Sunday, September 4, 2011

Der Bucklige von Soho (1966)

aka The Hunchback of Soho

A mysterious hunchback (Richard Haller) haunts Soho, strangling young women. All of the victims have curiously rough hands, but that's not a hint that leads Scotland Yard's leading puffed-up idiot Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg), nor the notoriously crap at keeping people alive Inspector Hopkins (Günther Stoll) anywhere, probably because they don't actually seem to be looking. Hopkins repeatedly prefers to do his washing to investigation.

At the same time, young Wanda Merville (Monika Peitsch) arrives in London to accept the inheritance of her rich, estranged father. This being an Edgar Wallace adaptation, Wanda is promptly kidnapped by the shady Alan Davis (Pinkas Braun), who doesn't hide her away like a normal gangster would, but inters the girl in the home for young women who have come into contact with the wrong side of the law he's managing for the elderly Lady Perkins (Agnes Windeck). Lady Perkins also just happens to be Wanda's aunt, which may or may not be mere chance.

Davis (and one or more mysterious partners) has quite an operation going on: he uses the girls in his home as slave workers in the dry cleaning business (of course only using the cheapest detergents - yes, that's a plot point), and the best they can hope for (apart from getting killed by the strangler who of course works for Davis, too) is to become prostitutes in a friendly bordello.

How will Hopkins solve this difficult case?

Der Bucklige von Soho is the first film in Rialto Film's cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations that was shot in colour, so of course it is often the film that is pointed out as the one beginning point of the series' downward spiral. I'd agree with that particular theory a lot more if the films following Der Bucklige had all been worse than those that came before, or if all Wallace films that came before it had been better. In truth, the Wallace films don't really lend themselves very well to that sort of narrative, because to me, their biggest weakness was their unwillingness to change their style very much over time, a handful of outliers notwithstanding.

Sure, the later films in the cycle were somewhat more convoluted than the early ones, and they did take themselves even less seriously than the early ones, but this isn't so much the case of a series of films changing for the worse over time than a series of films concentrating even more on their main characteristics. Even the change from black and white to colour as exemplified in Der Bucklige is not quite as extreme a change in visual style as it could have been - it's not as if the Wallace films were suddenly turned on their heads by the sensational new technology they found.

Having said that, I'll have to agree with general consensus that Alfred Vohrer's Der Bucklige von Soho just isn't a very entertaining movie. It's an example of a particular weakness in German genre filmmaking (something that has - generally - made German movies not produced for the arthouse rather crap), a weakness I can best describe as cowardice. Der Bucklige, like so many other films made in my native country, is a movie that seems to really, truly want to be a real, true exploitation film, seeing as it contains potentially lurid elements of women in prison cinema, sexploitation, horror, what was already the Eurospy movie, and so on, and so forth. However, also like so many other films made in my native country, it is also a film that does not dare take the final step into the lurid, that always promises to become sleazy, but always stops itself before it actually commits and never is anything more than a bit naughty.

It's this unwillingness to not just promise exploitational values, but to actually deliver them that can make some of the Wallace films (and most other German genre films) so very frustrating - they're always teasing, but never take themselves seriously enough to let their teasing lead anywhere.

The Wallace films didn't suffer from this problem quite as much as the rest of German cinema, and often seemed feeling just fine with being low-brow/trashy/what-have-you. Other films of the series somewhat manage to overcome this flaw by virtue of creative direction, a sense of weirdness that comes from their overexcited and confused plotting, and the general feel that everyone involved had a hell of a time making them. Der Bucklige, however, mostly feels tired and distracted, with Vohrer only managing to provide two or three scenes that actually feel as strange or as fun as the whole film should. There's some fine "look, Ma! I'm evil" acting by (usually playing "comic" relief parts in these films, so there's some creativity there) Eddi Arent, at least, and some of Vohrer's mandatory zoom lens mangling (I suspect in a different life, Vohrer would have loved to go the Jess Franco way and zoom in on female pubic hair a lot, instead of ending up directing Die Schwarzwaldklinik), but that's not really enough to make Der Bucklige von Soho one of the Rialto Wallaces I'd recommend to anyone but completists.


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