Monday, June 21, 2021

Recent discovery: The London Forger

West German cinema’s post-World War II infatuation with American and British culture took some intriguing turns: the Jerry Cotton series, featuring an American FBI agent, and (supposedly) set in New York; a pair of Father Brown mysteries, adapted from English author G.K. Chesterton’s popular character; and a staggering 39 films made between 1959 and ’72, based on crime novels by the indefatigable British author Edgar Wallace, all (supposedly) set in and around London. The latter were part of the then-popular Krimi movement — short for Kriminalfilm or Kriminalroman — which kicked off with 1959’s Der Frosch mit der Maske, based on Wallace’s The Fellowship of the Frog

The style — particularly in the early monochrome entries — is classic film noir, albeit with a somewhat heightened intensity; the acting often is breathless, melodramatic and exaggerated. Most of the stories are classic “old dark house” thrillers, set in ancient castles, crumbling mansions and dilapidated country houses, replete with long hallways, dark basements, narrow stairways, creaking doors and moldy furniture. Master villains usually are concealed or masked, their identities a nasty surprise to the protagonists — often “hapless heroines” — when finally revealed. Most cases are solved by private investigators or police inspectors, the latter sometimes operating in a highly unconventional manner.


Unlike the vast majority of American noirs, which were backed by sinister strings and atmospheric orchestral cues, many Krimi boast solid jazz scores (as I’m discovering): particularly those by Peter Thomas and Martin Böttcher. Indeed, pursuing Thomas’ career — as a result of his work on all eight Jerry Cotton films — led me to the Krimi. He scored an impressive 19 of the 39, while Böttcher handled five. The latter’s first Wallace Krimi is 1961’s Der Fälscher von London, released in English-speaking territories as The Forger of London, and based on the 1927 novel, The Forger


Against her better judgment, heroine Jane (Karin Dor, later a James Bond villainess in You Only Live Twice) marries wealthy Peter Clifton (Hellmut Lange), whose several residences include dusty, musty Longford Castle. Jane’s wedding infuriates the smarmy Basil Hale (Robert Graf), who hoped to win her hand, and he continues to stalk her. Worse yet, Jane discovers that Peter has two distinct sides to his personality, coupled with frequent amnesia that prevents his “kinder” identity from remembering anything his other self did. (The film incorrectly labels this schizophrenia, as was common back then.) During Jane’s first visit to Longford Castle, she chances to see Peter operating a hand-cranked press concealed in a secret room behind some bookshelves … and he’s printing money. This means he could be the notorious forger who has been passing counterfeit banknotes throughout London, much to the annoyance of dogged police inspectors Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz) and Rouper (Ulrich Beiger).

We viewers don’t know the forger’s identity; he’s always concealed behind a two-way mirror, while giving orders to his minions. As the bodies pile up, Jane realizes that she has genuinely fallen in love with Peter, and goes to great lengths to protect him: even concealing a murder weapon and removing his blood-soaked clothes (!), when he’s found unconscious at the scene of a crime. Suspects abound, as with an Agatha Christie novel, although the final reveal probably won’t surprise anybody.


Böttcher’s title theme is a mid-tempo, big band swinger that opens with a 1-2/3/1-2 “call and response” motif. That transitions, via vocalese backed with cymbal brushes, to a vamping second motif: a long single note followed by three quick descending notes. A wall of brass explodes during the bridge, and then the call-and-response and vocalese motifs repeat: all told, a delectably energetic finger-snapper. Brief variations of this theme recur throughout the film: in church, during the marriage ceremony, when Hale and a malevolent-looking organist glare at the newlyweds; when Jane first sees Longford Castle; and much later, when Inspector Bourke finds Peter unconscious.

Böttcher contributes a sassy little swinger when Jane strolls the grounds shortly after arriving at Longford Castle; the music abruptly stops when Hale pops up from behind some bushes. Peter rushes up and sends the interloper on his way, amid a fist fight and an angry exchange of words. Despite Peter’s subsequent erratic behavior — and Jane’s glimpse of him using the concealed printing press — her feelings soften; the moment she decides to trust him is backed by a slow, sweet romantic theme dominated by sax and piano.


Jane later has an informative consultation with Peter’s lawyer, Radlow (Otto Collin); a mid-tempo swinger accompanies the attorney when he leaves his office, and is followed surreptitiously by Inspector Bourke. Not much later, a suspenseful jazz vamp provides an ominous backdrop when Radlow is murdered by somebody unseen. Elsewhere, a cheerful sax and vibes cue mirrors Jane’s tender ministrations, when Peter once again wakens and cannot remember what happened in the recent past.


A slow, ominous reading of the main theme builds tension when the still-unseen criminal mastermind tricks two of his minions into killing each other. But that individual’s satisfaction is short-lived, when Inspector Bourke closes in and Reveals All to a grateful Peter and Jane: Case closed. 

(Mind you, we’ve no resolution regarding Peter’s serious psychological malady, but hey: What’s a little potentially dangerous mental instability between newlyweds?)

No soundtrack LP appeared; indeed, none of the Edgar Wallace Krimi ever produced a soundtrack album. The closest one can get is The Best of Edgar Wallace, a 2000 anthology CD released by Germany’s All Score Media, which includes Böttcher’s title theme to this film. 

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