The Movie Night Diaries – Dead Eyes of London (1961)
This week I watched 1961’s iteration of the Edgar Wallace mystery Dark Eyes of London, Alfred Vohrer’s Dead Eyes of London.
This is the second attempt at bringing this work to the screen, preceded by 1939’s The Human Monster starring Bela Lugosi. This time ’round, Inspector Larry Holt (Joachim Fuchsberger) is investigating a series of London murders. According to the Inspector’s assisstant, Seargent Sunny Harvey (played to perfection by German-born actor Eddie Arent), approximately 40 days a year in London are foggy — and on each of the previous several foggy nights, a murder has occured. Each of the men is wealthy. All wear glasses. Each is found with a length of rope tied around their ankles, and all are found drowned in the Thames. Holt soon finds that tracking the murderer down will not be so easy, because at every turn he is met by another layer of complexity and obfuscation; from blackmailers and imposters to gamblers and frauds, the murders seem to involve the whole of London’s underworld.
The film is shot in a stark black-and-white. Its world is full of foggy nights, full moons, and the grotesque; hidden passageways, creaking floorboards, and screams. It has the feel of a giallo, in that it concerns a series of gruesome murders, the investigation of which is played out in a stylish fashion on screen. This is a German production of an English author’s murder mystery, and – as such – it has its own unique look and feel. A youthful Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre, Aguirre: Wrath of God) gives a standout performance in his portrayal of Edgar Strauss, the assistant to shady insurance brokers David and Stephan Judd. While its nature is disctinctive and it anticipates some of the elements of giallo, it is also a gothic thriller — ticking clocks, long staircases, and the fog-filled nights of London — and features the familiar elements of the absurd or grotesque.
It is a bit slow to start, to be sure; however, the audience is soon rewarded with a genuinely chilling horror film with all of the suspense one might expect from an English mystery… a form that the nation seems to have mastered along with the sitcom. There are a number of standout performances, haunting imagery, and enough complexity to keep you guessing through to the end. Unlike some other violent stylized thrillers you might have heard me complaining about, the mystery here is logically constructed from the start, and the final reveal is a satisfying one. Kinski’s black-gloved and sunglassed Strauss is a villain worthy of Bava. All that’s missing is gorgeous color and a drilling electric soundtrack. Still, and sorry for repeating myself, all comparisons to giallo aside (which is part of the fun) Dead Eyes achieves something of its own here.
Four out of five stars means: nearly there.
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Written by Trygve Larsen and based on a novel by Edgar Wallace.