Das Rätsel Der Roten Orchidee/The Secret of the Red Orchid/The Puzzle of the Red Orchid (1962)

Secret_of_The_Red_Orchid (1962)‘You’re the butler that guarantees a quick and violent death?’

A top FBI investigator follows a deported Chicago kingpin to London where he seems to have resurrected his blackmailing business. Curiously, another gang are operating in the same line of work, using methods favoured by his late rival…

West German crime thriller adapted from a novel by Edgar Wallace, who was one of the most popular mystery writers of the last century. Wallace was incredibly prolific and penned over 160 novels and almost 1,000 short stories. He dictated his work onto wax cylinders and could complete an entire novel in one 72 hour session! Although he died in 1932, he’d already written the script of ‘King Kong’ (1933) and, if that wasn’t enough to ensure his immortality, then there was a large revival in his popularity in West Germany in the late 1950s. This was mainly due to the efforts of his son, who, presumably, did not ask high prices for film rights to his father’s work. A whole wave of adaptations were produced, including ‘The Devil’s Daffodil’ (1961), which featured several cast members appearing here.

The main point of interest to a modern audience is the presence of Christopher Lee as the cool, unflappable FBI agent, and nominal lead of the picture. Lee’s mastery of more than half a dozen European languages ensured him permanent employment on the continent in the 1960s between his higher profile pictures for Hammer Studios. In the same year he played the Great Detective for the first time in the disappointing German release ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace’ (1962) and the villain in the Italian ‘Hercules in the Haunted World’ (1962), still the best picture ever made about the exploits of the legendary hero. The meandering script of this film doesn’t give him an awful lot to do, but he does exhibit some surprising Wild West gunslinger moves, which are the highlights of the entire enterprise.

Elsewhere, the plot is overstuffed, muddled and lacks focus. The mystery element, such as it is, wouldn’t fool an 8-year old with ADHD, and the romance between the lovely Marisa Mell and straight-laced police Inspector Adrian Hoven fails to strike any sparks. Certain aspects of the story are so ridiculous that proceedings lurch into comedy, which would be fine if the movie hadn’t seemed so serious in the first act. There’s also some pretty strange business with a butler (Eddi Arent) who goes to work for each victim just before they are blackmailed and then killed. The lack of interest expressed in him by the police is a head scratcher to say the least, even if he is clowning about as the obvious comedy relief.

Secret_of_The_Red_Orchid (1962)

He was never going back to that barber again…

The cast is generally unremarkable with a few notable exceptions. Almost inevitably, a young, gaunt Klaus Kinski struts his sinister stuff as one of the hoodlums and veteran Fritz Rasp, who’d appeared in both ‘Metropolis’ (1926) and G W Pabst’s ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ (1927) has a featured role as one of the blackmail victims.

Heroine Marisa Mell was in a serious car accident the following year and required two years of plastic surgery to regain her looks, eventually co-starring with John Phillip Law in Mario Bava’s superb ‘Danger: Diabolic’ (1968). Roles followed into the 1970s but she died in poverty in 1992, her career reduced to appearing in such dreck as Joe D’Amato’s abysmal ‘Ator’ fantasy picture ‘Quest for the Mighty Sword’ (1990).

This is a competent enough time passer that would have benefitted no end from a clearer, tighter script, ditching some of the sub-plots and the comedy. Perhaps the only moment of true creativity involves actress Christiane Nielsen, who is playing the wife of the Chicago kingpin. She’s seen reading a copy of ‘Dead Eyes of London’ – a novel by Edgar Wallace!

Worth seeing for Lee’s quick draw action, but keep your expectations fairly low.

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