Monday, March 26, 2018



Though I've never read an Edgar Wallace novel-- and possibly never will-- I must admit that his numerous thrillers and detective stories of the early 20th century may have played some role in the evolution of the costumed superhero. Wallace seems to have made heavy use of both masked villains, with names like The Frog, and masked heroes like The Green Archer, best known for his serial incarnation.

SECRET OF THE BLACK WIDOW is admittedly not a good example with which to start, since it's not in any way derived from an Edgar Wallace work. It's simply a "lookalike" for the popular *krimis* of the late fifties and early sixties, many of which did use Wallace concepts. Thus WIDOW starts out with a murder by a singularly peculiar method: a poison-filled projectile to which the killer attaches a rubber "black widow" spider, fired by an air gun. Naturally, the mystery murderer becomes known as "the Black Widow."

In comparison with some of the bonafide Wallace adaptations from this period, director Franz Gottleib and his writers almost seem determined to camp things up, some time before "camp" became mainstreamed. Most of the actors, particularly hero O.W. Fischer, mug outrageously, to the extent that even the "straight" roles take on a comic tone. Only the heroine, played by Karin Dor of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE fame, seems to take her role seriously.

It's a lively production, though one really never knows quite what's going on most of the time. But after the viewer gets past the goofiness of the villain's modus operandi and the charms of Dor, WIDOW doesn't disclose any secrets worth knowing.

CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND, however, is a bonafide Wallace adaptation, and provides a lot more bang for the viewer's buck, even though like WIDOW, this film sports only one actor who became internationally known: Klaus Kinski. Here Kinski plays twin brothers, the apparently respectable Richard Emerson, and the apparently insane David Emerson, who gets locked away for having committed crimes out of insanity. Then David escapes, and suddenly other members of their family start getting knocked off by a mysterious figure with a metallic clawed glove. This "blue hand" is a family heirloom that's been in the Emerson family for centuries, and so the police initially conclude that crazy Dave has dressed up as "the Blue Hand" to kill off the other members of his family.

Naturally, that would be too simple, even for a mystery that isn't much of a mystery. It turns out that not only is David innocent, he and others have been victimized by a corrupt asylum manager, one Doctor Mangrove, who bears a nodding resemblance to Edward Van Sloan's "Doctor Van Helsing" in the 1931 DRACULA. Mangrove, in fact, is almost more of a menace than the Blue Hand, for when Myrna, sister of Richard and David, begins to investigate the crimes, he finds an excuse to condemn Myrna as insane and torment her with snakes and rats. Kinski is the primary attraction here, but director Alfred Vohrer delivers the requisite thrills with a steady hand-- probably because, unlike Gottlieb prior to WIDOW, prior to BLUE HAND Vohrer had directed three or four solid Wallace adaptations, particularly a well regarded 1961 take on Wallace's DEAD EYES OF LONDON.

As long as one doesn't pay too much attention to the phony-baloney mystery elements, BLUE HAND works fine as a wild thriller. Later an American producer concocted a film, THE BLOODY DEAD, by inserting gore-scenes into BLUE HAND's original story, but fortunately I haven't had to deal with that version.

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