The great success that Rialto Studios had with their early Edgar Wallace krimis inspired other German studios to jump on the Wallace bandwagon. The most notable of Rialto’s rivals was CCC, and Curse of the Yellow Snake (Der Fluch der gelben Schlange), dating from 1963, is one of their productions.
The novel on which it’s based was Wallace’s attempt to jump on a bandwagon as well back in 1926. Sax Rohmer had been making a killing with his Fu Manchu novels and Yellow Peril books were big business and inspired many imitators. Wallace’s The Yellow Snake was a pretty good example of the genre and the movie is actually remarkably faithful to the book.
Stephan Narth is a crooked businessman and he’s in big trouble. He’s been speculating with other people’s money and now he needs to find fifty thousand pounds fast. Salvation seems to have arrived when he receives an odd letter from his fabulously wealthy cousin in Hong Kong, Joe Bray. All Narth needs to do is to marry one of his daughters to a man named Clifford Lynn and he will be in a position to get his hands on Joe Bray’s vast fortune when he dies.
Unfortunately Narth’s need of money is immediate and this leads him into the clutches of wealthy businessman Graham St Clay. St Clay will advance him the fifty thousand pounds in return for a few trifling favours. What Narth doesn’t know is that St Clay is half-Chinese, is the son of Joe Bray and the half-brother of Clifford Lynn. Even worse, he doesn’t know that St Clay (or Fing-Su as he is also known) is the leader of a sect of fanatical Chinese known as the Fighting Hands who intend to conquer China by making use of a statue of a yellow snake. The yellow snake guarantees success in battle, provided that the battle commences on a certain propitious day of the year, and that’s when St Clay intends that his conquest of China will begin.
While Narth is making his unlucky deal with St Clay Clifford Lynn arrives in London to marry one of his daughters. His daughter Mabel is not interested but suggests that if Joan (who is Narth’s adopted daughter) can be bullied into marrying Lynn then that will still conform to the letter of Joe Bray’s curious will.
As it happens Clifford and Joan hit it off rather well and are soon madly in love but the Fighting Hands keep trying to kill Clifford and then kidnap Joan. St Clay has decided he will force Joan to marry him. Clifford will need to find a way to rescue Joan and foil St Clay’s ambitions whilst staying alive
This is a slightly unusual krimi in that Scotland Yard plays only a peripheral role in the story. To a large extent it’s up to Clifford Lynn’s unaided efforts to scupper the villain’s plot.
It’s also rather surprising to see Joachim Fuchsberger, who played policemen in so many krimis, playing a civilian. He’s the hero, Clifford Lynn, and as usual turns in a solid performance. Brigitte Grothum makes a good heroine as Joan.
Where this film does resemble the typical krimi is in the strong supporting cast, with Werner Peters as Narth and Pinkas Braun as St Clay being particularly good. Eddi Arendt as usual provides the comic relief. I find Arendt’s performances to be a lot less irritating in German language prints but he’s bearable enough in this one.
Franz Josef Gottlieb directed several krimis including the excellent The Black Abbot and he knows what he’s doing. He does an impressive and stylish job. The action set-pieces are good and it has the right krimi atmosphere of fog and mystery.
The plot is (typically for a krimi) insanely convoluted but it’s great fun and is consistently entertaining. The basic plot idea of the Fighting Hands made more sense back in 1926 when Wallace came up with it. That was the warlord period when China really was up for grabs for unscrupulous adventurers like Graham St Clay and crazed fanatics like the Fighting Hands. In 1963 it was a lot less plausible but the krimis tend to exist in their own parallel universe and such anachronisms don’t matter too much.
The Retromedia DVD is unfortunately the English dubbed version but the good news is that it’s an excellent widescreen print.
Recommended for fans of the Wallace krimis.