Saturday, March 17, 1973: The Monster of London City (1964) / Torture Ship (1939)

 

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Synopsis: Actor Richard Sand (Hansjorg Felmy) has been enjoying great success in the title role of the play Jack the Ripper on the London stage. While the show is a hit, the violent script is considered quite shocking even by the jaded standards of 1964, and has earned the disapproval of polite society. The disapproval only grows when a copycat murderer begins killing prostitutes in the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood.

Richard has been seeing a lot of young Anne Morely (Marianne Koch) lately, and she has been falling for him. She brings him to meet her uncle, member of parliament Sir George (Fritz Tillman), but he is dead set against Anne getting mixed up with an actor — especially one who stars in as unsavory a play as Jack the Ripper. Sir George makes it clear that he much prefers young Dr. Greeley (Deitmar Schonherr), whom Anne has also been seeing.

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But Anne has already decided that it’s best to break it off with Dr. Greeley, even though she knows it will mean the end of his friendship with Richard.

Unbeknownst to Anne, Sir George dons a billowing topcoat and slouch hat — exactly like that of the Ripper both on stage and out in the streets — and sneaks out of his house through a secret passage late at night.

Richard is becoming increasingly burned-out from the Ripper role, and he begins to wonder how long he can continue playing the part. But his agent Maylor (Kurd Pieritz) is adamant that he continue.

Meanwhile, comical private detective Teddy Flynn (Peer Schmidt) and his zany girlfriend Betty Ball (Charikila Baxevanos) set out to find the killer’s identity, drawn to the case by the large reward.

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As the death toll mounts, Sand becomes the police’s prime suspect in the Whitechapel killings. Which only makes sense, especially when we learn he had spent time in a mental hospital in his youth.

But there are other suspects: where is Sir George going late at night in his mysterious get-up? Why doesn’t Dr. Greeley seem upset that Anne has thrown him over for Richard? And to what lengths will Maylor go in order to garner publicity for the show — especially when it is revealed that he wrote the show himself under a pseudonym and seems to be obsessed with Jack the Ripper lore?

 

Comments: Hoots of derision rained down on your humble and lovable horror-movie chronicler when he announced the appearance of a West German krimi on the evening of Saturday, October 30, 1971. While readers were willing to allow that a movie called The Door With Seven Locks was likely broadcast that evening, it could not have been the West German version from the early 1960s as the TV listings in the Minneapolis Tribune for that day suggested. Instead, readers insisted, the adaptation shown that night was most likely the British production The Door With Seven Locks from 1940, released stateside as Chamber of Horrors.

Even at the time, I was suspicious that the listing service had given us the right movie. But what to make of the listing for tonight’s movie, which is not only a krimi, but one that’s never had another film adaptation?

Nope, there’s only one Monster of London City, old chum, and this is it. So buckle up, we’re going for it.

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The West German studio Rialto is fondly remembered for its output of entertaining crime thrillers in the early 1960s, nearly all of them based on Edgar Wallace novels. Monster of London City is an atypical example of the genre. It’s not based on an Edgar Wallace novel, it’s not directed by Alfred Vohrer, and Klaus Kinski is nowhere to be found in the cast. Instead, it’s an original story written by Bryan Edgar Wallace — Edgar Wallace’s son — and directed by Edwin Zbonek.

It’s not regarded as a top-tier krimi, possibly because of its shaky pedigree. But there are other reasons why critics tend to look askance at it.

While it has many of the hallmarks of a classic Edgar Wallace thriller (murderers with incomprehensible motives, leisurely police investigations, countless red herrings, zany comic relief) the plot doesn’t have much in the way of twists and turns. It’s really a showcase for a gaggle of eccentrics, any one of whom we’re asked to believe might be the modern-day Jack the Ripper.

