Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Der Gorilla von Soho (1968)

aka Gorilla Gang

A guy in a ruddy gorilla costume wanders through nightly London, killing rich foreigners and leaving their bodies floating in the Thames. Scotland Yard's Sir Arthur (Hubert von Meyerinck), the higher-up in charge in case Siegfried Schürenberg's Sir John is too competent, puts unpleasantly rude Inspector Perkins (a pre-zombification Horst Tappert) and his assistant Sgt Pepper (Uwe Friedrichsen) - seriously - on the case. The policemen's only clue are little dolls with messages in some kind of African language written on them left with the dead bodies. Perkins and Pepper acquire the help of Susan McPherson (Uschi Glas) as a translator of these messages.

A true expert, Susan identifies the language used in the messages as "Tunisian" and translates them into some nonsense of dubious help about gorillas and murder. Still, it's enough to let the cops theorize that the gorilla gang (a gang known to - quite reasonably, I'm sure - dress up as gorillas for their murders and to only commit them during night and fog) has returned.

This being an Edgar Wallace adaptation, Susan will of course help the police out further and get into peril, there will be evil-doers disguised as benefactors running a home for criminal young women trying to get at an inheritance, and more shady characters than you can shake a stick at will try to blackmail and rob each other in a plot as complicated as it is absurd. The inspector's investigation will lead him to a foundation with the excellent name of "Peace and Love for People", and into one of the more peculiar nightclubs anyone will find outside of a Jess Franco movie.

With Der Gorilla von Soho, I again enter the decadent phase of Rialto's Edgar Wallace cycle. Quite unlike the earlier Der Bucklige von Soho, with whom the film at hand shares not only Soho (or rather "Soho") but more than just a few plot points, Der Gorilla is not collapsing under the weight of its own campiness, nor does it wink-wink, nudge-nudge at its audience so often said audience is bound to lose its patience. This time around, director Alfred Vohrer manages to find the right balance between the silly, the poppy, the ridiculous, and the sort of old-fashioned, pulpy thrills that belong into a film that not only features a killer in a gorilla costume, but a killer in a gorilla costume sticking his victims into a drown-o-mat.

The acting here is not quite as artificial and melodramatic as in some of Vohrer's other Wallace adaptations like Die Blaue Hand, but I suspect the director pushed for a slightly (and only slightly, this is still incredibly far from the Method and all it entails, for good and for ill) more naturalistic acting style than was his wont so that the not quite so artificial acting would contrast all the better with the particularly heavy artificiality of the film's sets. Especially the nightclub some of the films shadier characters (and Sir Arthur, of course) frequent is a thing to behold: stuffed with lots of mandatory red lights, and fashioned with a room where interested guests can photograph nude women and men (this time around, there's real  nudity - of both genders! - on screen) who are standing on pedestals "for artistic purposes". Obviously, this is not a club one could imagine to encounter anywhere outside of a movie, and therefore quite a perfect place to encounter inside of a movie.

The film's plot does of course work through the same elements and dramatic arcs as just about every other of the Wallace films. Der Gorilla, though, does its thing with what looks like real enthusiasm, even a willingness to provide as many cheap thrills as the basic conservatism of German filmmaking of its time and place allows, resulting in a film that not only duly presents these thrills, but actually dares to revel in them, as if Vohrer had gotten up one day and thought to himself "why not be earnest about all this silliness this time around". That's - and this will not come as a surprise to anyone reading this, I suspect - exactly the kind of attitude a film needs to show to win my heart. And who am I not to give my heart to a film working this hard for it?


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