Since Fantoma is not ever going to release this on DVD (with Christa Lang commentary) like they promised to do, the dirty rats, I found a copy elsewhere and finally watched it. And it’s good! Criterion started our national reappraisal of the great Sam Fuller mid-career with The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor, then moved on to the early films with that Eclipse set, now this week they’re hitting his late period with White Dog, so I’m participating with this pre-Big Red One episode from his forgotten days in the ghetto of television.
This is an episode of a German cop show from 1970 which is still running. I can’t imagine why an American director was allowed to write and direct a German TV episode in English… we’d certainly never invite Werner Herzog to shoot an all-German episode of Law & Order. The producer must’ve been a Naked Kiss fan. Anyway, it’s over 90 minutes long and there’s no indication of regular characters or a running plot or a teaser for next week’s episode, so I’m not sure what format this cop show takes… this played like a standalone film in TV picture-ratio.
I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. It’s technically excellent at times, but when time or budget didn’t allow for excellence they played it loose and fun. Acting isn’t so strong – Christa (Sam’s wife) overdoes it at times, and lead man Sandy (Glenn Corbett of The Crimson Kimono) is generically TV-crappy. I wouldn’t call the incidental music by “The” Can amazing, but has its moments. Fuller (or whoever) gets points for hiring the ultra-hip Can in the first place. The double-agent spy story is pretty cool, but the way it’s pulled off visually is beyond cool. Check it:
How our hero is introduced – he’s the dude in the middle, and that’s his murdered partner on the table:
How Christa is introduced, walking past a giant poster of Frank… this movie is very clued-in musically:
Some Citizen Kane hole-in-the-floor cinematography:
Fuller is having fun with this movie. They watch Rio Bravo, there are characters named Novak and Bogdanovich, and Fuller cameos offscreen as The Senator with a framed picture of Nixon on the wall and a novel by one Samuel Fuller prominently placed on the desk.
And then there’s this guy, with the fantastic name of Charlie Umlaut. I’m not sure what his deal is – I think he might’ve killed our cop’s partner, then at the end he shows up in a parade in clownface, screaming his own name until he’s caught and killed. Whatever it meant, it certainly livened up the picture.
Very nice cinematography of German cities (Bonn, Cologne) by Jerzy Lipman, who shot early Wajda films and Knife in the Water.
Oh right, the plot. Christa works for fey evil rich guy Mensur. She drugs famous people, poses with them in lewd positions, then blackmails them with the photos. Sandy, our cop, shows up far-fetchedly claiming to be in the same business and happening to pick Christa to perform the same job she does for Mensur. Eventually she’s in on his plot and supposedly helping him, but it all gets twisted up, and in the end he’s challenged to a hilariously unconvincing fencing duel in Mensur’s office, which Mensur inexplicably loses.
Mensur, top, is Anton Diffring (of Tusk and Fahrenheit 451).