Friday, 2 June 2023
The Red Circle (Der rote Kreis, 1960)
The movie starts with an execution in France. Or at least an attempted execution. We then jump forward several years, to London. Scotland Yard is perplexed by a major blackmailing racket, with the blackmail leading to murder in a disturbing number of cases. Blackmail victims who don’t pay up end up dead. The Red Circle is responsible for these crimes, but nobody knows if this is a single individual or a gang.
Of course in an Edgar Wallace story you’re likely to have a rich elderly man (in this case he’s a man named Beardmore), and some question about the inheritance he will leave when his time comes. His only obvious heir is his nephew Jack (Thomas Alder), whom he despises.
Jack has been spending a lot of time with a Miss Drummond (Renate Ewert), secretary to a neighbour named Froyant. This interests Chief Inspector Parr (Karl-Georg Saebisch) a good deal. Miss Drummond is well known to the Yard as a successful and daring thief. Jack has been instructing her in archery, which will later have some significance.
Beardmore is one of the Red Circle’s intended victims and he’s a cantankerous old man who has no intention whatsoever of paying up.
Another intended victim is Lady Doringham, the rich and not entirely faithful wife of a much older very rich man. She appeals to Scotland Yard for help.
Chief Inspector Parr finds himself having to work with a private detective, Derrick Yale (Klausjürgen Wussow). His superiors at the Yard believe he’ll need help on this case. Parr isn’t thrilled, although he admits that Derrick is a fine detective.
The body count rises steadily. The Red Circle is always one jump ahead of the police. Embarrassingly, some of the victims are killed right under the noses of the police.
There are at least four possible suspects, all equally plausible.
Compared to the first Rialto krimi Der Frosch mit der Maske (Face of the Frog) this one had a different distributor, a different director (Jürgen Roland replacing Harald Reinl) and a totally different cast. In spite of this you can see the krimi starting to emerge as a distinctive genre. Outrageous plotting, lots of style and some nice visual set-pieces. And with just enough of a tongue-in-cheek quality without going overboard.
Jürgen Roland is certainly more than competent as director and went on to make a couple more movies in the series.
Eddi Arent is the only familiar face from the first time. If you’ve only seen the English-dubbed versions of these movies you probably hate Eddi Arent and think he’s the most irritating comic relief actor in movie history. I hated him too, but it turns out that the problem was that he was so horribly dubbed in English. Much to my surprise, when I started watching these movies in the German-language versions with English subtitles I started to really like Eddi Arent.
The other cast members are very good, with Renate Ewert being particularly good as the sexy bad girl.
The plot is complicated, with plenty of red herrings. It’s best not to worry too much about the coherence of the plot. What matters is that it’s fun. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The German Tobis Blu-Ray (in one of their three-disc Edgar Wallace sets) offers the movie in both the English-dubbed version and in German with English subtitles. I very strongly urge you to watch the subtitled version. The transfer is anamorphic and looks lovely. It’s such a pleasure to see these movies looking so fantastic. They’re movies that rely so much on stylish visuals that you really can’t appreciate them in some of the horrible pan-and-scanned DVDs that have been floating around for years. And the Tobis Blu-Rays are very easily obtainable.
The Red Circle is an excellent early krimi. Well-crafted and well-paced and wildly and deliriously entertaining. Highly recommended.