Tuesday 26 July 2011

Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor [1963]

Also known as THE STRANGLER OF CASTLE BLACKMOOR, this is an example of a krimi, a kind of German equivalent to the giallo in that it deals with bizarre crimes and characters in gloriously stylised settings.

Most of the krimis were based on the works of Edgar Wallace, an English novelist who was extremely popular in the 20s and 30s.  In 1959, out of the blue a German film adaptation of a Wallace story was a big hit and led to a rush of follow ups.  Various companies tried to get in on the act but the lion's share were made by Rialto and are generally considered to be the best.

How the Germans see the British aristocracy
This is the first krimi I've seen but I understand it contains many of the familiar elements: fantasy English setting; convoluted plot; mystery killer; aristocracy contrasted with 'lowlifes'.  The film was not part of the Rialto series but made by a rival company who based their films on the work of Edgar Wallace's son, Bryan Edgar Wallace.  I enjoyed it but it seemed clear to me that it was  not meant to be taken at all seriously - more than anything it reminded me of the high melodrama of someone like Tod Slaughter.  Pure escapism then, and none the worse for that.

This still of Walter Giller as Edgar is hilarious enough in its own right, but what you don't see is that a) he's wearing a kilt, and b) he bonked his head on the lamp behind him as he came through the door
Once you get into the spirit of it and can look beyond the evident cheapness of it all then it becomes strangely endearing.  The plot, as far as I could tell, revolved around some stolen diamonds that practically all of the characters had a motive for wanting to get their hands on.  But who is the mysterious killer that's strangling all and sundry?

The masked strangler, or - if you're German - der Wurger
Much of the running time seemed to be spent in tiny little cars shuttling back and forth between London and 'Castle Blackmoor', apparently located within convenient driving time of the city centre.  In fact, pretty much everything indicated that the film-makers had, at best, only a vague knowledge of England and English culture; the pub (where all the criminals hung out) looked like none I've ever seen.  But that's part of its charm really - the sort of DIY-ness of it all.  One really good thing about it was the weird electronic score by Oskar Sala; for those familiar with such music, it reminded me of Morton Subotnick.

Ironic that two Germans from THE GREAT ESCAPE should end up playing Englishmen: Hans Reiser (L) and Harry Riebauer (R).  In the middle is the lovely Karin Dor, from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
A couple of points to note about the, I assume, all German cast: both Harry Riebauer (who plays the detective on the case) and Hans Reiser had small roles in John Sturges' THE GREAT ESCAPE, made the same year.  Riebauer plays the officer who sticks the pitchfork into the haybales where John Leyton is hiding, and Reiser plays the Gestapo officer who spots Richard Attenborough at the railway station.

A memorably sticky end

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