Frosch mit der Maske, Der (1959)

vt Face of the Frog
West Germany, Denmark / 87 minutes / bw / Constantin-Filmverleih, Rialto-Film, Preben Philipsen Dir: Harald Reinl Pr: Preben Philipsen Scr: Trygve Larsen, J. Joachim Bartsch Story: The Fellowship of the Frog (1925) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Ernst W. Kalinke Cast: Joachim Fuchsberger, Eva Anthes (i.e., Elfie von Kalckreuth), Jochen Brockmann, Karl Lange (i.e., Carl Lange), Dieter Eppler, Eva Pflug, Walter Wilz, Fritz Rasp, Erwin Strahl, Ernst W. Fürbringer, Eddi Arent, Ulrich Beiger, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Michel Hildesheim, Charlotte Scheier-Herold, Siegfried Lowitz, Werner Hedman.

An amiable piece that’s very loosely based on an Edgar Wallace classic; it has the distinction of being the first in the long series of German krimi movies based on Wallace’s work. All London lives in terror of a criminal mastermind, called The Frog because of the goggle-eyed mask he wears to keep his identity a secret even from his closest henchmen; said henchmen, of whom there are nearly three hundred, can be identified by the frog emblem indelibly stamped on their forearms, as we discover when the cops try to infiltrate one of their number, Inspector Genter (Hedman, uncredited), into the gang. Before his gruesome death, Genter was given orders to kill Ray Bennet (Wilz), wastrel son of an enigmatic, taciturn, dictatorial father, John (Lange). The hit is now put in the hands of another henchman, the knife-throwing Everett aka K33 (Beiger), who muffs it, not only throwing his knife at the wrong person but missing.

That wrong person is rich private eye Richard Gordon (Fuchsberger), the nephew of top cop Sir Archibald (Fürbringer), who happens to be supervising the cop who’s leading the hunt for The Frog, Inspector Elk (Lowitz). Richard’s attention has been caught by Ray Bennet’s sister Ella (Anthes), and he is walking with her through the woods near her home when the errant knife is hurled. Unknown as yet to either of them is that The Frog, too, has set his sights on her.

Ray is fired by his boss, Maitland (Rasp), for impertinence. His immediate superior, Philo Johnson (Brockmann), is sympathetic, and indeed it’s not too long before Ray gets another job, this time in an unspecified role at the Lolita nightclub, whose hostess, Lolita (Pflug), easily seduces him into the right state of brainlessness that he doesn’t wonder at all what’s really going on.

Frosch mit der Maske - 3 Lolita gives Ray a job interviewLolita (Eva Pflug) conducts a job interview.

Frosch mit der Maske - 4 Ray () takes the jobRay Bennet (Walter Wilz) agrees to take the job.

We soon discover the club is owned by Maitland . . . except that Maitland’s really just a figurehead for The Frog. The Frog, you see, is hoping that, by framing Ray for murder—the murder of the Lolita club’s manager, Lew Brady (Kolldehoff), in fact—he can persuade Ella to run away with him. Why he doesn’t just try the box-of-chocs-and-a-bunch-of-roses-and-a-bottle-of-classy-red-wine approach is never quite explained.

Frosch mit der Maske - 1 Maitland being followed by disguised Broad

Maitland (Fritz Rasp) being followed through the streets of London by a disguised Joshua Broad (Dieter Eppler).

Frosch mit der Maske - 2 Dieter Eppler as Joshua Broad

Without the disguise: Dieter Eppler as the aristocratic Joshua Broad.

Inspector Elk and for some reason Richard’s veddy English butler James (Eddi Arent) have both cottoned on to the fact that The Frog might very well be notorious arch-criminal Harry Lime, even though Harry Lime is presumed dead. (As far as I could work out, this is a genuine reference to the character from The THIRD MAN [1949], not a mere coincidence of names!) Richard suspects that his well heeled aristocratic acquaintance Joshua Broad (Eppler) is The Frog; he’s wrong, but we soon discover that Broad, who has a penchant for dressing up as a blind peddler, is after The Frog for reasons of his own. By this time we’ve also discovered that Elk’s charismatic sidekick Sergeant Balder (Strahl) is actually The Frog’s henchman Number Seven, who has been using his position either to spring from jail or to bump off any of his fellows who get arrested—which they seem quite frequently to do because they’re Not Very Clever.

Frosch mit der Maske - 5 the severe father John Bennet

The severe father, John Bennet (Carl Lange).

Frosch mit der Maske - 6 Inspector Elk

The doughty cop, Inspector Elk (Siegfried Lowitz).

If you’re finding the plot inscrutably complex you’re not alone—and reading Wallace’s novel won’t help you because, like all of the krimi series, this takes great liberties with the original. The much earlier UK movie The Frog (1937) was a tad more faithful, but only a tad.

Hearing helmeted English bobbies speaking fluent German to each other is always a bit disorientating, and there other oddities: except for those in the stock footage of London streets, the cars are left-hand drive; and one of The Frog’s robberies is of “Hambroes Bank”—which must have looked the right spelling to a German eye. The English-language subtitles don’t help, since they change the names of some of the characters—so that we hear Inspector Elk being called Elk, see newspaper headlines calling him Elk, but have subtitles calling him Hedge! (I thought at first it might be that the names had been changed by the moviemakers and the subtitles were restoring them to those in the novel, but when I checked I discovered he’s Elk in the novel, too.) And the subtitles introduce errors of their own: the prison is perfectly correctly called “Pentonville” in the dialogue, but this is rendered as Central Prison in the subtitles.

Frosch mit der Maske - 7 crazy camera angles as Richard and James fight goons

Outre camera angles as private eye Richard Gordon (Joachim Fuchsberger) and his man, James (Eddi Arent), fight off the Frog’s goons.

There are two twists at the end. One of them, the identity of The Frog, is by then fairly predictable—since there’s hardly anyone else left whom it could be. The other, the profession of John Bennet, is a secret far better kept by the scripters, and it gives the movie a definite fillip.

All of the krimi movies have a certain surreal charm, and this one’s no exception. At an early stage in the proceedings, James discovers some distinctive bootprints in the dust near where the cops have discovered the corpse of Inspector Genter, and points them out to Richard. “Keep searching for clues!” cries Richard as he leaps into his car . . . and he then promptly drives right over the prints, destroying them.

Frosch mit der Maske - 8 Lolita has fallen from The Frog's favor

Lolita (Eva Pflug) discovers what it’s like to fall from The Frog’s favor.

 

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On Amazon.com: Der Frosch Mit Der Maske (DVD)

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5 thoughts on “Frosch mit der Maske, Der (1959)

  1. John, I’ve never heard of this film, but I certainly am not proud to admit that considering it was based on an Edgar Wallace classic. I laughed thinking of the English bobbies talking German, and seeing cars with the left-hand drive in the UK. You have me intrigued with this marvelous look-what-I-found essay!! 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sam! This movie is the first of the krimis (mainly German movies based with surreal looseness on Edgar Wallace novels or, later, stories from other sources including EW’s son); a lot of the movies can be found on YouTube, although the versions with subtitles are rarer. I’m hoping to cover a bunch more of them here.

  2. Pingback: Rätsel der Roten Orchidee, Das (1962) | Noirish

    • I understood the whole Edgar Wallace krimi series had that cult-classic status in Germany, as it does, really, around the world. I’ve described several of them on this site, and plan to cover more.

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