Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE DEVIL'S DAFFODIL

Ákos Ráthonyi, 1961
Starring: Joachim Fuchsberger, Sabine Sesselmann, Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Ingrid van Bergen, Marius Goring

The Devil's Daffodil is the seventh Edgar Wallace film produced by Rialto and is based on Wallace’s novel The Daffodil Mystery. This film is a special case in that it was a co-production with the British company Omnia Pictures Ltd. Filmed at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex, there were two versions of the film made, a German-language version and an English version, both shot at the same time. Though the same director and crew were used, there is a variation in cast. William Lucas replaces Joachim Fuchsberger as the lead, Penelope Horner replaces Sabina Sesselman as the female co-star and Colin Jeavon replaces Klaus Kinski. All of the other actors, including Christopher Lee, were in both versions.

The plot is a fairly typical if subdued Wallace formula. An unknown murderer who wears a black stocking to disguise his face -- a la Sergio Martino’s later giallo classic Torso (1973) -- leaves a bunch of daffodils at his crime scenes. Jack Tarling, an airline security service officer, teams up with Scotland Yard and takes charge of the investigation. Hong Kong detective Ling Chu tags along to avenge the murder of his daughter and is not afraid to dabble in a little torture to get results. They are led back to a seedy nightclub and a possible ring of drug smugglers. 

Produced by the Austrian-born Steven Pallos who worked in British cinema, and written by krimi scribe Egon Eis, The Devil's Daffodil was helmed by Hungarian director and screenwriter Ákos Ráthonyi, also responsible for Eurohorror effort Cave of the Living Dead (1964). It is one of the only Edgar Wallace films with non-stock exterior shots of London, though unfortunately the British shooting location was not fully taken advantage of and there are only a handful of actual shots around Piccadilly Circus and other locations. 

Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are the real draw for this film. Lee appears as detective Ling Chu and steals the show, whether he is happily torturing suspects for information or dispelling Confucian wisdom a la Charlie Chan. He first appeared as a Chinese character in Hammer’s The Terror of the Tongs (1960) and went on to star in the five film Fu Manchu series (1965-1968). Unusually for the time, Lee’s voice is used in both versions of the film, as he speaks German (but what else would you expect?). Soon after, he appeared in another Wallace krimi, The Secret of the Red Orchid (1962), again speaking German. 

Klaus Kinski is delightfully demented as the sleazy club owner’s loyal henchman and gives a raving performance. Allegedly he terrorized fellow cast members on set, living up to his future reputation. In his autobiography, he claims to have had sex with most of the female cast and crew. Joachim Fuchsberger unsurprisingly appears in the lead role, though this time as a security service agent rather than a Scotland Yard Inspector. Why he is allowed to step in and take charge of the investigation is never really addressed. Ingrid Van Bergen plays the female lead, a performing artist in a nightclub. She also appeared in The Avenger (1960) with Kinski and Albert Lieven, who has a supporting role in The Devil's Daffodil and later Wallace krimi. 

This is unfortunately an average krimi with a lack of the normal suspense or atmosphere. There’s a typical amount of violence with shootings, stabbings, torture, a near-elevator death, and a nasty wheelchair-related fall. Most of the characters appear to be suspects at one time or another and there are red herrings around every corner, but the script is unable to deliver on its potential. There are flimsy, inadequate sets and lackluster directing. The absence of Eddi Arent, normally the sidekick and source of comic relief, is another detriment to the film. The film is not available on DVD in either the U.K. or U.S., but it's included in a German box set from Ufa.

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