Thursday, April 26, 2012

Der Zinker (1963)

aka The Squeaker

Until now the criminal mastermind known as "the Squeaker" has kept his hands off crimes directly involving murder (though sure as hell not from profiting from other people's murders). This laudable state of affair ends when another member of the underworld finds out his (or her) true identity. Just before the man can betray the Squeaker, the fiend kills him with his new favourite implement - a foldable, pressure-driven poison dart thrower loaded with the poison of a black mamba his delightfully named henchman (or is he?) Krishna (Klaus Kinski!) has stolen from the animal storing dungeon (really, that's the only fitting description for that place) belonging to the large animal trader the dear, creepy man is working for.

It seems Scotland Yard has quite enough of the Squeaker's funny business now, and so sends out its smuggest Inspector, Bill Elford (Heinz Drache) to finally catch the guy. It's better this way too, for his first murder seems to have given the Squeaker a new taste for killing. The evil mastermind's now very murderous activities seem to concentrate on the already mentioned animal trading business chaired by Frankie Sutton (Günter Pfitzmann), and the surrounding group of more or less suspicious people and assorted hangers-on, to nobody's surprise played by Wallace adaptation regulars like Barbara Rütting (as a crime writer, not a bar maid), Albert "of course I'm a butler" Bessler, Inge "am I old and eccentric or old and creepy" Langen, Siegfried "nope, not Sir John this week" Schürenberg, Eddi "I'm a reporter (if I'm not a butler)" Arent and other persons of dubious renown. Will the Inspector be able to sort through them before everyone is dead?

After visiting a handful of non-Wallace krimis these last few weeks, I got a mighty hankering to use improbable language to watch some of the undiluted stuff again, and when it comes to that, there's hardly much that's better than Der Zinker, a fine example of director Alfred Vohrer at the height of his powers.

Der Zinker is pretty much all-around awesome, going from scenes of stylish tension, to silly yet well-imagined murders, to scenes of - often even funny - fourth wall breaking humour (the perfect moment of that surely is when Pfitzmann goes to bed while a fantastic piece of Peter Thomas "bada-bada-da" plays loudly on the soundtrack only to stop when the actor turns off the radio the music obviously does not come from), to melodrama that this time around actually works at intensifying the rest of the movie instead of bringing it to a screeching halt. Here, Vohrer manages to unite these disparate elements that make up the krimi genre without going to far into any single direction, giving the same care and attention to the silly stuff (see Eddi Arent buried in snow by Kinski), as to moody scenes of Kinski stalking through the fog, as to creepy scenes of Kinski being a bit too close to his animal friends for comfort. It's a bit like alchemy, if alchemy did know how to make use of Kinski. And did I mention Kinski?

The script by Harald G. Petersson does some rather interesting things with the Wallace adaptation formula too. This time around, the identity of the killer (if not his actions) makes some sort of sense, and the way the film goes about unmasking him is completely different from the usual krimi method of killing off as many characters as possible until there aren't many suspects left. The climax does two surprising things at once: using a krimi cliché character type in an unexpected way, and letting Drache's inspector actually find out who the killer is by a method slightly more hinting at competence than waiting until the heroine has been kidnapped and then stumbling into his lair. In fact, there will not even be a kidnapped heroine. Turns out that building some variations into the (at this point in the Wallace cycle already pretty codified) plotting leads to a more interesting, possibly even exciting, film. Who'd have thunk?

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