Saturday, May 17, 2014

In short: Das Gasthaus an der Themse (1962)

aka The Inn on the River

A smuggling mastermind called The Shark perturbs the London police. His hobbies are harpooning people, diving through the London sewer system, and being quite mysterious.

London’s River Police has put their best man (?) on the case, as well as young, energetic Inspector Wade (Joachim Fuchsberger), who is so good at pretending to be competent while always coming too late to catch his man, even Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg) kind of likes him. Wade concentrates his investigation on the Mekka, the shady Thames-bordering inn of Nelly Oaks (Elisabeth Flickenschildt). Though he can’t prove anything, Wade feels sure she is in league with the Shark. Plus, Wade has taken quite a shine to Oaks’s underage (but just barely) niece Leila Smith (Brigitte Grothum).

Wade might even be right with his suspicions about the inn, for the place is nearly bursting with the usual Wallace adaptation suspects. Just take shady spice merchant Gregor Gubanow (Klaus Kinski), always sweating, sneaking around, and dressed as if he were somewhere in the Colonies. Or Mr. Broen (Heinz Engelmann), a man supposedly a friend of Leila’s dead mother, but clearly a very particular kind of gold digger. If you know your Wallace adaptations, you might imagine there’s a plot line about some kind of large inheritance too, and most of the suspects won’t survive the course of the movie, and you will be absolutely right.

I have praised the Rialto Wallace adaptations directed by Alfred Vohrer (as well as those of Harald Reinl, of course) quite a bit during the last few years, often as films that come to terms with the problems of genre film in Germany despite on the surface having all of these problems.

Das Gasthaus an der Themse is no exception to this, with Vohrer using very German weaknesses like a very particular type of stiffness in many of the performances to create a slightly weird, never naturalistic world all his own, the only place where the film’s also very German ideas about the ways of the United Kingdom could actually fit into, because they sure as hell don’t have anything to do with reality. Fortunately, I always found reality to be badly overrated, and the world of the better Rialto Wallace adaptations quite delightful (unless you’re the one getting harpooned), so Vohrer’s approach does suit me very well.

At this point in the cycle, its rampant irony, silliness, and weirdness weren’t as overwhelming as they’d become later on (for better and for worse), so it’s not difficult to enjoy Das Gasthaus as a pleasantly skewed bit of pulp entertainment, with a typically fun performance by Fuchsberger, a typically bland female lead, the rest of the case, particularly Flickenschildt and Kinski, strutting their stuff with scenery-devouring enthusiasm, and Eddi Arent popping in from time to time to make lame yet not particularly painful jokes (he has been better as well as worse). All taking place in some always interestingly shot locations and sets that combine conscious fakeness with a sense for the telling detail.

Of course, Vohrer always was Vohrer, so you can also expect many shots of eyes peaking through this or that hole, extravagant blocking, and an ability to make full use of Karl Löb’s fine photography to create moods of whimsy as well as pleasant excitement. For me, Das Gasthaus an der Themse’s aesthetic is a lot like a comfortable shoe, and who’d complain about that?

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