Das Ungeheuer Von London City/The Monster of London City (1964)

Monster of London City (1964)‘I can’t stay in this horrible place. He’s not going to cut my ear off.’

A famous actor is enjoying considerable success on the London stage as Jack the Ripper when a series of murders begins. All the victims are prostitutes and the method evokes memories of the Victorian slasher. The investigating police inspector begins to suspect that the actor is connected to the killings…

Slightly offbeat black and white German thriller that is often cited as a forerunner of the Giallo genre which dominated Italian cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Giallo was a murder mystery that typically featured a masked killer whose identity is revealed at the climax. They usually involved a series of inventive and gory kills, often involving beautiful women who don’t seem to own a lot of clothes, and are widely acknowledged as the inspiration for the American Slasher films that took box office and video rental stores by storm in the 1980s.

This film does share some common elements with those thrillers. For a start, there’s the killings. Ok, the women get strangled very quickly and we don’t see an awful lot (it was only 1964, after all), but the cloaked figure does produce a razor and we do hear a little of what he gets up to with it. And we have quite a lively list of suspects to consider. Front and centre is tortured thespian Hansjorg Felmy whose fallen for politician’s niece Marianne Koch, taking her away from best friend (and police pathologist) Dietmar Schonherr. Uncle Sir George (Fritz Tilman) isn’t happy about that either and has a very strange habit of nipping out for a night time constitutional just about the same time as ‘Jack’ is on the loose. Then there’s the play’s writer-director Kurd Pieritz and Felmy’s nervous valet Walter Pfeil. It’s all quite the three-pipe problem for Inspector Dorne (Hans Neilsen).

Monster of London City (1964)

‘Can you tell me the way to the train station, Fraulein?’

All this is fine enough. The complexities of the mystery aren’t particularly gripping, and the final reveal is not that much of a shock, but it’s a serviceable script, with atmospheric photography and a capable cast. However, there’s a problem. This was a German film in the ‘Krimi’ (Crime) genre. These were a series of pictures produced in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly by Rialto Pictures and often based on the work of 1930s novelist Edgar Wallace. This film was actually scripted by his son, Bryan Edgar Wallace.

This sub-genre had some recognised conventions: a touch of sleaze, a mysterious killer and a London location being the most obvious touchstones. However, there was something else: comedy. This usually meant the hero was saddled with an incompetent sidekick, but in this film it’s a useless private detective (Peer Schmidt) and his klutzy girlfriend (Chariklia Baxevanos). Tempted by the reward they mount their own investigation, which includes Baxevanos stumbling around the stage after getting a part in the play while Schmidt watches from a box dressed in a ridiculous fake beard and dark glasses. To make things worse, they never interact meaningfully with any of the main cast so, in terms of the story, their presence is totally redundant.

There’s also a strange moment near the climax where a speeded-up car whips the skirt off a girl kissing a man on a street corner. lt’s like a moment from a French farce or an episode of the Benny Hill TV show. Needless to say, all this clowning just doesn’t fit with the main story which is played completely straight and, in case you need reminding, is a little on the dark side. It throws the entire film out of balance and relegates the finished project from what could have been a decent mystery to a weak, disjointed effort.

One interesting footnote is that leading lady Koch was just one film away from the role that made her name; the part of ‘Marisol’ in a little number called ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) from director Sergio Leone, which turned Clint Eastwood from a supporting player into a bona fide Hollywood icon.

This is a project more of interest for its minor place in film history than any significant entertainment value.

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