Monday, 23 November 2009

Dead Eyes of London (1961)

Dead Eyes of London (Die Toten Augen von London) is one of the early Rialto Edgar Wallace krimis, with the classic Rialto acting line-up - Joachim Fuchsberger as the Scotland Yard inspector, Karin Baal as the ambiguous heroine, Klaus Kinski as a bad guy and Eddi Arendt as comic relief. And it’s tremendous fun.

Wealthy men are being murdered in London, and they’re all men without immediate families and mostly men from overseas. And they’re all insured with the Greenwich Life assurance company. Odd messages written in braille are found on the bodies. Inspector Larry Holt is assigned a special assistant on this case, a woman who can translate braille for him. This brings him into contact with a home for the blind, run by a blind priest. There appears to be a connection here with the muders, and there also appears to be a connection with the life insurance company, but at this stage the inspector is baffled as to how to connect the dots.

One of the murdered men had changed his will just before he was killed, leaving his entire (rather considerable) fortune to his long-lost illegitimate daughter. The inspector would dearly like to speak to this mysterious daughter. There’s also the enigmatic man in dark glasses who seems to be on the same trail as the inspector. There are more murders, and the plot becomes more complicated, building to an extremely effective climax that includes a laundry of death.

The acting is good, with Kinski being subtly creepy and Fuchsberger making a fine hero. The very words “comic relief” are enough to bring a shudder to many fans of older horror movies but if you must have comic relief then Eddi Arendt isn’t too bad. He’s mildly amusing and at least he isn’t actively annoying. Karin Baal is always reliable, and the minor players are all quite competent. Anneli Sauli is terific in a supporting role as the glamorous Fanny Weldon.

Afred Vohrer directed some of the best of the krimis and he’s in good form here. His direction is crisp and efficient without being ostentatious. The black-and-white cinematography is top-notch. There’s lots of fog, which helps to hide the fact that all of the location shooting that is supposed to be in London was done in Germany, but it adds the requisite atmosphere as well.

This particular Edgar Wallace story had been filmed in 1940 with Bel Lugosi. The Lugosi version is fun, but I think that this 1961 German remake is better.

As with most of the Wallace krimis there are definite elements of horror, and the character of Blind Jack is just about enough on its own to qualify it as a horror flick. And any movie that has an ending involving blow torches and laundry equipment used as a murder weapon has to be regarded as being at least marginally horror!

It’s released on DVD by Retromedia, paired with The Ghost (an excellent Ricardo Freda horror film starring the great Babara Steele). The print is in pretty good shape. It’s a pity it’s only available in an English dubbed version, but I suppose we should be grateful that so many of these krimis are now available to us even in less-than-perfect presentations. And part from the dubbing there’s not too much to complain of here. The picture is slightly widescreen, probably not quite the correct aspect ratio but it’s crisp and clear and the film seems to be uncut judging by the running time.

If you’ve never sampled the delights of the German Edgar Wallace krimis then you should do so at once. They’re a great mix of horror and murder mystery with a dash of humour and a serving of romance on the side, and they’re stylish and entertaining. These are B-movies, but superior B-movies. And this is an ideal example to start with. Highly recommended.


Samuel Wilson said...

Agreed: This is a good starter krimi, especially for people who are familiar with the earlier version with Lugosi. All such films toil in the shadow of Fritz Lang, but many flourish just the same. They have a style and sensibility of their own that make them fun to watch.

Brian D. Horrorwitz said...

I really like this film but for some reason the Lugosi version disturbed me a lot more!

dfordoom said...

I love the Lugoi version as well. I have a real soft spot for Bela's 1940s movies.