Monday, December 16, 2013

Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee (1962)

... aka: Edgar Wallace: Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee
... aka: Gangster in London
... aka: Gangsters in London
... aka: Geheimnis der roten Orchidee, Das
... aka: Mystery of the Red Orchid, The
... aka: Puzzle of the Red Orchid, The
... aka: Red Orchid, The
... aka: Secret of the Red Orchid, The

Directed by:
Helmut Ashley

In Chicago, a group of gangsters led by the notorious O'Connor are playing cards when they're gunned down by a rival gang, who then toss a grenade into the room to seal the deal. A year later in London, someone is using "American methods" to try to extort money from wealthy businessman. Whoever is doing it is sending a letter of warning to each man (fashioned out of clippings from newspapers) that promises death if they do not comply. The same exact m.o. was used by O'Connor, who's believed to be dead. Since all of the bodies had been blown to bits in Chicago, O'Connor is believed to be among the dead... but is he really? That's just what Chief Tetley (Wolfgang Büttner) and Inspector Weston (Adrian Hoven) at Scotland Yard would like to find out. Thankfully, American FBI agent and gang specialist Captain Allerman (Christopher Lee) happens to be in England and is able to assist in the investigation, which first leads him to the shady Gunnar Steve (Klaus Kinski), who used to work for O'Connor in America but has since relocated to London to open a store.

Meanwhile, elderly Elias Tanner (Fritz Rasp) has received a threatening blackmail letter himself. To ensure his "good for nothing" nephew Edwin (Pinkas Braun), who's been spending all his time traveling the globe looking for rare orchids, doesn't try to hone in on his fortune in case he's killed, he signs everything over to his loyal and much-younger secretary and personal assistant Lilian Ranger (Marisa Mell) instead. Good thing too, because a couple of men posing as detectives barge into the home and gun down Tanner before the police can do much about it. Edwin shows up in town from Brazil just in time for the reading of the will, and he's not too happy he's been shut out. Further complicating matters is the presence of Kerkie Minelli (Eric Pohlmann), the gang leader responsible for killing O'Connor's gang in Chicago the previous year, who has also turned up in London for some strange reason along with his annoying, chatterbox wife Cora (Christiane Nielsen).

A third potential target, Mr. Shelby (Günther Jerschke) participates in a police sting operation that backfires when he is shot and killed. Next up is wealthy widow Mrs. Moore (Sigrid von Richthofen), who tries to flee but dies in a car crash when someone puts a giant mirror in the road to cause her to think she's about to have a head-on collision. Bank manager Mr. Dories, big game hunter and army vet Colonel Droog (Herbert A.E. Böhme) and Lilian herself (who's taken a new job as secretary at Dories' bank) are other recipients of the letter. The rival gangs are not only out to extort non-gang members, but are also at each others' throats and the death toll reaches double digits as American-style crime comes to England. Explosives are hidden in flowers and cigar boxes, a car blows up, an airplane is shot down and there's death by flying knife, razor and by other means. There's also some continual comic relief in the form of repeat offender Eddi Arent as an effete butler named Parker, who ends up working for nearly all the victims and earns himself the nickname "The Death Butler."

One of several dozen West German krimi produced during the 1960s, this is definitely not an exceptional example of its type (nor is it a horror film as sometimes categorized), but it's well made, the cast is pretty good, the plot is busy and it's at least lively enough to keep your attention throughout. As usual, it's based on a novel by Edgar Wallace; in this case "When the Gangs Come to London." Because it contains several international stars of the day who were known outside of German, it's been one of the best-distributed of these types of films. Horror fans in particular will not only note the presence of genre icons Kinski (who filled out the supporting roles of many a red herring in these things) and Lee (who also appeared in the Wallace adaptations The Devil's Daffodil [1961] and Circus of Fear [1966]), but also Hoven (Mark of the Devil [1970]) and Mell (from the Edgar Wallace-adapted giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids [1972]).

The horrendously-dubbed English-language version was prepped by Copri International and bears a 1965 copyright date. DVD distributor Retromedia uses this print of the film, though a better one was released in Germany. Oddly enough, Lee does his own voice in the German cut, but has been dubbed by another actor in the English one.


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