Saturday, October 19, 2013

In short: Die Schwarze Kobra (1963)

aka The Black Cobra

Truck driver Peter Kramer (Adrian Hoven) is having a bad week: his latest cargo turns out to be drugs oh so cleverly disguised as washing powder, the owner of the cargo, a gangster known as The Corse, makes a very rude front-seat passenger, and then a competing gang working for the Syndicate kills the Corse right in front of Peter's eyes to boot. Which of course makes poor Peter a risk for the gangsters.

Soon enough, Peter finds himself alternately fleeing the Syndicate, the former gang of the Corse, and the police. Because this is that kind of movie, what ensues is mostly a series of kidnappings and re-kidnappings of Peter's girlfriend Alexa (Ann Smyrner) by the various factions, while Klaus Kinski betrays one gang to the other so he can snort that sweet, sweet coke. Also an appearance make Klaus Löwitsch as "Boogie", the violent pumped-up coke fiend to Kinski's snivelling one, a mysterious police undercover agent, a mute thug named Goba (Michel Ujevic), a knife-throwing Herbert Fux, mildly eccentric policemen (Paul Dahlke and Peter Vogel, the latter doing a milder version of the traditional Eddi Arent bit), Peter's former box champion now roadside rest stop animal show owner friend Punkti (Ady Berber), and a cobra (well, for one scene).

Obviously, Rudolf Zehetgruber's Die Schwarze Kobra is another non-Edgar Wallace krimi attempting to catch a bit of the commercial fire of the Rialto movies. Despite being shot in Vienna and at least nominally being an Austrian film, Zehetgruber's film features many of the usual faces in the more or less usual roles. The German language genre film world wasn't big after all, and really, when you can hire Kinski to do some snivelling, you do hire Kinski to do some snivelling.

Stylistically, this is - of course - much less intricately styled than the Rialto films were, with some okay sets and locations but also a handful of rather impoverished looking ones. The visual influences of and parallels to noir and gothic are mostly rather minor; moodiness, it seems did not stand high on Zehetgruber's list of things to include. Instead, the director does his best to make up for a very silly and often inappropriately melodramatic script (so one quite typical of German as well as Austrian genre writing), by getting as energetic as genre films of its place and era got. He's not quite as elegant at it as Harald Reinl was in comparable Wallace movies but the resulting film still is pleasantly fast-paced and action-filled. Sure, the fight choreography and quality of the stunt work (such as it is), isn't anything intricate, but the film had no problems convincing me that watching two big, slow man ponderously and very visibly not hitting each other in a fight was a rather fun thing, soon to be followed by other fun things, which is really all I expect of pulp-y krimis.

After having seen Die Schwarze Kobra I'm not at all surprised Zehetgruber would go on to direct a few of the Komissar X movies. While not being quite as enjoyable and pop as the later films, Die Schwarze Kobra is clearly the product of exactly the sort of sensibility best suited to bringing to live that particular series of cult film fan favourites, and therefore a fine way to spend ninety minutes.

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