to a big showdown with the top bad guy(s) in the secret basement of the home for the blind, and it looks like the end for Larry Holt and Nora Ward when...
Well, needless to say, Joachim Fuchsberger gets the girl, leaving his assistant Sunny to knit the baby cloths.
As quickly paced as it all is improbable, the humor in the film is actually still funny nowadays, if often only due to how out-of-date it is. The blocking of the fight scenes is pretty cheesy, too, but the murders definitely still carry a punch. And, if Vohrer isn't yet the most fancy with the camera, he does have a good understanding of composition, the use of close-ups and shadows. The disposal of a dead body to the music of Beethoven is a highpoint in the film, as is the elevator-shaft death of the petty criminal Flicker-Fred (Harry Wüstenhagen). Die Toten Augen von London will probably entertain you more than it will scare, but it could well give your little kid a shiver or two — and maybe even a nightmare.

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