Sunday, December 9, 2012

Die Weiße Spinne (1963)

aka The White Spider

The gambling addicted husband of Muriel Irvine (Karin Dor) has a car accident that leaves him quite exploded. The only way to identify his body is via his miraculously safe talisman, a white spider made of glass. Despite Muriel and her husband not having had the best of marriages, hubby's death is not the start of happier times for her. The company responsible for her husband's life insurance delays the payment of a much larger sum than Muriel had expected because they suspect something isn't right about the accident, and Scotland Yard starts poking around.

Or rather, Inspector Dawson (Paul Klinger) of Scotland Yard does. The policeman is convinced a murder syndicate has established itself in London, delivering murders that look like accidents, and - perhaps not the best idea when you want to actually have your murders look like accidents - leaving behind white glass spiders as their calling card. Dawson soon is killed by one among the half dozen bad guys who are all played by Dieter Eppler (and if you think that's a spoiler, I really don't know what to say).

Scotland Yard's boss Sir James (Friedrich Schoenfelder) decides to give the case to a secretive Australian master criminalist who hides his face behind blinding spotlights and has methods decidedly related to those of the criminal mastermind behind the white spider business. I'm sure he has nothing at all to do with Ralph Hubbard (Joachim Fuchsberger), an ex-con who - depending on one's tastes - charms or slithers around Muriel in the social worker job provided by another Dieter Eppler she has to take. Muriel's other problems include the possibility that her husband is still alive and Scotland Yard will think her to be his accomplice in insurance fraud, another ex-con with the charming name of "Kiddie" Phelips (Horst Frank), and a criminal mastermind with a thousand faces that all look like Dieter Eppler's who has grown quite fond of her and is much worse at romancing than Hubbard is, though makes up for that by turning out to be very adept at killing people with his favourite wire noose.

Now, all this may sound as if we were in the presence of another Edgar Wallace adaptation, but in truth Die weiße Spinne belongs to the number of German krimis of the 60s in the business of keeping as close to Rialto's Wallace movie style as possible while only shelling out for a novelistic source by Louis Weinert-Wilton. Not that you'd really find much of a difference, especially since this was written by Egon Eis who was also responsible for writing the earliest Rialto Wallace films. Eis, knowing what is expected of him, does not change anything of the krimi's established style. It's the German version of pulp mystery through and through, with all the curious ideas about the UK and stiff-necked melodramatics one expects here. So of course, Die weiße Spinne features the fun convoluted plot full of mildly inventive contraptions and too complicated evil plans one also expects.

Other Wallace veterans are involved too. The film is directed by Harald Reinl, whose films in the genre usually put the emphasis on fast pace and show a particular talent for and love of doing the more pulpy and outlandish elements in his films justice. Reinl can't quite bring all of his usual visual imagination to bear here, though. Neither Ernst H. Albrecht's production design nor Werner M. Lenz's cinematography (both man weren't very deeply involved in the krimi) are quite on the level of their Rialto counterparts, making the lower budget of the second row krimis quite visible in places. Even so, not quite living up to the standards set by the best part of popular German cinema of that era still leaves us with a film that always has something interesting to look at, which is as much as I'd ask of a second row krimi.

Another Rialto Wallace alumni working on the film is Peter Thomas. Thomas is generally the weirder of the two main krimi soundtrack composers, with Martin Böttcher usually providing somewhat straighter yet not weaker scores. In the case of Die Weiße Spinne, though, Thomas goes for an archetypal, horn-driven style that sounds exactly like you imagine a krimi soundtrack to sound. It's not exactly inspired work but it gets the job done.

Finally, you'll also know just about anyone on screen from playing similar roles in the Rialto Wallace films: Fuchsberger is charming and two-fisted, Dor very pretty but cursed with a horrible thing for mistaking woodenly opening her eyes really wide with effective melodramatic acting (honestly, it might be an irrational dislike for the actress speaking here, but she's so wooden, Anthony Steffen playing a wooden Indian would be less like a piece of wood), Eppler the least thousand-faced man with a thousand faces imaginable but always fun to watch, be it in bad brown-face as a Sikh or in bald eye-patched main henchman mode, and Horst Frank his usual entertaining psycho.

That's not enough to make for one of the top spots in krimi history, but it sure as hell makes for an entertaining ninety minutes.

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