Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Secret of the Red Orchid (1962)

The Secret of the Red Orchid (Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee) is one of those wonderfully outrageous krimis produced by Rialto Films in Germany, starting in the early 60s. Mostly based on the works of Edgar Wallace (who apparently had an enormous following in Germany) they’re a mix of comedy and murder mystery, often with horror and gothic elements as well. And totally insane plots.

In this one Chicago gangsters have started a kidnapping racket in London, targeting the very wealthy. To combat this threat Scotland Yard has the assistance of a gun-toting two-fisted macho crimefighter from the FBI, played by Christopher Lee (yes, really). Also involved in the fight against these dangerous hoodlums is an eccentric butler, played by Eddi Arent (who provided the comedy relief in most of these films). There are numerous shootouts, mostly involving machine-guns, and lots of sorted mayhem. There’s a romantic sub-plot as well, and various shenanigans to do with wills, and a long-lost heir to a fortune with a passion for orchids. Trying to keep track of what’s going on isn’t easy, but it also isn’t necessary. The trick is to sit back and just enjoy the madness.

It’s incredibly badly dubbed, which adds considerably to the fun. Christopher Lee is as good as you’d expect him to be playing an American FBI man. Klaus Kinski plays one of the many rival gangsters, and is delightfully hammy. Eddi Arent is the kind of comic relief that can so often be annoying in the extreme, but in these films his performances actually work, adding yet another layer of weirdness. There are plenty of faces that will be familiar to fans of European exploitation cinema, including Adrian Hoven and the lovely Marisa Mell (who was the girlfriend of Diabolik in Mario Bava’s glorious comic book spoof Danger: Diabolik!).

The Secret of the Red Orchid is available on a double-sided DVD from Retromedia, paired with another krimi, The Monster of London City. Picture and sound quality are quite reasonable, and the package represents great value for anyone who loves off-best movies. Lots of outrageous fun!

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