Archive for Harald Reinl

What a Shocker!

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2008 by dcairns

Warning: this post contains what the MPAA calls pervasive language.

The mystery film from which the picture-quotes came is pretty obscure: it’s an Edgar Wallace Mystery Theater presentation called CLUE OF THE NEW PIN.

Edgar Wallace was an amazingly popular British thriller author in the twenties and thirties. As prolific as he was successful, he churned out all kinds of “shockers” — at one point it was estimated that a quarter of all books sold in the UK were by Edgar Wallace. Can this be true?

Wallace’s books were popular with the movies immediately — there’s a somewhat well-known film of his DEAD EYES OF LONDON starring Bela Lugosi, and Wallace even directed a couple of adaptations himself. His books are short on characterisation and nuance, long on suspense and action — they play neatly into the B-movie format (though some of the best Bs do have sophisticated characterisation and subtleties of all kinds). Wallace was eventually invited to Hollywood to work on the screenplay of KING KONG, but died soon after arriving. It’s been suggested that he hadn’t written a word of the script at the time of his death, but producer Merian C. Cooper kept his credit on the film because his name was box office.

Wallace adaptations faded from view somewhat in the ’40s and ’50s, then suddenly surged back, with two simultaneous series of films. In West Germany, the popular genre of krimi films most frequently derived from Wallace-penned sources. A clear fore-runner of the Italian giallo, these pulpy crime thrillers, with horror movie elements, were huge in Germany and mostly unseen elsewhere. Fritz Lang’s final film, THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR MABUSE, fits right into this genre — krimi maestro Harald Reinl directed two sequels to it.

At around the same time, British cinemas saw a series of “second features” — ie, B-movies, updated from Wallace novels. Cheaply and quickly made, they used new talent (“New talent works cheap,” — Roger Corman) and relied on Wallace’s name and expert plotting rather than star power. The films were then re-packaged for US TV as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theater.

The link between CLUE OF THE NEW PIN and our last Clues feature, GIRL IN THE HEADLINES, is the presence of James Villiers, cast once again as a fey television personality. But here he’s actually the hero, and he’s apparently not meant to be gay, though the way he proposes marriage to the leading lady after meeting her twice would ordinarily make me suspicious.

We begin with a creepy bust of Edgar W looming from studio fog to the sound of some superb Bondian music by The Shadows— I don’t know if it’s an original composition but I suggest Hank Marvin should immediately retitle it The Mystery of the Twanging Guitar. It’s the last hint of modernity here, as we promptly plunge into a 1930s universe transplanted wantonly to 1961 via Merton Film Studios.

The story is a classic locked room mystery with a genuinely smart solution which, unfortunately, we learn half an hour before the end. And since the characters are wafer-thin chipboard effigies there’s not much chance of our keen interest surviving the revelation, so the whole thing trundles to an abrupt conclusion. But Villiers is a joy to behold.

As promised, my James Villiers story. I’ve no idea if it’s true, and I don’t want to be done for slander or libel or blogamy, so names will be changed to protect the guilty.

Villiers, according to this overheard anecdote, is appearing in a movie helmed by unacclaimed maestro Michael Victor (not his real name), director of trashy British comedies and trashy American thrillers. James V is waiting to do his scene when Herr Director appears on the set at the start of the day.

“Good morning Michael!” says a young actress, brightly.

“It’s MISTER VICTOR to you,” snaps the director of DEATH HOPE (not its real title), “and I hope your performance in front of the cameras today will be better than your performance in bed last night.”

At which point the heroic Villiers draws himself up to his full height and intones, “MISTER VICTOR, you are a dreadful cunt and I’m not going to work for you anymore.” And walks off.

Panic. Villiers’ part is unfinished. They need him. Worse, somebody remembers that he’s part of the English aristocracy, not short of a few quid, and he really doesn’t care if he gets blacklisted for breaking his contract. A panic meeting is called. Villiers begins by getting on the phone to his agent.

“Hello? Yes, I’m sitting here with that dreadful cunt Michael Victor. I’m walking off his awful film and you must back me.”

Pleading ensues. Apologies are tended. Feelings massaged. Finally, Villiers concedes, “Alright, I’ll finish your awful film, but THAT MAN is not to speak to me again.”

Victor finishes the film by conveying his directions to Villiers through an intermediary: “Mr. Victor asks if you could possibly…” etc, replied to loudly by Villiers, “Yes, you can tell the old cunt that’s alright.”

