The Dead Eyes of London directed by Alfred Vohrer
As distinct a film genre as the American film noir of the 1940s and ’50s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s, the German krimi pictures that flourished throughout the 1960s are almost exclusively based on the works of one remarkably prolific author: British novelist Edgar Wallace. The creator of around 175 (!) novels of mystery, crime, and detection, Wallace and his gigantic oeuvre supplied the German film industry of the late ’50s to the early ’70s with a superabundance of material to draw on. Though a huge fan of noir and giallo, this viewer had never seen a krimi film until very recently, and the film in question, 1961’s The Dead Eyes of London, would seem to be a nice introduction to the genre. Based on Wallace’s 1924 novel The Dark Eyes of London, the picture is supposedly a remake of a 1939 British filmization, but with what I can only imagine to be more modern and creative touches.
In the film, a serial killer(s) has taken to murdering wealthy old men and dumping their bodies in the Thames. The victims, all foreigners who had recently taken out life insurance policies, have ropes strangely tied around their legs, and some are found to have Braille messages on their persons. Inspector Holt of Scotland Yard (played by krimi regular Joachim Fuchsberger, who at this stage in his career resembled a young Tom Brokaw) suspects the criminal organization known as the Blind Men of London, and together with his assistant, the sweater-knitting fusspot Sgt. Harvey (Eddi Arent), and a beautiful Braille expert (played by Karin Baal), he attempts to crack this case as the body count mounts…
As in the film noir, Dead Eyes of London features moody B&W photography (the film has been well lensed by DOP Karl Lob), seedy nightclubs, a femme fatale or two, and numerous assorted lowlife characters. As with the giallo, it also features some stunning murderous set pieces, a gloved killer, some gruesome and inventive homicides, and a plot that is complex and twisty … perhaps a bit too much so for its own good. Still, unlike many gialli that I have seen, the story line ultimately DOES make perfect sense, and indeed, the crimes and their motivations are actually fairly ingenious.
Director Alfred Vohrer, who would go on to work on 14 krimi films altogether, does a very impressive job here, giving his film a dark, moody feel and adding several astonishing touches. Perhaps most memorable, of course, is the POV shot seemingly taken from within the mouth of a man using a water pick (how a motion picture camera was supposedly inserted, facing out from within a man’s mouth, is a matter best left unexamined!), but almost as startling is that close-up shot of another krimi regular, Klaus Kinski, his mirrored shades a study in coolness, and the POV shot, taken from a dead man’s perspective, of a crowd of onlookers staring down on him as he lays on a sidewalk. Staking its claim as a bona fide horror film, the picture boasts several scenes guaranteed to chill, including Blind Jack (played by Ady Berber, who here looks so hideously homely that he practically makes Tor Johnson seem handsome!) sneaking into a victim’s dwelling place to perpetrate another murder; that gloved killer strangling a girl while a pet parrot squawks hysterically; a particularly well-executed homicide in an elevator shaft; and an imprisonment in a rat-infested, burning cellar.
The picture offers welcome bits of painless humor from the Sgt. Harvey character, as well as pieces of inventive freakout music from composer Heinz Funk (love that name!). The resolution of the film’s mysteries is a surprising one (at least, I didn’t see it coming), and the action climax is one worthy of a Perils of Pauline serial.
All told, a highly satisfying affair; to see this film is to want to see many more in the krimi genre. Hopefully, Dead Eyes of London is just the first of many for this viewer…