I once wrote a whole article about my love for the German Edgar Wallace film adaptions of the 1960s. It will eventually be collected along with my other essays on vintage pop culture in a volume from Pegasus Pulp, but for now you can read it as a PDF.
The Edgar Wallace films are among those films that I can watch again and again, even though I have seen them all before, often more than once. Hence, I was very happy that
arte, the German-French cultural TV channel, decided to dedicate a whole theme night to Edgar Wallace with The Inn on the River (1962), notable for being one of the very few 1960s Wallace films where Klaus Kinski is not a villain.
They also had a new documentary about the films and a real gem, namely the restored 1931 version of The Squeaker. The arte website also has lot of background information on Edgar Wallace and the German interpretations of his work. Alas it’s only available in German and French, I fear.
I knew the 1963 version of The Squeaker, of course, and a very fine film it is, too, boasting the IMO best performance of Klaus Kinski’s career (he plays a deranged animal trainer/killer and doesn’t speak a single word, since his character is mute) and Günter Pfitzmann, best known for playing cheery and good-hearted Berliners in several bad TV-shows in the 1970s and 1980s, as the villain. Indeed, when I was a kid, one of the greatest joys of watching the vintage Edgar Wallace films was seeing all those kindly doctors of German TV as bloodthirsty villains.
I have seen a 1956 TV adaption of The Ringer. However, I didn’t even know that there had been a prior German (and Czech) adaption of The Squeaker. The reason was probably that the 1931 version was considered lost until fairly recently with only two incomplete copies surviving in film archives. Now it has been restored to its full glory. It still can’t hold a candle to the 1963 version IMO, because it’s a lot stagier. But the contrast is definitely interesting and indeed I wonder why arte didn’t broadcast the two versions of The Squeaker together. The action in 1931 centers on a car dealership – indeed, fans of vintage cars will love this adaption – while in 1963 an company selling wild animals to zoos, etc… is the focus of the action. More importantly, both versions feature a different villain. And if you’ve seen the 1963 version, the identity of the villain in the 1931 version will be a surprise, because it’s about the least likely person in the 1963 version. Yes, even less likely than Günter Pfitzmann, because after having suffered through countless episodes of Drei Damen vom Grill and Praxis Bülowbogen I was perfectly convinced that the man was evil.
Apparently, the Larmac-Ondra Film company (named after director Carl Larmac and actress Anny Ondra, future wife of boxing legend Max Schmeling) made two more Edgar Wallace adaptions in the early 1930s, before the Nazis put an end to German crime film making for twelve years. The Nazis did not like crime films – they were deemed bad for public morale and politically questionable, since the public might notice certain parallels between the villains on screen and the Nazis featured in the news reels – and they banned such excellent pre-1933 crime films as Fritz Lang’s M, Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler and the 1933 version of Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, which was never actually shown in Germany and remained unseen until the late 1990s. The 1930s Edgar Wallace adaptions were apparently a casualty of the same ban. Though it’s not as if the Nazis completely banned crime dramas. Indeed, I have seen a crime/espionage film from the early 1940s, which looks just like any other wartime spy thriller, except that the Gestapo are the good guys, which is frankly disturbing.
After WWII, German cinema initially focused on the escapism of the Heimatfilm with its beautiful Agfacolor footage of alpine landscapes and sappy romantic storylines (though some of them were better than their reputation). But towards the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s, the crime film made a comeback, once again featuring the same themes and protagonists as in the 1920s and 1930s. Fritz Lang continued where he left of and made another Dr. Mabuse film (and then Artur Brauner made four more), while Horst Wendtland adapted every Edgar Wallace novel he could find. Even the style was clearly influenced by the German Expressionist cinema of the Weimar Republic, which is what makes the films so bloody good.