Geheimnis der Schwarzen Witwe, Das (1963)

vt The Secret of the Black Widow
WG, Spain / 96 minutes / bw / Germania Dir: F.J. Gottlieb Pr: Alfons Carcasona Scr: Rolf Becker, Alexandra Becker, F.J. Gottlieb Cine: Gottfried Pacheco Cast: O.W. Fischer, Karin Dor, Doris Kirchner, Werner Peters, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Claude Farell, Gabriel Lopart (i.e., Gabriel Llopart), José Maria Caffarel, Anton Casas, Felix Dafauce, Fernando Sancho, Cris Huerta, Belina.

Geheimnis - 2 other opener

A dozen years ago, in 1951, Professor Alfons Avery led an expedition to Mexico in search of Aztec treasure. Because of what was claimed to be a fatal encounter with a black widow spider, he never returned from that expedition. His companions did, however, and with the proceeds from the treasure they were able to set up London Sensations, which has become the most successful newspaper in all England. Now, however, someone is murdering the companions, cunningly using an air pistol to fire poison-tipped darts whose flights are not feathers but plastic models of black widow spiders.

After Morten (uncredited) and Robins (uncredited) are gunned down in this unorthodox fashion, the other expeditioners—Cartwright (Caffarel), Bryant (Sancho), antiques-store owner Lawrence Broomfield (Casas), compulsive gambler and amusement-arcade proprietor Charlie Selwood (Lopart) and William Osbourne (Peters), the CEO of London Sensations—plot together how they might deal with the crisis while at the same time keeping themselves away from the eyes of the police, because they all know that it was one of them, not a spider, who killed Avery. The only person involved who seems capable of keeping a level head is Osbourne’s wife Helen (Kirchner).

Geheimnis - 4 Helen, Selwood, Cartwright, Osbourne

Guilty consciences? Helen Osbourne (Doris Kirchner), Charlie Selwood (Gabriel Lopart), Cartwright (José Maria Caffarel) and William Osbourne (Werner Peters).

Complicating matters for the conspirators are not just the cops, in the shape of Inspector Terry (Dafauce), but London Sensations‘s chief investigative reporter, the perpetually half-drunk Wellby (Fischer). And, unknown to the men, some of their employees aren’t quite what they seem: Osbourne’s secretary Evelyn Dyke (Farell) is madly in love with Selwood and schemes with him to blackmail Osbourne and elope with the proceeds, while Broomfield’s assistant Clarisse Miller (Dor) is in fact Clarisse Avery, daughter of the murdered prof. We soon find out that she has been sending anonymous messages to all and sundry, saying just TALK OR DIE and “signed” with the image of a spider.

Geheimnis - 5 Wellby (right) interrogates Broomfield

Wellby (O.W. Fischer, right) interrogates Lawrence Broomfield (Anton Casas).

As Wellby probes further, the Black Widow—as he and the rest of the press have dubbed the murderer—strikes again and again. Cartwright hopes to flee England but is gunned down on the gangplank of the ship he’s boarding; next to go is Bryant. Selwood tries to solve the “Wellby problem” by setting thugs such as Slim (Huerta) on him; in this as in other matters, Wellby’s bacon is saved by an enigmatic besuited, bowler-hatted man (Kinski), whom we eventually discover is Scotland Yard’s undercover agent X–13. Also aiding Wellby is a quirky archivist called Fish (Arent), who supplies the movie’s comic relief.

Geheimnis - 6 Clarisse rolls eyes at Wellby's chatup

The expression on the face of Clarisse (Karin Dor) tells you all you need to know about the chatup line that Wellby (O.W. Fischer) has just deployed.

By the time the murderer is unveiled, the identity is hardly a surprise: just about all the other plausible suspects, including all the men who accompanied Avery on that ill fated expedition, are dead. But the solution, even though the murderer’s motivation is a tad implausible and hence skipped hastily past in the screenplay, is a satisfactory one.

Geheimnis - 10 Selwood hits the jacpot one last time . . . posthumously

Charlie Selwood (Lopart) hits the jackpot one last time . . . posthumously.

This is a movie done very much in the style of—indeed, in conscious imitation of—the long line of krimi movies produced initially in Denmark and then in West Germany (often with foreign collaboration) and mainly based quite inordinately loosely on novels and stories by Edgar Wallace (or his son, Bryan Edgar Wallace); usually they came from the studios Rialto or Constantin. Despite the efforts of krimi stalwarts like Dor, Kinski—here, for once, on the side of the angels—and Arent, the emulation doesn’t quite ring true. The fights look as if they were choreographed for a middle-school play; that’s true enough to the model. There’s a neatly staged nightclub performance by a chanteuse (Belina), whose song improbably summarizes much of the plot of the movie; again, this is well in the krimi spirit. But the great charm of the krimis is the surrealistic way in which their makers are completely careless about matters of plot consistency or indeed whether or not the plot actually makes any sense at all. Here, despite the fantastication of the murder method—would projectiles like these fly true or would they, more likely, veer off in unpredictable directions?—the plot hangs together reasonable coherently.

Geheimnis - 9 The enigmatic X-13

The enigmatic X-13 (Klaus Kinski).

The passage of time has resulted in one supposedly humorous strand of the movie leaving the modern viewer with a slightly nasty taste in the mouth. Immediately on meeting her, Wellby has the hots for Clarisse—no surprise, she being played by Karin Dor—and seems to believe that the best way of winning her affections is to treat her in the worst male-chauvinist fashion possible: he assumes she is a child or, even further down the ladder of rationality, a mere woman, and says as much in front of her; when she spills his whiskey flask all over her dress he claims to X–13 that what’s really happened is that her waters have broken, and at one point—in oh the very height of hilarity—he threatens her with a bullwhip unless she helps his inquiries.

Geheimnis - 3 Selwood with glass in hand, noirish camera angle

There are plenty of noirish camera angles on display. Here it’s Charlie Selwood (Gabriel Lopart) with glass in hand.

Fischer’s past doesn’t bear too much examination: he was one of the principals in the anti-Semitic propaganda movie Wien 1910 (1942; vt Vienna 1910), a role that brought him the approbation of Goebbels. He seems genuinely to have redeemed himself, however, in later years. Dor had something of an international career, playing SPECTRE killer Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice (1967)—the first German “Bond girl”—and Juanita de Cordoba in Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969); she developed, apparently, a great fondness for Hitchcock. In later years she focused mainly on the stage, although she had a role in the intriguing German erotic drama Ich Bin die Andere (2006; vt I Am the Other Woman).

Geheimnis - 7 in Selwood's arcade


On The Secret of the Black Widow

6 thoughts on “Geheimnis der Schwarzen Witwe, Das (1963)

  1. “But the great charm of the krimis is the surrealistic way in which their makers are completely careless about matters of plot consistency or indeed whether or not the plot actually makes any sense at all.”

    Yes that would indeed be a most intriguing part of the presentation. Fine review.

  2. Pingback: Bande des Schreckens, Die (1960) | Noirish

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

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