by Holger Haase
Edgar Wallace is a German
phenomenon. Pretty much all of his 100 plus
mysteries are easily available in German
translations, when you'd be hard pushed
to even find a handful in their original
English. His special mix of fast paced adventure
and elaborate whodunnit resulted in a series
of 32 German Wallace movies ("Krimis")
shot between 1959-1972 by Rialto Film. They
were so popular that other production companies
soon followed suit and tried to get their
share of the market. Even Jess Franco jumped
on that bandwagon with Der Teufel kam aus
Akasava (THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, 1970).
The Rialto films are modernised
and often very loose adaptations of the
Wallace source material. Staff and production
teams rarely changed: Kinski
alone can be found in 17 films of that series.
Their iconic mixture of ingenious serial
killings and galleries of memorable off
the wall characters including killers
in black gloves and knifes made them
forerunners of both giallo and slasher movies.
Their story lines may not always be the
most sophisticated, but Boy!
were they fun to watch: full of fog laden
atmosphere, secret doorways, sadistic thugs
and helpless damsels in distress. No wonder
millions were queuing up to see them in
Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen
was Rialto's sixth Wallace production and
the first co-produced with Britain. Both
an English and a German version of the film
were shot simultaneously.
At first glance the film seems
to have all the typical Wallace ingredients:
A mysterious killer who always leaves daffodils
as his trademark at the scene of the crime.
People get tortured, knifed, hanged and
shot, not to forget the nasty death of an
old biddy whose wheelchair gets pushed down
the stairs. Everyone's a suspect and everybody
seems to lead a double live with secrets
of their own.
Nevertheless, the film ends
up being a very pedestrian contribution
to the sub-genre. Where other films of the
series have mysterious monks, skeletons,
archers or killers hiding behind frog masks
stalking the grounds, in this production
the chief culprit simply wears... a black
stocking over his head. The only secret
doorway is actually not very secret, but
pretty openly covers the entrance to an
office in the Cosmos Club. Even the "mystery"
of the daffodils that are placed on all
the murder victims is not very mysterious:
From one of the first scenes on, it is obvious
that they are used to smuggle drugs. And
not even an Eddi Arent in sight as comic
GEHEIMNIS even fails when
it comes to the location. Shot in Shepperton
Studios and being a UK/German co-production
it had every chance of reproducing the "typical"
English flair better than most other parts
of the Edgar Wallace series. Despite a few
scenes shot on location on Piccadilly Circus
and in other parts of London, the majority
of the film, however, comes across even
less English than most of the other films.
Most sets look strangely sterile, deserted
and non-descript. Even the Cosmos Club
apparently one of Soho's most notorious
hot spots rarely ever has more than
one or two guests. How that club ever managed
to make money is beyond me.
(For the anorak: GEHEIMNIS
was actually the first UK/German co-production
since ATLANTIC (1929). Akos von Rathony,
director of GEHEIMNIS, was also second assistant
director of ATLANTIC. First assistant director
on that production was none other than Alfred
Christopher Lee as Hong Kong
detective Ling Chu, anxious to avenge the
murder of his own daughter, has by far the
best role in the film. This is his third
outing in Chinese make-up after Hammer's
THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1960) and an episode
of the TV series 'Tales of Hans Andersen'
(1953), "The Nightingale," in
which he played the Emperor of China. All
of these were, of course, only precursors
to his most famous Chinese part as Sax Rohmer's
Fu Manchu in five instalments of the series
shot between 1965-68.
His character appears in both
the English and the German version of the
film. Being fluent in several languages,
you can hear his own voice in both versions.
This method of filming was already familiar
to him. Just the previous year he could
be seen and heard in both
the English and French version of THE HANDS
OF ORLAC/LES MAINS D'ORLAC.
Though dressed in a very un-Asian
pervy looking raincoat and as Joachim
Fuchsberger's character's friend
clearly on the right side of the law, Lee's
part already has a healthy dose of Fu Manchu
in him. In the most memorable scene of the
film, he is shown gleefully torturing a
suspect in search for information. To drown
the cries of the victim he has a radio blasting
at full power.
For the rest of the film,
his main contribution is to dispense bits
of Confucian wisdom that have been oh-so
popular ever since Charlie Chan was teaching
son Number One the ways of the world. At
least in this case his character admits
that he has them all made up.
In The Films of Christopher
Lee he is quoted as saying:
"I played a Chinese detective
in English and German. It wasn't exactly
easy playing in German with a Chinese accent,
but I seem to have managed it."
Well, he didn't... Though
his German is pretty much faultless, there
sure is no trace of any kind of Chinese
accent in it.
Later the same year Lee returned
to Edgar Wallace territory when filming
DAS RAETSEL DER ROTEN ORCHIDEE (THE SECRET
OF THE RED ORCHID). Though this time only
filmed in German, he again spoke his own
part. Unfortunately for his next German
co-production SHERLOCK HOLMES UND DAS HALSBAND
DER TODES (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY
NECKLACE), even the English version was
inexplicably dubbed by someone who didn't
even remotely sound like Lee.
The other memorable part of
the film at least in the German version
goes to Klaus Kinski. In the English
version his character was played by Colin
Kinski plays Peter Keene,
ex-convict and loyal to the point of obsession
to his boss and mentor, Raymond Lyne (Albert
Lieven). From one scene to the other, his
character can switch from being a slimy,
flattering lick arse to a maniacally raving
psycho, defending his boss against anyone
that may stand in his way. He is like an
obedient dog who just wants to please his
master and protect him from any attacks.
A TV interview with Joachim
Fuchsberger about Kinski and his treatment
of co-star Sabine Sesselmann shows the other
side of the coin when it came to his apparently
amazing success with the ladies:
"He always had this image
of being a lady killer, but there were female
colleagues who successfully spurned his
advances, and he then made them pay for
it. I can remember a scene at a cemetery
near London where he took revenge on a colleague
and practically tore her hair when he dragged
her across the graves, that she was just
reduced to screaming. He had complete chunks
of her beautiful blonde hair in his hand.
In the end he also took the opportunity
when fighting with me I was following
him and she was his hostage to touch
her up everywhere he had always wanted to.
And finally he even shot at her hand with
Fuchsberger has his standard
role as the clean living, straight-faced
hero of the Wallace films. This time he
is Jack Tarling of Global Airways' security
service. That profession seems to give him
semi-offical status as Scotland Yard opens
all doors and files for him. He clearly
has carte blanche to do anything he wishes
to progress in his investigation, even going
as far as allowing Ling Chu to torture a
witness in the line of duty. In one if his
best scenes, he barely escapes death by
falling through an elevator shaft. When
older, Fuchsberger became one of Germany's
most popular TV talk show hosts.
Ingrid Van Bergen plays Gloria,
performing artist in a nightclub. She sings
and also does a very innocent strip tease.
Van Bergen was later involved in a real
life murder mystery: She was imprisoned
for 5 years for the murder of her lover
in a fit of jealousy. A passion crime if
ever there was one.
Walter Gotell, who plays Superintendent
Whiteside in GEHEIMNIS, also appeared in
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) as Morzeny
and subsequently had a regular part as General
Gogol in a couple of later Bond movies.
Albert Lieven's lecherous
businessman would have sexual harassment
charges against him left, right and centre
in these more politically correct times.
Lieven later returned for other Wallace
Krimis (DAS VERAETERTOR/TRAITOR'S GATE,
DER GORILLA VON SOHO).
Overall GEHEIMNIS is worth
a look for Lee and Kinski alone, but otherwise
only a very average Wallace production,
and a missed opportunity to take proper
advantage of its English location shots.
This is Holger Haase's
first review for ER.