Sunday, April 28, 2013

Das Indische Tuch (1963)

aka The Indian Scarf

After Lord Lebanon dies of a heart attack that looks a lot like him being strangled with a scarf, a rather large group of disparate family members is called together for the reading of his will by lawyer Frank Tanner (Heinz Drache). Lebanon's wife, Lady Emily (Elisabeth Flickenschildt) and her obsessive pianist son Edward (Hans Clarin) aren't too happy to share their inheritance with people like the Lord's bastard son Peter Ross (Klaus Kinski), the pretty young Isla (Corny Collins), explorer Sir Henry (Siegfried Schürenberg for once not working for the Yard), or Mrs Tilling (Gisela Uhlen) who is - gasp! - married, unhappily so, to an American (Hans Nielsen).

However, before Tanner is actually allowed to read the will and anyone is coming into one's fortune, the whole family has to spend six days and six nights in the family manor in Scotland together. Soon, it looks like one among the gathered - perhaps with the help of butler Bonwit (Eddi Arent, of course) or handyman Chiko (Ady Berber)? - would really rather prefer a larger share of the inheritance and begins to strangle a family member per night with one among the numerous Indian scarfs in the house.

Thanks to a fortuitously arrived storm front, the mansion is cut off from the outside world, so it falls to Tanner to play amateur detective and find out who is killing off people left and right before nobody is left to read a will to.

Das Indische Tuch is far from your typical Rialto Edgar Wallace adaptation (except for the number of murders, of course), for it rather prefers to be your typical old dark house movie, despite a deplorable lack of men in gorilla suits. It's a nice change-up for the series, and, given the small number of necessary sets, was probably also a nice way for Rialto to save a little cash. Why, even the mandatory outside shot of the old dark house is replaced with a highly theatrical slide in an act of conscious artificiality.

That sort of artificiality is of course something director Alfred Vohrer excelled at, and he consequently uses Das Indische Tuch to wallow in everything anti-naturalistic he loves so well - dramatic zooms, cameras positioned at curious places and angles, lots of shots of people peeping at other people through various holes, steaming phallus-shaped objects, and moments of what Germany in the early 60s imagined to be risqué filmmaking that look all the more awkward because they're positioned among so many sexual symbols.

Vohrer, ably assisted by production designers Walter Kutz and Wilhelm Vorwerg, also loves to include never explained, utterly weird details in the sets, like the gigantic Beethoven bust (who knew Beethoven's head was that of a three meter giant?) standing behind Hans Clarin's piano, and the stuffed horse taking up a third of the music room. The Vohrer-typical moments of high melodrama are more often than not pulled in rather ironic directions by these curious elements of the film - creepy and loud mother/son relationships take on a rather funny dimension when played out in front of a stuffed horse.

The film also finds time to update the rule of Chekhov's Gun to that of Vohrer's Tarantula, gives Kinski and Clarin time to show off their respective skills at making crazy-eyes, teaches us that all artists as well as all members of noble families who aren't young women for the leading man to romance are crazy, includes an often absurdly chipper Peter Thomas score, and ends on one of those silly, self-conscious notes Vohrer loved so dearly.

Needless to say, Das Indische Tuch feels often even more like a black comedy than your usual Vohrer krimi, but since I found myself laughing about its jokes and strange digressions more often than not, I don't think that's a bad thing. After all, how could one make an old dark house movie in 1963 while keeping a straight face?

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