Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Death Avenger of Soho (Der Todesrächer von Soho) (1971)

I was in the mood to watch a krimi and a Jess Franco film and, subsequently, found a flick that fit both bills:  The Death Avenger of Soho (Der Todesrächer von Soho) (1971). 
An anxious man in a London hotel asks the manager for his bags to be packed and to have a cab waiting for him at the curb.  He returns to his room to find his luggage already packed and waiting for him which, for whatever reason, greatly perturbs him.  He pays his bill, and while attempting to enter the cab, he is killed with a precision knife throw from an unknown assailant.  Handsome Inspector Robert Redford (Fred Williams) arrives to investigate, and the crime scene yields little evidence.  Redford hooks up with his friends, crime novelist Charles Barton (Horst Tappert) and photo-journalist Andy Pickwick (Luis Morris) for help.  The sole lead in his case is a doctor, Dr. Blackmead (Siegfried Schüremberg)—who happened to be in the vicinity of the film’s first kill.  At the doctor’s office, Redford meets Dr. Blackmead’s assistant, Helen (Elisa Montés), and is instantly smitten.  Another murder occurs with the same modus operandi, yet there is no discernable link between the victims.  Redford’s leads run cold.  A mysterious man (Dan Van Hussen) breaks into the home of Charles Barton, and is caught stealing red-handed by Barton.  The would-be thief says he knows Charles Barton, personally, and the man occupying this home and using his name is not the same.  Meanwhile, a distraught Helen meets Redford at a bar and reveals to him that she found a dangerous opiate among the doctor’s pharmacy.  She believes that the good doctor has too large a quantity of illegal narcotics to ignore.  Redford agrees and has a break in the case.  He promises to protect Helen, who reveals that she has a mysterious past, as well…
Franco crafts a fine krimi film with The Death Avenger of Soho.  The film is based on a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace [which had been previously filmed as Das Geheimnis der Schwarzen Koffer in 1963] and its screenplay is by Franco and Artur Brauner, whose production company CCC was looking to cash in on the popular Wallace krimi craze. (1)  Death Avenger was made towards the end of the krimi cycle. (2)  There is a moodiness to Death Avenger quite like Sie Tӧtete in Ekstase (She Killed in Ecstasy) (1970) where there is an overwhelming sense of uncomfortableness accompanying the dramatic action.  As there is little information made available as to what is motivating the killings, the resultant vibe is uneasiness and dread.  Franco’s photography (by Manuel Merino) has some exceptional set pieces.  The opening alleyway, where the first murder occurs, has a haunting quality, as a blind organ grinder listlessly chimes away accompanies perfectly the composition:  a tight alley where a clearly audible gust of wind seemingly does not affect a small bank of fog.  Franco also makes good use of the wide-angled lens, as he did subsequently in La Maldición de Frankenstein (1972).  There is a particularly, nasty giallo-esque murder near the end of the film.  Despite the seriousness of the dramatic action, Franco does allow The Death Avenger to be a sexy, flirty film.  For example, when Redford meets Helen for the first time, she opens the door and asks what he wants.  Redford coyly replies with a marriage proposal which the young lady politely declines.  It is easy to tell that these two characters have chemistry, and the film is propelling them towards each other; but Franco does not have to labor over a romantic subplot in order to produce one.  Unsurprisingly, Franco gets to include a sexy, nightclub set piece.  I would be shocked to learn if Franco’s libido ever waned.  Finally, The Death Avenger of Soho is a good film, because it is character-driven with interesting people populating the narrative (as opposed to the paint-by-numbers, procedural-plot-driven krimi).
Perhaps my Franco bias is elevating The Death Avenger of Soho above most krimi.  However, I do believe that krimi fans, giallo fans, and Jess Franco fans will enjoy this one.  The Death Avenger of Soho is a neglected film in Franco’s filmography during a period where he was particularly fertile.
1. Blumenstock, Peter.  Obsession:  The Films of Jess Franco.  Ed. Lucas Balbo & Peter Blumenstock.  Graf Haufen & Frank Trebbin.  Germany.  1993:  p. 83.
2.  Ibid.

1 comment:

Alex B. said...

A neglected film indeed and a delightfully overcomplicated one at that