Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Indian Scarf (1963)

I’ve always been a fan of the German Edgar Wallace krimis of the 60s but now that I’ve got my hands on one of the German DVD boxed sets from Tobis I’m going to have the chance to see a few as they should be seen, in the proper ’scope aspect ratio and without the usual awful English dubbing.

First cab off the rank for me has been the 1963 Rialto production The Indian Scarf (Das indische Tuch).

The plot is one that with variations has been used hundreds of times - the members of an old family are gathered together in the family castle in Scotland to hear the reading of the will of the deceased head of the family, and the will contains the provision that no member of the family will inherit anything at all unless he or she agrees to stay in the castle for six days and six nights. Given that the members of the family all hate each other’s guts this will of course be an exquisite form of torture, and given the extent of this mutual hatred it may well end up being positively dangerous.

And of course a fierce storm arrives right on cue, the telephone lines are washed way and the roads are cut, and these temporary and unwilling inhabitants of the castle find themselves stranded. And conveniently this means that the killer (and you know there’s going to be a killer) must be one of them.

With the stage set it’s time for the mayhem to start. And there’s plenty of mayhem. A whole series of murders, all carried out in the same way - strangulation with a scarf. The body count is very impressive.

LIke I said, it’s a very familiar basic plot, but what matters in this type of movie is whether a creaky idea can be executed with enough style and enough flair to make it entertaining. Luckily the Edgar Wallace krimis usually had those qualities in abundance and this one is no exception. With Alfred Vohrer directing it’s also nicely paced.

The Wallace krimis also benefited from a pool of talented actors who did these films because there weren’t many other movies being made in West Germany at the time - if you wanted to work you were happy to accept these roles.

This one is a little different from the usual run of Wallace krimis in having an amateur detective rather than a Scotland Yard man having to solve the puzzle. In this case it’s the family solicitor, Mr Tanner. Heinz Drache does a solid job in the role, playing the only character who isn’t a raving maniac. The other cast members get to chew the scenery and they set to their task with enthusiasm. Of course you expect Klaus Kinski to be playing someone who’s completely unhinged, and you won’t be disappointed.

Eddie Arent supplies the comic relief in most of the Rialto krimis. And without the customary English dubbing he’s a lot less annoying. In fact he’s quite good.

With a plentiful supply of bizarre characters, lots of over-acting and some energetic direction it’s all a good deal of fun. And there’s a cute twist ending that may provoke groans but since these films were all approached in a tongue-in-cheek manner it’s actually quite amusing.

Watching one of these movies with the original German soundtrack with English subtitles is quite a revelation. It’s definitely a major improvement. For one thing the comic elements are less clumsy and consequently more effective.

Picture quality is extremely good. This is a DVD I can recommend wholeheartedly - the best DVD presentation I’ve seen of any of the Wallace krimis. And the movie itself is thoroughly enjoyable.

The Indian Scarf comes with both the German soundtrack with optional English subtitles and the English dubbed version. Unfortunately this set, which is volume 4 in the Wallace series, is apparently the only one in which all four movies are presented in English-friendly versions (although I’m told that all of the sets include some movies with English subtitles). In any case this particular set is a must-buy if you’re a Wallace krimi fan.

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