There aren’t that many stories of actors avenging themselves on nasty film directors — Robert Mitchum vs. Josef Von Sternberg is the best equivalent I know, but I actually feel a bit sorry for Sternberg. That’s not really possible with the director of THE NAUGHTY LADY and THE ROCK KILLER (not their real titles) so we can enjoy it with a clear conscience.

For Auld Lang Syne

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2008 by dcairns

A film so obscure, THIS is the best image I could find: 

Dial M for Mommy 

My old chum Christopher Weedman just reminded me about Joseph Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s “M”, a film maudit (cursed film) if there ever was one. Since we all love a film maudit here at Shadowplay, I have to say I’d be fascinated to see it sometime.

It’s easy to see why the film’s reputation is not high — right-thinking people were aghast at the idea of Hollywood tampering with a classic film. Also, Lang himself denounced the remake as theft — he claimed papers had been lost which proved that the original film was still in copyright, so that an unauthorized version should be illegal. In addition, David Wayne, a perfectly good actor, seems in principle an inadequate substitute for the truly extraordinary Peter Lorre. But Joe Losey was a major talent, whose reputation had not yet risen to the level of his abilities, and I think there’s a strong chance that if one could lay aside all comparisons, the Losey film might stand up as an interesting work in its own right. The IDEA of a remake was cheesy, but the film itself need not be.

Lang actually had quite a lot to do with remakes — two of his Hollywood flicks, SCARLET STREET and HUMAN DESIRE, derive from Renoir originals, LA CHIENNE and LA BETE HUMAINE. In addition to the “M” retread, several of Lang’s German classics have been remade, and Lang himself directed a sound-and-colour version of the two-part INDIAN TOMB epic which he had originally hoped to direct in the ’20s before Joe May took over the project.

During this second German period at the end of Lang’s career, producer Arthur Brauner mooted remakes of METROPOLIS and DER MUDE TOD, the latter as a musical (!) but Lang resisted.

What rhymes with

But after Lang resurrected the Dr. Mabuse franchise with THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE in 1960, his second Mabuse, THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE was remade by Brauner, using Lang’s cast from 1000 EYES. These Mabuse sequels and remakes have an enjoyable pop-art B-movie zing to them, but totally lose out on the darker, allegorical and political aspects of Lang’s crime-conspiracy-espionage sagas.

Also proposed to Lang at this time was a remake of DIE NIBELUNGEN. But the director saw insurmountable difficulties with such a project — the money wasn’t available to make the film as gigantic as the silent version, and then there was the issue of TALK.

“The first difficulty was: How to make the Nibelungs speak? You can’t say, ‘Hello, Kriemhild.’ Neither can you say, ‘O, noble knight,'” complained the maestro.

It’s very much the same objection as Howard Hawks’ famous, “I don’t know how a Pharaoh speaks.” Writers tend to struggle to find an idiom which can be neutral enough to work in an ancient period, without becoming completely colourless and flat.

Siegfried Sputnik

Nevertheless, DIE NIBELUNGEN was remade by Brauner, with Harald Reinl directing. Reinl had already helmed several Mabuse sequels, and had shown himself to be pacy and able, though hardly a Fritz. The remakes sound rather intriguing: future spaghetti western hero Mario Girotti/Terence Hill turns up, as does Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru (Herbert Lom to you) as Attila the Hun, and Reinl’s wife, Bond girl Karin Dor, adds fresh sexiness to the role of Brunhild. Hanna Ralph in the original is impressively feisty, but she doesn’t have Dor’s exotic glamour.*

Oh Brunhilde, you're so lovely

I’m sure Reinl’s NIBELUNGEN films are ludicrous (the DVD packaging suggests as much) but I bet they’re fun. Probably best to see the Langs first… those hover right on the brink of ludicrosity, but if you can keep your sense of humour in check, they’re a toboggan-ride into the abyss, which is quite a thing to experience.

the hun that got away 

This period of German cinema is only just starting to get some attention. Popular in their day with German audiences, the remakes of old German classics and the Edgar Wallace-adapted krimi films have long been dismissed as kitsch und klatsch, and the New German Cinema auteurs presented themselves as the first filmmakers since pre-war days to make authentic films with meaning and a connection to the world.

Which is a sort-of justifiable claim. I wouldn’t hold up Harald Reinl as being equal to the best of Fassbinder or Wenders or Herzog or whoever. His work is in a different register altogether. But I don’t think it’s without value.

*Gee, maybe Reinl shouldn’t have divorced K.D. His next wife SHOT HIM DEAD.