Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Red Circle (1960)


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.

The film opens with a prologue set in a French prison (in reality a set constructed at the Danish studio Palladium-studierne) amid the rarefied atmosphere of an execution. A hardened criminal mastermind has a date with the guillotine, but this particular criminal has spies and associates in all walks of life, and is able to postpone his demise, and off screen affects his escape to the streets of London. Like The Frog in Rialto’s previous film, this blackmailer and murderer is also a man of incredible pride and vanity, and is unable to resist leaving behind a signifier of his misdeeds, in this case a red circle. Unlike The Frog though The Red Circle does not have a gang of thugs and criminals in his employ, he relies instead on his wits and intellect, and his ability to find out delicate information with which to blackmail people of high social standing. If his victims fail to comply with his demands he is not beyond acts of violence and murder. I personally found The Red Circle to be a more interesting antagonist than The Frog, one upon which a genuine mystery is built, and who maintains intrigue throughout. With his distinctive laughter and voice (dubbed by a different actor to maintain the secret of his true identity) and his black fedora and cape he also cuts a much more stylish figure than The Frog.

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


  1. I really need to seek out more krimi - I've just never felt the inclination to chase after them (nor had the funds, given the pricing of recent gialli releases). This review was a good reminder, Shaun - I should start creating a list.

    Can I ask if you saw 'The Red Circle' on DVD?

  2. I have to confess I don't think a great deal of the first two Rialto Krimi's that I've reviewed. But its a facet of cult film history that has got very few column inches, especially on the internet. In my researches for THE RED CIRCLE I discovered only a single English language review, so this one makes two now. I have a list myself which I'm working off, and it also includes the Bryan Edgar Wallace spin offs...I'll send it to you on Facebook.

    Its downloads all the way for these krimi's, though the quality of the print I downloaded was almost certainly ripped from a DVD source. A few upcoming titles I'll be reviewing were a ripped from a VHS source, so expect lower quality screen caps.

  3. Shaun, you might be interested to purchase this film which is included on the first of a series of Edgar Wallace box-sets, current available from Amazon.De
    (one of the four films in the set has neither English dubbing or subtitling, though, which the other three have).
    I also recently purchased the first box-set in the series of English Edgar Wallace films
    I watched the English-dubbed version of this last night,and followed it with the English film.

    I enjoyed this, though I spotted who the villain was, at exactly the same time that the Inspector did, - honestly!, - and also the red herrings, but I think these films are mainly to be enjoyed for their style, and the playing, more than plot.

    I especially loved the ending; the various scenes with Renate Ewart and Eddie Arent, and the masked villain scenes.
    Oh, and the music soundtrack for a car chase scene involving the aristocratic blonde woman was wonderful, if inappropriate.

    Picture and audio quality for the DVD is excellent, and the dubbing is particularly good, both for the voices of the actors used, and the synching

  4. Thanks for the tip off Kagemusha, its heartening to see titles such as this getting decent legitimate releases. I'm very pleased with the copy I downloaded, but a decent print of THE AVENGER would be most welcome. The British Wallace adaptations remain uncharted territory for me, though I gather they are in now way as visually or stylistically interesting as the Rialto pictures...nevertheless curiosity will no doubt lead me to them at some point. I agree on your point about style over substance, indeed the plots of the early Rialto films are so convoluted, and overflowing with such a large gallery of characters and subplots that it makes it almost impossible to follow them!


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