A very very rich old man is dying. He considers his children to be a sorry lot (and as we will find out his judgment is spot on) so he writes them out of his will. His home, Darkwood Hall, will go to his daughter Patricia so she can continue to run her girls’ boarding school but the rest of his vast estate will go to his beloved granddaughter Gwendolin (played by krimi regular Karin Dor).
The will goes missing. Without a will the estate will be divided equally between the children, except for Gwendolin’s father who is serving a life sentence for murder.
One of the sons has come up with a rather nasty scheme. And Patricia’s oily son Ronny has come up with a nefarious scheme of his own. There’s obviously plenty of potential for trouble, and just as obviously there are going to be quite a few people with motives for murder and other crimes.
Patricia invites Gwendolin to stay at Darkwood Hall. Most of the schoolgirls are on holiday but about a dozen have no place to go during the holidays so they remain at Darkwood Hall.
Ronny starts putting the moves on Gwendolin right away, as part of his plan.
At about this time the monk makes his appearance. The legendary monk of Darkwood Hall is the ghost of a long-dead monk (Darkwood Hall was at one time a monastery). Of course in an Edgar Wallace krimi we tend to suspect that ghosts are not necessarily actual ghosts.
A Scotland Yard inspector has an unfortunate encounter with the monk, not far from Darkwood Hall. Scotland Yard is now very interested in this case.
And then the bodies slowly start to accumulate.
Apart from the family members (all of whom are potential suspects) there are other suspicious characters hanging about. There’s Monsieur d’Arol (Kurd Pieritz), the newly arrived French master who behaves rather oddly. There’s Mr Short (Rudolf Schündler), an artist who rents a room at Darkwood Hall. He could be an eccentric but harmless old gentleman or he could be a raving loony. There’s the school butler Smitty. Since Smitty is played by Eddi Arent we assume he’s one of the good guys but there’s still the chance he’s not what he appears to be. There are strange men lurking in the woods. And of course there’s The Monk.
That missing will provides a motive for murder but there are other possibilities, other nefarious schemes that may be hatching at Darkwood Hall.
Pretty soon the schoolgirls start getting drawn into the action although it’s not clear whether they’re innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire or whether someone has some reason for targeting one or more of the girls. One of the girls, the glamorous Lola, seems to be mixed up in something but whether as victim or conspirator is not clear. Lola carries a water pistol for protection. You might think that a water pistol would not be much protection for a girl but Lola has filled it with sulphuric acid making it a very nasty little weapon. And Lola is prepared to use it.
Mr Short’s pigeons also arouse the curiosity of Scotland Yard.
Sir John of Scotland Yard (Siegfried Schürenberg) is very worried. He has to find a murderer, and as well he has to protect not just Gwendolin but a dozen schoolgirls. Inspector Black (Harald Leipnitz) seems confident at first but soon he has things to worry about, such as staying alive.
The plot has several strands to it and lots of twists. Even as the bodies pile up we’re still left with multiple suspects and the eventual solution is both neat and outrageous.
Harald Reinl was one of the two best directors employed by Rialto on their krimi series (along with Alfred Vohrer). In this movie he keeps the action moving along briskly and keeps the complex plot fairly coherent.
Mention should be made of Peter Thomas’s totally bizarre score.
This was an important movie in the history of the krimi genre. It was director Harald Reinl’s final krimi, it was Karin Dor’s last appearance in the series, and it was the last of the Rialto krimis to be shot in black-and-white. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
The German Tobis Blu-Ray Edition 3 includes this movie and two others, Der Schwarze Abbot (The Black Abbot) and Der Mönck mit der Peitsche (The College Girl Murders). All three movies come with multiple language options including German with English subtitles and English-dubbed versions. The transfer is excellent.
The Sinister Monk ended the black-and-white era on a high note. Lots of gothic atmosphere, some real horror, a fine plot. Highly recommended.