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Nevertheless, it’s quite an entertaining little film, with lots going on in every scene, and its fast pace is helped greatly by the cast, who tackle their parts with manic zeal. While it’s clearly a low-budget effort, the production values are solid and the exterior scenes at times manage to convey more atmosphere than you’d expect with this kind of movie.

Marianne Koch stands out as Anne; Koch is best-known for co-starring with Clint Eastwood in the ur-spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Kai Fischer is also memorable as streetwalker Helen Capstick, who accuses the police of slow-walking the case because the victims are prostitutes. Dietmar Schonherr does very well as Dr. Greeley, and the character actors who populate the smaller roles are all interesting and engaging.

As distinctly minor as Monster of London City is, it’s worth a watch. Probably not the film to start with if you’re looking for an introduction to the krimi subgenre, but a solid entry nonetheless.

Torture Ship


Synopsis: A group of criminals have been lured onto a steamship by the promise of an ocean cruise to a country where they can escape the law, but they quickly discover they are the prisoners of mad scientist Dr. Herbert Stander (Irving Pichel), and his gang of disorderly orderlies, who use them one by one as guinea pigs in his medical experiments.  Those who try to hatch a plot to take over the ship quickly find their every movement is being tracked; an attempt to bribe the captain into helping the prisoners also fails.

Young Joan is among the prisoners, but unlike the other crooks on board she is actually innocent. She had been secretary to Mary, a serial husband-poisoner and insurance fraud specialist. Mary tries to kill Joan after she decides that her erstwhile assistant has betrayed her. 


This attracts the attention of Bob, a pleasant galoot who is Dr. Stander’s nephew, and who serves as an officer on the steamship.  Bob doesn’t seem very bright; he hasn’t really picked up on Dr. Stander’s scheme. He goes to Stander, lobbying for Joan’s protection, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.  Bob ends up hiding Joan in his stateroom.

Meanwhile, the prisoners, with little to do but plot an escape, manage to incapacitate Dr. Stander and take a number of people on board hostage, including Joan.  Desperate to free her, Bob decides to impersonate Dr. Stander over the ship’s intercom and convince them that the mad scientist is still in control….

Comments: Torture Ship is a modest offering even by the dubious standards of PRC, and we shouldn’t worry too much that there aren’t any decent prints available.  There are plenty of old films deserving of careful attention, but this isn’t one of them. It’s just not a very good movie.

That the film stumbles out of the gate is self-evident, but the plot is so muddled that we never are entirely sure what it was aspiring to be. As near as I can tell the intent was to make a mad scientist picture with some exploitation elements thrown in. But even as exploitation the movie doesn’t deliver; it’s quite dull and listless, and doesn’t even try to live up to its lurid title.

The film’s marketing plays up the fact that it was based on a short story by Jack London. This is especially interesting because “A Thousand Deaths”, London’s first published story, wasn’t the sort of tale most people associate with Jack London’s name — that is to say, it wasn’t an adventure story. There were no scarred men, muscles toughened to iron by the brutal Yukon winters; no sailors fighting for their lives against the unforgiving sea and each other; no aging prizefighters hoping for one last victory so they can feed their families.

Like many of his early works — The Star Roamer and The Iron Heel among them — it could most accurately be described as science fiction with a dollop of the occult thrown in. The story “A Thousand Deaths” is pretty thin, but then again it was London’s name the producers were most interested in; and I suppose the experiments performed on live human subjects was attractive as well. As with most PRC efforts  (and with most bad films, actually) the problems can be traced directly to the script. The studio presumably felt reworking a script was a waste of money, when in fact script rewrites are probably the most effective — not to say economical  — way to make a bad movie into a good one.

One comment

  1. I’ve never seen THE MONSTER OF LONDON CITY but 1964’s COAST OF SKELETONS was a Marianne Koch title that aired on Chiller Theater. She also did THE DEVIL’S AGENT with Christopher Lee. TORTURE SHIP served as the first PRC chiller, nothing to stay up late for unless you’re looking for an insomnia cure.

    Liked by 1 person

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