Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Zimmer 13 (1964)

aka Room 13

Evil mastermind Joe Legge (Richard Häussler) returns to his native London with plans for a Great Train Robbery. Because of a mysterious shared past he is able to blackmail pillar of society Sir Marney (Walter Rilla) into providing a hiding place for the loot once the deed will be done. Marney isn’t happy at all with this and hires two-fisted private eye Johnny Gray (Joachim Fuchsberger) to take care of business. At the same time, a black-gloved killer is slitting female throats with a razor that just might belong to Sir Marney.

Gray will need to hit various people in the face, romance Sir Marney’s daughter Denise (Karin Dor), and pal around with comic relief crime scene forensic Dr Higgins (Eddi Arent) to get behind what’s really going on. Gray isn’t helped by the police investigation into the matter being pursued by Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg) himself, nor the fact that his client quickly decides hiring him was a very bad idea.

If you’re among those people who are understandably a bit sceptical about the influence the German krimi had on the Italian giallo (before the giallo started to influence the krimi right back), watching Zimmer 13 will probably clear up all doubts, for its side plot about the razor killer – including the identity of the killer and the explanation for their madness - is pretty much exactly what you’d get a few years later from the Italians, just not as stylishly and sleazily done here, and unfortunately made by people who really rather seem to prefer the train robbery business. Still, the influence is obvious.

Apart from the influence game, Harald Reinl’s film is one of the lesser known Rialto Wallace films, probably because it’s another one of the cycle’s films that very much is a thing all its own instead of a repetition of the best beloved elements of half of the other films, with no masked pulp mastermind hiding in an bizarre lair (Legge’s really just a clever criminal, and working from a nightclub), no curious murder methods, and not even a proper threatened heiress. The resulting film still goes for a pulp/serial type of enthusiasm (which is much preferable to the few attempts to make a “realistic” Wallace film in the Rialto cycle, because those turned all out rather awful and pretty darn boring), but where the core Wallace films are very much weird crime pulpy goodness, Zimmer 13 is more Gangbusters than the Shadow.

This certainly might be a problem in a film that doesn’t actually deliver on the required amount of fisticuffs, car chases, shoot-outs and train robberies. Fortunately, it’s this slightly more straight stuff Harald Reinl was best at, so Fuchsberger and company find themselves in a film much faster and rather less talky than usual in Germany, with seldom more than two scenes going by before some sort of outward excitement happens. Even better, the action is as good as a German filmmaker of the time could provide, so even as a hardcore fan of mysterious people in masks, I found myself rather too entertained by the stuff on screen to complain about the lack of Blue Archers or Hogs with Masks.

I found myself also rather pleased with the way the proto-giallo subplot went, even somewhat subverting the way basically every other Rialto Wallace film ends. Add to that a bit of the cycle-mandated off-beat weirdness like Eddi Arent’s (whose character is once again even doing something beyond being funny or “funny”) sexual relationship to a manikin, a Peter Thomas score that sounds more peculiar the closer you listen, an adorable strip tease (though one Alfred Vohrer would have done more with) and the expected professionalism in front of and behind the camera, and you’ll find me enjoying myself quite a bit with this one.

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