Friday, May 25, 2018

Past Misdeeds: Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor (1963)

aka The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Former colonial bureaucrat Lucius Clark (Rudolf Fernau) has found a pretty sweet set-up for himself. He's soon to be knighted for his crimes against humanity/deeds for the British Empire, and spends his life sponging off the money belonging to his niece Claridge Dorsett (the inevitable Karin Dor) which he is uses to rent most of the castle of a certain Lord Blackmoor (Walter Giller). Oh, and he also has an oven full of stolen raw diamonds he's slowly selling off to the - of course - shady bar owner Tavish (Hans Nielsen). Because Clark's lazy, he has hired on ex-con diamond cutter Anthony (Dieter Eppler as Klaus Kinski) as pretend butler, so that everything needed for the illegal diamond trade is happening in house, or rather in castle.

Alas, all good things have to come to an end, and so Clark soon enough finds himself confronted with various problems, most of them connected to his dark past (so it's all his own fault). First and foremost, a masked man who knows quite a lot about Clark's past wants him to hand over the diamonds, and kills whoever gets in his way. That guy, let's call him "The Strangler", strangles his victims and then cuts an "M" into their foreheads before he decapitates them for extra fun and games. Then there's the fact that Tavish, the shady lawyer Tromby (Richard Häussler) and barmaid Judy (Ingmar Zeisberg) - in varying configurations - would very much like to acquire some of Clark's diamonds without having to pay for them. Oh, and did I mention Claridge's colleague Mike (Hans Reiser) and Lord Blackwood are also acting quite suspiciously? Or that Anthony's raving mad, wants to make sweet sweet love to the diamonds, and would prefer to make Clark rich by killing Claridge instead of seeing his boss sell his precioussss?

Fortunately for the blandly innocent Claridge, Scotland Yard sends its most wooden inspector, Jeff Mitchell (Harry "I'm so emotionless, I'm two pieces of wood" Riebauer) to romance her painfully somehow solve the strangler cases.

Der Würger is yet another of those non-Edgar Wallace krimis that are doing their best to emulate the successful formula of the Rialto movies; that's certainly easier to do when you have, like krimi veteran director Harald Reinl does here, a Bryan Edgar Wallace novel to adapt. Edgar Wallace's son did, after all, make a career out of emulating his father and selling his surname to the highest bidder (that frequently being German producer impresario Artur "Atze" Brauner, who is as close to one of the eccentric producer impresarios of the US and the UK as we Germans ever got), so the shoe fits perfectly well.

Of course, with the sort of movies I generally champion, keeping as close to a successful formula as possible is not necessarily a bad thing as long as one knows what to do with it. Reinl (and scriptwriters Ladislas Fodor and Gustav Kampendonk, both men of excellent names, interesting filmographies, and a talent for writing absurdly confusing scripts) is as good at producing excellent, low budgeted entertainment out of a formula as one can be. Whenever I praise one of Reinl's krimis, I mention his highly mobile camera, his talent for serial-like action sequences and the noir-like mood of the slower scenes (often also thanks to cinematographer Ernst W. Kalinke), and these three elements are again what turn Der Würger into a pretty great time.

Sure, the action isn't quite as good and frequent as in some of Reinl's higher budgeted Rialto productions, but what is there of it is as exciting as action in German movies of this period (or, frankly, any period, for German director almost always just suck at this sort of thing) gets, showing off some nicely creative touches.

The art direction also isn't quite up to the Rialto standards; fake Britain is not as playfully fake as it sometimes gets, nor does the film show quite the absurd imagination of its big predecessors. There's your standard castle, there's fog, there's a boring bar, and for most of the film's running time, that's perfectly enough to put me in the not-Britain of the krimis.

The film's other big flaw is clearly the acting. While German movies of this period always tend to the stiff and slightly melodramatic, most of the performances here are just the decided bit stiffer than usual (that might vary with the dubbed versions, of course); the performances aren't horrible, they're just not as good as the could be. There are two exceptions to that in the cast: Riebauer who plays exactly the same character Heinz Drache or Joachim Fuchsberger usually played lacks so heavily in charisma I have a hard time understanding why anybody would want to cast him as anything, not to speak of as the male lead, while Dietler Eppler may not be a Klaus Kinski, but sure as hell does his utmost to channel the great actor's spirit by ranting, raving and making bug eyes at Karin Dor, something I do heartily approve of.

I also do approve of the production's peculiar choice of soundtrack. The krimis always had a tendency to involve some of the better German film composers like Martin Böttcher and the godly Peter Thomas, but Der Würger goes one step further by (like a few other films did) employing the pioneer of electronic music Oskar Sala, co-inventor of the Trautonium and all-around eccentric musical genius. His weird, abstract electronic score probably isn't what one would expect to hear in a piece of pulpy entertainment like this (some of Sala's musical decisions seem somewhat perverse) but it's often exactly what the film needs to feel more unique than it actually is. Sala's music even turns what may be the most boring bar in the krimi genre into a place of weirdness and (slight) wonder.

Now, even though I've been pretty critical about nearly every part of the movie, I do like Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor quite a bit, even ignoring Sala's and Eppler's contributions. The film may not be quite up to the standards of the best of the Rialto Wallace krimis, but those films are as good as this genre gets; Der Würger may not be quite as excellent, yet it's still an all-around fun film despite all of its flaws.

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