Harald Reinl, 1959
Starring: Joachim Fuchsberger, Elfie von Kalckreuth, Jochen Brockmann, Carl Lange
The Fellowship of the Frog is notable for being the first Rialto Edgar Wallace adaptation. Though it was a Danish-West Germany coproduction like the later krimi, the film was shot in Copenhagen, rather than a West German studio. It does contain the poorly edited London stock footage that became one of the many trademarks of the series and was a cheap attempt to make the set feel more authentically British.
Scotland Yard investigators and a wealthy American amateur detective are on the trail of a stylish criminal mastermind dubbed “The Frog,” because of his ostentatious frog mask, the frog stamps he leaves at the scenes of his robberies and the frog tattoos on the arms of his gang. Like the later Italian Danger: Diabolik (1968), the Frog’s specialties are cracking safes and stealing the impossible. A local aristocrat is one of the Frog’s targets and his son (who is in love with a suspicious, yet sexy cabaret girl) gets involved, as well as his lovely daughter, who attracts the attention of both the American sleuth and the Frog. Scotland Yard panics when they meet red herrings and the Frog’s goons at every turn. Can the American playboy and his butler get to the bottom of things before more corpses pile up?
Produced by Horst Wendlandt, directed by Harald Reinl, written by Egon Eis, starring Joachim Fuchsberger and co-starring Eddi Arent, The Fellowship of the Frog immediately begins to establish some of the regular cast and crew who would appear in or work on krimi through out the ‘60s. Some of the regular plot elements are present as well, including murders, kidnapping, elaborate twists, booby traps, and even a judo match. There is also romance, seduction, and a nightclub scene that was probably unintentionally similar to those used by Jess Franco. Like later krimi villains, the Frog is a criminal genius with eccentric means of killing his victims -- in this case, he uses poison gas. There is a surprising amount of violence for the time, particularly during the third act, which balances out the pulpy tone and frequent comedic interludes. While this is the film that spawned (see what I did there?) a lengthy series of crime-mystery films, it is an experiment and not an entirely successful one. The plot, like many krimi to follow, is overly complicated and sometimes confusing. Eis at least attempts to include semi-coherent red herrings that contribute to the plot, though this occasionally fails. The number of supporting characters and unresolved subplots is dizzying.
The Fellowship of the Frog was successful upon its release because it was so different from the mystery films that came before and so different from German cinema at the time. Though it was largely ignored or disdained by critics, audiences loved the film, which inspired the lengthy Rialto Wallace series, as well as non-Rialto adaptations and similar works. It's is available from a number of sources, including a region one collection from Retromedia, The Edgar Wallace Collection, Volume 1, as well as a German Ufa box set.