Having immigrant German parents, it was only a matter of time before being introduced to krimi filme (the German crime genre in films) and it completely opened my eyes to German cinema at the time. In the 1950s, there was a perceived notion that crime films would not sell well to a German audience because of what postwar West Germany had been through, resulting in failed attempts by film distributors like Constantin Films to produce them. There was this belief that the Germans would want to watch non-violent, harmless films. Then finally in 1959, Preben Philipsen, a Danish producer, took the leap and adapted Wallace’s novel The Fellowship of the Frog for German audiences. It was a success! And it turned out that maybe the Germans did want thrillers and were probably bored with what was being made at the time, leading to the beginning of this wave. Core Buhlert’s fascinating article tells you all you need to know about it.
Edgar Wallace, the very man himself who wrote the novels to which the films are adapted to, did not get to see his own impact as he passed in 1932. It might be worth mentioning that he created the little monstrous ape we know as King Kong.
Der Hexer is the first one of the 32 Rialto movies that I had the pleasure of watching and remains my favorite. It also introduced me to the directing of Alfred Vohrer, the German Hitchcock, and the cinematography of Karl Löb, and the German star actors which would find roles throughout the Wallace krimi collection including Siegfried Schürenberg, Heinz Drache, Klaus Kinski, Joachim Fuchsberger, Horst Tappert, and my favorite Eddie Arent, for comic relief. When I’m enjoying these films, nearly every experience is the same for me, at least the with the Alfred Vohrer films. You get sucked into an exciting introduction and music that gets your blood rushing, almost reminding me of introductions from Tarantino’s films like Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds. Although simple in theory, the coloring of the titles and the pacing of the music with the text, gets me into a fun mood. The Alfred Vohrer introductions usually have their own musical theme to it with sound bites of something violent but comical.
As the films progress, it’s easier and easier to lose sight of the story (for me at least because their German is highly formal and fast-paced) unless you’ve watched it already several times. I wouldn’t bother with the English dubbed version because it really feels off (but I think that’s true for many dubbed titles). Nonetheless, I always find myself trying to figure out what the hell is going on and then that it doesn’t matter because within minutes of the ending, a character breaks through the fourth wall with a witty line about the next film or Edgar Wallace, disregarding the entire plot of the film. All that time I’m lost, there is a galore of witty lines and scenes that make for quality entertainment, that make me care less about the situation at hand and more about the interactions of the characters. I don’t watch it for the story, I watch it for the fun of getting a glimpse of every characters’ piece of the puzzle, for a puzzle that doesn’t exist.
The Alfred Vohrer films are self-aware and don’t take themselves too seriously, adding an element of comedy that doesn’t disappoint. It’s safe to say that krimi filme have become a staple in German cinema and television (I mean, if you just take a look at the 46-season series Tatort, you’ll grasp what I’m saying — more on that later). Alfred Vohrer completed 14 of the films in this ‘series’ — and in my opinion, created a more engaging style than the rest. Not simply because he had made more of them, but because of the energy he adds to each of his pieces. You’ll notice it after watching another film from the collection, say by Harold Reinl or Karl Anton, that they are and feel different because of their more serious tone.
To me, these films are pure to their genre that are made for the simple purpose of entertainment. In some ways they’re mindless, but that allows you to enjoy it for what it is. You can laugh at the over-exaggerated acting, the sinister introductions, and the cheesy props, without depreciating it. And that is a whole lot of fun that I think more films today are missing out on.
Watch the trailer for Der Hexer (1964):