Scotland Yard’s most boring best (well, at least fifth or sixth best) man Inspector Perkins (Horst Tappert, who was always more lively in these films than in anything else he did, but still ends up rather on the somnambulistic side) has quite the case before him and his insufferable assistant Sgt. Pepper (Stefan Behrens) – yes, that’s the sort of joke you’ll have to suffer through in this one – when first a dubious rich man and then the man’s girlfriend are murdered by hands unknown. This being a Rialto Wallace cycle movie, these two murders won’t be the last, and quickly, Perkins is enmeshed in the dealings and murders of a masked glass-eye wearing knife-throwing avenger, a ring of girl traffickers and heroin traders with a particularly abstruse modus operandi (you see, they only traffick dance troupes, and smuggle their drugs in billiard cues). There is the usual horde of suspects and weird hangers-ons/future murder victims in form of figures like a heroin-addicted Lord named Bruce (Fritz Wepper – future assistant to Tappert in all 281 episodes of the painfully boring mystery show Derrick, by the way – doing his best Kinski, which alas is a mediocre Kinski at best), a dancer with a mysterious past (Karin Hübner), the owner of the most disturbing ventriloquist’s dummy ever to sprout a head nearly as large as its ventriloquist (seriously, that thing is soul sucking), a glass eyed bad guy only known as Boss (the wonderfully named Narziß Sokatscheff whom you won’t confuse with Bruce Springsteen) and so on, and so forth.
Der Mann mit dem Glasauge is veteran Wallace adaptation director Alfred Vohrer’s final film in the cycle, and, not surprisingly by film number fourteen for the series for him, it’s far from his best effort (which would either be the stylish Die Toten Augen von London or the insane Im Banne des Unheimlichen).
Obvious first point of criticism is how overboard Vohrer goes with the odious comic relief here, with way too many scenes of Scotland Yard boss Sir Arthur (Hubert von Meyerinck) being “funny”, or even worse “humorously obtuse”, bringing the film to a screeching halt whenever he appears – which is too often. And just don’t get me started on Sgt. Pepper (shudder), the connected long-hair jokes (because a guy with a mild Beatles-esque haircut is a hippy to a 55-year old director, and hippies are icky and oh so funny), or Sir Arthur’s brain-dead secretary. I’ve grown somewhat patient with the humour in the Wallace adaptations over the years, found myself even chuckling at the antics of Siegfried Schürenberg or Eddi Arent from time to time, but the second row of comic relief as embodied by von Meyerinck and co is too painful to endure for long even for me.
And of course, the quagmire of comedy here really hurts the film’s impact as the sort of stiff (we are German, after all) pulp crime movie I want from my Wallace adaptations, because it really takes away from the death traps, the curious contraptions and the grotesque flights of fancy of production design and script. There is still some – alright, quite a lot – of that to be found inDer Mann mit dem Glasauge to be sure, but where Vohrer’s better late-series films manage to integrate the pulp elements, the unfunny humour and his personal sense of the grotesque with each other in a way that doesn’t exactly cause them to make sense (because nothing in Wallace adaptations ever does, much) but that treats them as things that belong together and work with one another to produce the particular Vohrer mood of the strange, here every scene seems to stand (or fall) exclusively for itself.
So there are – particular in the film’s second half – still moments of joy to find here, but they never connect into an actual movie. Or, if you have no love for the German Wallace adaptations at all, you might even say they connect even less into an actual movie than usual.
But let’s not continue with the sour grapes, and let me instead list – I can’t talk about the Wallace adaptations without listing stuff, it seems – some of the film’s inspired and puzzling high points. There is, for one, a surprisingly fun billiard room brawl. If you don’t know about billiard, it seems to be a game exclusively played by people wearing suits in a smoky yet somewhat classy establishment that is of course a front for the heroin trade, a situation perfect to devolve into a brawl between two bunches of beefy guys in excellent late 60s suits, Sgt. Pepper (who knows billiard fu, it turns out), and Horst Tappert, who finally gets to use the little stick he’s been carrying around the whole film for no reason beyond it being the sort of visual detail Vohrer loves so dearly.
While I’m being informative, I also need to enlighten my imaginary frequent readers (hi, Mum! Oh wait, she doesn’t speak English…) concerning the nature of heroin. Heroin, you see, is a white powder addicts carry around in little paper sugar bags, and which they exclusively ingest orally, preferably in public places, or just five seconds before they expect their mother to meet them. What’s shooting up?
I am also – for once – quite happy about the identity of our masked avenger in this particular film, because it goes very much against the deeply conservative grain (they are German, you understand) of these films. Even more peculiar, method and motivations of the avenger even make sense; well, sense for the kind of pulp United Kingdom the Wallace films take place in, where becoming a masked avenger is the thing to do when you’ve been horribly wronged and need to put things right.
Other joyful moments and elements is the pretty colourful and deeply late 60s – as seen through the eyes of middle-aged guys from Germany – set and production design with some really popping colours that would strike many a contemporary director of photography dead of colour shock; the excellent murder of the ventriloquist (of course committed by someone wearing the head of his dummy because it is that disturbing) that for one scene very suddenly suggests a proto-slasher of particular weirdness; and various Vohrer-isms in form of the whole glass eye stuff, objects circling, and a playful approach to close-ups.
However, as I said, to get at these very pleasant moments, one has to drudge through the horrors of multiple comic relief characters and not let oneself be put to sleep by the film’s disconnectedness (rather comparable to the amount of parentheses and digressions you find in this write-up here, curiously enough) so this is probably a film not meant for anyone but the krimi veteran who needs to have seen every single film Vohrer made in the genre whatever the quality. So, me.
Denis Klotz contributes a regular film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?