Monday, 9 August 2010

The Mad Executioners (1963)

While the best of the German Edgar Wallace krimis of the 60s were probably those made by Rialto Films several other companies also jumped onto the Edgar Wallace bandwagon. The most notable was Artur Brauner’s CCC company. The Mad Executioners (Der Henker von London) was a 1963 release by this company.

In common with many of the Wallace krimis this one is based on a novel by Wallace’s son Bryan Edgar Wallace. The plot does however borrow somewhat from his father’s most famous book, The Four Just Men. Once again we have a shadowy secret organisation dedicated to bringing to justice various criminals who have been allowed to walk free by the official justice system.

To make things more embarrassing this organisation has been carrying out executions using a hangman’s rope stolen from Scotland Yard’s crime museum, the famous Black Museum. Inspector Hillier has been assigned to the case. Scotland Yard has other problems on its hands - they are also dealing with a crazed sex murderer and their failure to catch the killer is resulting in a certain amount of public support for the activities of the unofficial Executioner of London.

It’s typical of the krimi genre in that it’s basically a murder mystery but treated in a rather over-the-top way ad with definite elements of horror and even science fiction. This one has a particularly creepy mad scientist.

There’s some nicely atmospheric blck-and-white cinematography, something that is a feature of all the early German krimis. Since they were all filmed in Germany but they’re supposed to be set in London the obvious answer to making the settings look more like London was - lots of fog and shadows! It still doesn’t look like London but it gives them the right mood.

The cast of the The Mad Executioners includes several faces that will be familiar to krimi fans, including Dieter Borsche and Wolfgang Preiss. The acting is solid.

Of course every krimi has to have comic relief. This time it’s provided by a reporter from a true crime magazine who fancies himself as an amateur detective. I’ve never been a fan of the concept of comic relief but the character is not too annoying.

Although it has its charms The Mad Executioners is not one of the better krimis. The two separate sub-plots are combined in a slightly clunky and obvious way and the pacing is a little off. But even a lesser krimi is still great fun and this one is definitely worth a watch. And there are some nice visual moments.

The best thing about the Retromedia DVD is that it also includes The Fellowship of the Frog. This was the movie that started the krimi boom in Germany and it’s a terrific little move. The transfers of both films are at best adequate and unfortunately they’re both dubbed but it’s fairly cheap and it’s still very good value.

If you’re a krimi fan the inclusion of The Fellowship of the Frog makes this a must-buy.

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