Rätsel der Roten Orchidee, Das (1962)

vt Secret of the Red Orchid; vt The Puzzle of the Red Orchid
West Germany / 82 minutes / bw / Constantin, Rialto Preben Philipsen Dir: Helmuth Ashley Pr: Horst Wendlandt Scr: Trygve Larsen Story: When the Gangs Came to London (1932) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Franz Lederle Cast: Christopher Lee, Adrian Hoven, Marisa Mell, Pinkas Braun, Christiane Nielsen, Eric Pohlmann, Fritz Rasp, Wolfgang Büttner, Herbert A.E. Böhme, Günther Jerschke, Sigrid von Richthofen, Hans Paetsch, Edgar Wenzel, Benno Gellenbeck, Kurt A. Jung, Klaus Kinski, Eddi Arent.

Red Orchid - 0 opener (Minelli & Steve)

Another of the Rialto/Constantin Edgar Wallace krimis, and as entertaining as any of them, albeit relatively lacking in the series’s hallmark bonkersness: while the plot reaches levels of implausibility that English-language cinema rarely achieves in thrillers outside the James Bond movies and their imitators (but see Operation Diplomat [1953]), it doesn’t have anyone disguising himself in a froglike mask, cunningly using an air pistol to fire poison-tipped darts whose flights are not feathers but plastic models of black widow spiders or prancing around in red monkish attire while brandishing a whip. But there’s plenty of other fun to be had here, not least being a plethora of tremendous, manifestly noir-influenced cinematography, with great exploitation of the black-and-white medium, in particular the use of shadows. In addition there are two noted UK thespians in leading roles, Lee and Pohlmann.

Red Orchid - 1 O'Connor's gang try to enjoy a nice game of poker

O’Connor and his gang try to enjoy a nice game of poker.

In Chicago in 1960 the gang boss O’Connor (uncredited) is playing poker with his buddies in a basement at the Plaza Hotel when a couple of gunmen burst in and mow everyone down. Seemingly the sole member of the gang to escape is Der Schöne Gunner Steve (Kinski), who was late getting to the game but did his best to phone through a warning to his boss. As they depart, the gunmen tell the pile of corpses that they’ve brought a message from rival gang boss Kerkie Minelli (Pohlmann).

Red Orchid - 2 Gunner Steve realizes what's about to go down at the Plaza Hotel

Gunner Steve (Klaus Kinski) realizes what’s about to go down at the Plaza Hotel.

Soon we see Kerkie Minelli being put aboard a ship by Chicago cop Captain Allerman (Lee). The Chicago PD hasn’t been able to get enough evidence against Minelli for the O’Connor murders, but they have enough else on him to Continue reading

Highly Dangerous (1950)

UK / 89 minutes / bw / Two Cities, GFD, Rank Dir: Roy Ward Baker Pr: Antony Darnborough Scr: Eric Ambler Cine: Reginald Wyer Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Dane Clark, Bill Casey, Marius Goring, Naunton Wayne, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Eugene Deckers, Olaf Pooley, Gladys Henson, Paul Hardtmuth, Michael Hordern, Eric Pohlmann, Joan Haythorne, Anton Diffring, Anthony Newley, Ewen Solon, Michael Rittermann, Lance Secretan.

Highly Dangerous - closer

Entomologist Frances Gray (Lockwood) is asked by her boss Rawlins (Hordern) and Mr. Hedgerley (Wayne) from the Secretariat of the Imperial General Staff if she could go to an obscure Iron Curtain country to investigate the possibility that a scientist called Kassen has succeeded in breeding insecticide-resistant fruitflies that could be used as vectors for germ warfare against the West.

Highly Dangerous - 1 Mr Hedgerley recruits

Mr Hedgerley (Naunton Wayne), Frances’s recruiter.

She refuses point-blank: she’s just about to go on her hols to Torquay. Hedgerley hitches a lift from her to the station, and en route she plays the night episode of the radio serial Frank Conway, Secret Agent. It is her duty to do so nightly, so that she can tell the story to Continue reading

Mark of the Phoenix (1958)

UK / 62 minutes / bw / Butcher’s Dir: Maclean Rogers Pr: W.G. Chalmers Scr: Norman Hudis Story: The Phoenix Sings (1955) by Desmond Cory Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Julia Arnall, Sheldon Lawrence, Anton Diffring, Eric Pohlmann, George Margo, Michael Peake, Martin Miller, Bernard Rebel, Roger Delgado, Frederick Schreicker.

In Belgium, the scientist Van de Velde (Schreicker) has developed a marvelous alloy that is impervious to nuclear radiation. His lab is invaded by the crooks Emilson (Margo), Koos (Peake) and Fyodor Vachek (Rebel); Koos shoots Van de Velde dead and the trio escape with a small container of the alloy in liquid form. They take the alloy to the Brussels jeweler Brunet (Miller) and demand that he “turn the alloy into metal”—a puzzling request, since the alloy obviously already is metal; they appear to be asking him to transform it from liquid to solid. (Since the alloy is elsewhere described as “atomic” we sense that science was not scripter Hudis’s strong point.) That solid should take the form of a cigarette case in a design that Brunet has been making for sale in his shop. The process complete, they ask him to electroplate the case in silver. The scheme, we’re soon told, is smuggle this sample of the alloy behind the Iron Curtain, where a government customer is prepared to pay $1 million for it.

Meanwhile there arrives in Brussels the international jewel thief Chuck Martin (Lawrence). He calls with the proceeds of his latest heist on his old fence, who just happens to be the jeweler Brunet. Vachek, who clearly has an agenda of his own, engineers the transfer of his own suite at the Plaza Hotel to Chuck, then places the cigarette case inside it. (It’s not 100% clear why he does this, but it serves to get Chuck involved in the plot.)

Chuck calls on shady gem collector Maurice Duser (Pohlmann) with a necklace that he held back from the consignment he gave to Brunet. Duser buys this as a gift for his fiancée, Petra Charrier (Arnall). During the transaction, Duser sees and recognizes the cigarette case Chuck is using; he sends Emilson to Chuck’s hotel room to steal it, but Chuck wins the ensuing punchup . . .

Schell (Anton Diffring) takes Petra (Julia Arnall) into his confidence.

And so this meanders amiably along. Brunet is knocked off by Koos when Duser fears the old man knows too much. Trying to find out why the cigarette case is such a hot property, Chuck manages with ease to break into Brunet’s shop (apparently there’s no alarm system) and Duser’s safe (apparently there’s again no alarm system). Later Koos—a sort of walking lesson in why stupid people shouldn’t be given guns—shoots dead Vachek before Duser and Emilson have learned the information they’ve been trying to torture out of him. Petra dumps Duser with an excellent line—”If I ever want a second-hand ring and you want a second-hand girl, let’s get together”—and her interests are clearly drifting toward Chuck instead. The able Belgian policeman Inspector Schell (Diffring) is hot in pursuit of the bad guys, assisted by police scientist Gavron (Delgado), who speaks the kind of language that B-movie boffins speak: “It is a certainty that Van de Velde had discovered a metal completely unaffected by radioactivity!”

The moronic, trigger-happy Koos (Michael Peake) kills Vachek (Bernard Rebel) just to show he can.

In addition to the scientific puzzlers, there are various other places where you sense that, if Continue reading