Country: WEST GERMANY/DENMARK
Der Rote Kreis
The Crimson Circle
The Red Circle was the second Edgar Wallace krimi produced by Preben Phillipsen under the auspices of Danish studio Rialto. The surprise commercial success of The Fellowship of the Frog in West Germany necessitated a continuation of the series, and by and large The Red Circle faithfully follows the formula set up in the previous film. The novel was published in 1922 under the title The Crimson Circle, and has proved one of the most durable and oft adapted of Wallace’s crime novels. The first version appeared in the same year the book saw print, and was a British film directed by George Ridgwell. In 1929 a second version appeared, an Anglo-German production helmed by Frederic Zelnick. In 1940 another sole British venture appeared directed by Reginald Denham. These three treatments remain obscure and hard to find, and the 1960 version directed by Jürgen Roland is the most successful and visible. In saying that though, the Rialto film can still be a pain in the arse to track down for a reasonable price, but part of the fun of researching an area such as this is the leg work involved in securing a decent print. I may be in a minority in thinking that this is a culturally significant movie, and the poverty of critical thinking, or even cursory reviews in the English language on the internet, would seem to confirm my minority status. It’s a status I share with fellow scribe and krimi enthusiast Holger Haase, and I doff my hat to him for treading the dark and shadowy streets of Wallace’s London before me.
Karl-Georg Saebisch plays Inspector Parr of Scotland Yard who leads the investigation against The Red Circle, and like his opposite number in The Fellowship of the Frog he is under pressure, nearing retirement, seen as behind-the-times, and unable to adjust to modern forms of police detection. Ernst Fritz Fürbinger returns as the put upon superior Sir Archibald who grants Parr special powers to formulate his plan, but seems less than convinced by the aged inspector’s chances of success. He seems to have greater faith in private detective Derrick Yale (Klausjürgen Wussow), who is young and modern, full of energy and is already being earmarked for the vacant position that will arise at Scotland Yard when Parr fails. Saebisch is excellent as the world weary flat-foot, but Wussow leaves a lot to be desired as the dull private eye, and certainly lacks the range and charisma brought to a similar role played by Joachim Fuchsberger in the first film. A great deal of colour is added by the prescence of the gorgeous Renate Ewart who plays femme fatale and red herring Thalia Drummond. The other notable red herring in the film is played by Thomas Alder, a character that pales in comparison next to the statuesque charms of Miss Ewart. Further enjoyment is provided by the return of Eddie Arent, who on this occasion plays Sgt. Hackett, a man of many disguises, a fastidious attitude to rules and regulations, and a unique approach to detection. The actor makes far better use of himself in this film; the cumulative effect of his display in the previous film was irritation and annoyance.
Although I enjoyed The Red Circle more than The Fellowship of the Frog it suffers from many of the same flaws. This is an extremely densely plotted whodunit with an over proliferation of minor characters, red herrings, and subplots. The whole thing is very unwieldy and lacks an important sense of tightness or cohesion. Although the film opens with the obligatory library footage of London, the capital itself is less impressively conveyed than in the first film. This films lacks the cut-throats and thugs of the first, and London is a less oppressive and dangerous space as a result. The settings in France and London are completely interchangeable so the sense of an international dimension to The Red Circle’s criminality lacks strength. But one area in which the film does succeed is in the surprise reveal of who The Red Circle is, a twist in the tail that is particularly effective and difficult to predict. The Red Circle is marginally superior to The Fellowship of the Frog and is a solid continuation of Rialto’s Edgar Wallace inspired krimi cycle.
© Shaun Anderson 2012