Monday, February 7, 2011

Smooth Kriminal

Somewhere between film-noir and giallo, the German krimi (crime) film can be found. Based primarily on the novels of Edgar Wallace, the genre became popularized with the Rialto Film company release of The Fellowship of the Frog in 1959. Over the next decade, and into the early 70's, Rialto would release another 31 krimi films. The films were police procedurals for the most part, set in London, often with a noir-like aesthetic of shadows and fog. What set them apart from noir was a distinct black and white morality code for the characters, and an off-beat quirky sense of humor. The early krimi's like The Fellowship of the Frog and The Yellow Snake had very pulp-mystery tones with the lead villains being over-the-top, almost comic book-like in nature. 

As the genre progressed through the sixties, the films became more lurid, a little bit sleazy and began being filmed in eye-popping color. It's easy to see the influence they would have on the giallo genre. In fact, some of the early gialli, like What Have You Done to Solange? and Seven Bloodstained Orchids were not only based on Wallace novels, but had krimi regulars like Joachim Fuchsberger and Uschi Glas as their stars. However, the more graphic, sleazy giallo and exploitation films of the 70's effectively ended the popularity of the krimi film. The krimi still present an interesting curiosity with a mixed bag of influences and tones.

Up until last year, I'd never heard of these type of films when I watched my first krimi - The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle. It had elements of horror, suspense and mystery combined with a spooky, somewhat gothic atmosphere and characters that were right out of pulp novels. 

Very intrigued, I dug deeper into the genre and to date have seen over a dozen of the krimi films. One thing I noticed was that the films tend to vary widely in tone as they combine many diverse elements, and an oddball sense of humor is often included into the mix. They often feature the same actors such as the aforementioned Fuchsberger and Glas along with Klaus Kinski, Eddi Arent and Siegfried Schürenberg among others. The best of the krimis were directed by Alfred Vohrer and sometimes featured the very cool original jazz music of Martin Böttcher.
One of my favorite krimi films thus far is The College Girl Murders. As with most krimis, this one is unapologetically outlandish. 

Synopsis - An unknown master criminal has a student murdered at an English girls' boarding school with a new type of poison gas emitted from a bible.

That's right, a bible. The film is filled with fun, ridiculous premises. The first involves creating the perfect alibi for a would-be assassin. It proceeds to get even crazier with a scarlet-robed monk who runs around and chokes people out with a white whip.

In the first fifteen minutes of the film alone, there are three murders, two double crosses and a prison break. Characters are introduced (and dispatched) so fast that a scorecard may be required to keep track of them all. Despite all the fast-paced lunacy, the mystery does make sense in the end, although the motive for the murders is not introduced until the third act and the culprit is pretty much out of left field. Like most subsequent gialli there's really no way to figure out who-done-it, but the fun of the movie is the crazy and stylish journey. The good news is, there are a lot of solid returning krimi features in this film including:

  • Joachim Fuchsberger, who looks like a tough, teutonic Tom Brokaw, plays the dashing Inspektor Higgins.
  • Siegfried Schürenberg as the slightly lecherous blowhard chief, Sir John.

  • Ilse Pagé who regularly played Sir John's ditzy and sexy secretary Miss Finlay.
  • Direction by Alfred Vohrer - the girls' school pool and bad guy's aqua-lair are particularly well-shot.

  • Music by Martin Böttcher
Unfortunately, two big krimi stalwarts, Klaus Kinski and Eddi Arent, did not appear in this film which is probably the only thing keeping it from being a HoF type movie for the genre. There are some decent krimi's that are played more seriously like The Mad Executioners, and some that are more for laughs like The Ringer, but The College Girl Murders seems to hit just the perfect mix.

Score 7.5/10


  1. I love the krimis, too. Like you, I saw one and was hooked and filled my Netflix queue with a bunch of them. The College Girl Murders is a very good one. Kinski appeared in some of the best. You're spot on in your observation that the krimis are like transitional films for several genres. Great write-up.

  2. Thanks Hans. I can't believe it took me so long to discover these films. They really are unique and a lot of fun. It's also great seeing actors like Kinski, Glas and Marisa Mell early in their careers. I'd love to see a definitive Wallace box set released on Blu-ray.