Kinski Watch IV: Dead Eyes of London (1961)

Considered to be one of the best installments of the German Edgar Wallace series, Dead Eyes of London was a huge hit when it was released and earned Kinski a title story in the very influential news magazine Der Spiegel, exposing him for the first time to a broader audience. The film, directed by Alfred Vohrer who would go on to direct 14 more Edgar Wallace krimis, exhibits a lot of visual quirks that have to be considered almost visionary in their cheesiness. For instance, we get a point-of-view shot from inside the mouth of an old man applying mouth wash (the decaying teeth are rendered with a lot of love for detail), we cut from a skull that functions as a cigarette dispenser to a bell in the form of a black cat who's eyes are shining when someone rings, and Kinski wears "stylish" shades that reflect a poker table and the face of his interlocutor in a scene that antedates the kidnapper's legendary reflecting shades in Akira Kurosawa's High & Low. Vohrer uses a lot of pans, even when they seem useless, and matching cuts that insist a little clunky on certain visual motives, thus creating a sort of Argento-like parallel world, that is equally unsettling but a lot more innocent.

We get, however, a lot of violence and general disorderly conduct, as evidenced by the torture chamber in the basement of an asylum for blind homeless men (there are only two women in this film and both, of course, are little more than sex objects), the use of a blow torch as weapon during the film's climax, a death in an elevator shaft, and several scenes taking place in an underground poker club. At times, the script seems to get lost in the ensemble cast and we lose track of Joachin Fuchsberger's detective, and his amourette with a nurse that goes undercover for Scotland Yard is a forced and unfortunate detail in the story. But Vohrer does a good job at capturing the creepiness of empty, foggy London streets at night where mischief seems to be lurking behind every corner. Unfortunately, the script has to verbalize it and characters repeat over and over again how bad the "part of town" is where they happen to investigate.

Essentially, Kinski plays the same role as in The Avenger: a quiet and creepy henchman who bites off more than he can chew and has to kick the bucket for it in the end. We get more close-ups of his face than in the previous effort but unfortunately his performance is not remarkable enough that we could take anything away from it. Most of the time he looks about grimly, wearing large shades. And when he takes them off, he stares with bewilderment and astonishment into a world that only wishes him harm. The only time when his performance comes to life is when his character has to fight for his life, but at that point it's already too late. This is not to say that his performance is bad. Dead Eyes of London simply gives us more of what we had already seen in The Avenger.


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