Thursday, June 19, 2014

In short: Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee (1962)

aka Secret of the Red Orchid

In a development that’s enough to make one’s bowler rotate, two rival American blackmail gangs, or in one case what’s left of one, make their way to the shores of London and start their brutal ways there. Scotland Yard is shocked, because clearly, before the Americans came, there was no violent crime, and certainly no machine gun murders, in peaceful straight-laced Great Rialto Britain.

Inspector Weston (Adrian “Boring” Hoven) is on the case, though, and seeks the occasional help of FBI man Captain (look, I didn’t write the script) Allerman (Christopher “The American” Lee), who helps out as much as the budget allows. Hilarity in form of murder ensues.

As much as I agree with the early Rialto Wallace adaptation cycle’s attempt to not deliver films completely to one formula, it’s difficult to ignore most of the films that were really mixing up things just ended up like Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee, which is to say, not very good.

Part of this particular film’s problems surely is Helmut Ashley’s technically competent but stylistically uninvolving direction that recommended the man for the career in indifferent German TV direction jobs he took up soon after. Where Rialto Wallace core directors Reinl and Vohrer (both later TV victims themselves) always demonstrated the kind of style and personality that effortlessly turns silliness and distractible scripts into assets, Ashley’s attempts at something comparable feel much more like a series of tonally disparate scenes, following a plot nobody involved actually cared about. Even the identity of the evil mastermind – as much as the film even has one – is obvious even to the dumb very early on, making a lot of the plot’s contortions look like pointless ways to prolong the inevitable.

Das Rätsel is not horrible, though. Apart from the film’s basic competence, there are some actually fun moments hidden behind the indifference. At least one third of Eddi Arent’s humorous shenanigans are actually funny, Kinski (playing a gangster called “Pretty Steve”, if you can believe it) seems in a particularly good mood, the Peter Thomas soundtrack is groovy before groovy was invented, a pre-Italian exploitation movie Marisa Mell demonstrates how much better her acting got a few years later, and Christopher Lee’s German is pretty fine. Of course, Lee also seems bored, and Adrian Hoven wins the no-prize of “dullest Wallace adaptation Inspector” but then you can’t win all the time, or so I’m told.

I have to admit, I would have hoped a film adding fake-Americans to the bizarre fake-England of the Rialto Wallace films would be rather more exciting but then I didn’t expect the fake-Americans to be this less interesting. So it really is true you can’t win them all.

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