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das indische tuch
the indian scarf

1963

 

German title: DAS INDISCHE TUCH
English title: THE INDIAN SCARF
Italian title: IL LACCIO ROSSO
Spanish title: EL PANUELO ASESINO
Dutch title: DE WURGENDE SHAWL

D: Alfred Vohrer; P: Preben Philipsen, Horst Wendlandt; S: Annemarie Petke (based on the Edgar Wallace book THE FRIGHTENED LADY); M: Peter Thomas; C: Heinz Drache (Frank Tanner), Corny Collins (Isla Harris), Klaus Kinski (Peter Ross), Hans Nielsen (Mr. Tilling), Siegfried Schurenberg (Sir Hockbridge), Ady Berber (Chiko), Eddi Arent (Butler Bonwit). Filmed July 8 to August 13, 1963 in black-and-white, Ultrascope. 86 minutes.

 

“Dirty work is afoot in rural England. People are being strangled. Scotland Yard is called in and Chief Inspector Tanner is assigned to the job with Sergeants Totty and Ferraby.  Before the criminal is tracked down with a revolver in one hand and a piece of strangling ribbon in the other, complications ensue.  These complications take in aforesaid clutching hand, two mysterious footmen, a (hidden) switch that turns off the lights, a lady who walks in her sleep, highballs with poison in them and any amount of suspense and mystery until the solution is arrived at”. (1) 

Sounds neat, doesn’t it?  Well, it is, but the above is not a description of the 1963 film.  It is the synopsis that appears in the Samuel French edition of CRIMINAL AT LARGE, the American title of the Edgar Wallace play THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY that THE INDIAN SCARF is loosely based upon.  It opened in 1932 at the Belasco Theatre in New York to enthusiastic reviews:

“Vibratin spines shook the seats and set the very air atrembling” -- New York News 

“It has its shudders, its beard-lifting shrieks, its clammy hands through drapes, and the lights go out just when your skin has left your bones” -- New York Mirror 

“Good spine-twisting, breath-taking scenes to recommend it and a last act (a secret of course) which came as a complete surprise” -- New York Evening Post 

And equally enthusiastic reviews from out-of-town press when it toured:

“... baffles you, excites you, horrifies you...” -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Depressed men love it and their depressed wives shriek with joy to the tune of the vibrating spines” -- Detroit Free Press

...the packed house almost arose in horror as the player was unmasked -- Denver Post

Evidently the hyperbole of the press was as uncontrolled in 1932 as it is today.  “Beard-lifting shrieks” and “clammy hands through drapes” indeed, and with vibrating spines in both Manhattan and Detroit!  A veritable epidemic of theatrical horror, courtesy of Edgar Wallace.   

I saw the 1963 film after having viewed over a dozen of the German Edgar Wallace Krimis.  It was one that I had been eagerly awaiting because it was the 1940 English film based upon the original play that began my addiction to the works of Edgar Wallace, roughly 50 years ago.  When I finally viewed THE INDIAN SCARF, I was at first startled to see the many liberties taken with the original plot, but after minutes I settled back and enjoyed it on its own merits.  

Here’s a brief background on THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY, this wonderful variation of an “old dark house” mystery and the subsequent appearances of this work prior to the astonishing interpretation given it by the folks at Rialto. 

This last of the 24 plays that Edgar Wallace wrote (2) was produced at Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1931.  Wallace soon wrote a novelization of the play with the title THE FRIGHTENED LADY that was published in England in 1932. The play was produced on Broadway that same year and under the title of CRIMINAL AT LARGE.  Considering that the villain of the work is a homicidal psychopath, the designation of the word “criminal” for the murderer is rather like calling a burglar a trespasser.  

The play featured Cathleen Nesbitt in the role of Lady Lebanon and Emlyn Williams in the role of her son, Lord Lebanon.  The role of Sergeant Totty provides a pleasant comic relief and this part was written by Wallace expressly for Gordon Harker, who I can easily picture in the part.  Emlyn Williams later reprised his role of Lord Lebanon in the Broadway production.  The first filming of the play was also in 1932 and the film, entitled THE FRIGHTENED LADY, featured Nesbitt, Williams and Harker, with Finlay Currie in the role of a suspicious American footman in the employ of Lady Lebanon.  If any reader of this article knows where I can obtain a copy this film, please let me know.   

The play takes place during one day and night, with most of the scenes at Mark’s Priory, the home estate of the Lebanons. This is a family whose history Lady Lebanon informs us is “an unbroken line for twelve hundred years! John Sieur de Toine was knighted John of Lebanon before Jerusalem by Richard and it was an old family even then.”  

The cast, in addition to the two Lebanons, Inspector Tanner, two Sergeants and the two footmen already mentioned, include a butler, a beautiful young lady who is staying at the Priory and who is the lady of the play title, and three minor characters.  The play begins after the first of two strangulations by means of an Indian scarf have occurred.  Frankly, anyone who is in doubt as to the identity of the murderer by at least halfway through the play should hang his or her head in shame.  However, since some of you reading this article may not be familiar with the story, I will not divulge the name of the guilty party in this article. 

In the book published as MY HOLLYWOOD DIARY, and which is comprised of “diary letters” to his wife by Edgar Wallace during the time period of November 23, 1931 to February 7, 1932, Wallace mentions on three separate dates that he is “sentimentalizing” THE FRIGHTENED LADY. I interpret this phrase as meaning the conveying into words the thoughts and emotions of his play’s stage characters that could not have depicted in their dialogue. It may be that Wallace was then writing the novel of his play that was published shortly after. On November 28th he wrote that he might have to “hold up the English publication of the novel of the play because of a possible selling as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.”  It appears that this did not happen.  The last entry in the book is February 7th and Wallace died three days later. 

In 1938, a 75-minute version of the play was performed live on television in England.  There is a still of this production in BRITISH TELEVISION (Oxford University Press, 1994) that shows 8 of the cast of 16 awkwardly positioned together and on quite inappropriate furniture for the play setting. Cathleen Nesbitt was again Lady Lebanon and, of the remaining cast players, the only name familiar to me is Terence De Marney.    

The 1940 film, called THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY in England and THE FRIGHTENED LADY in the US, was the version that I saw on television in the early 50’s.  Helen Haye is Lady Lebanon, Marius Goring a terrific Lord Lebanon, and Felix Aylmer plays Dr. Amershan, a pivotal character of the plot but one who is spoken of and not seen in the play.  This is a most enjoyable film, with attractive sets and added elements that enhance the story.  Two small subplots are added and an ingenious alibi device that was used and perhaps invented by Agatha Christie 14 years earlier.  It may be that Wallace added this ruse in his novelization of the play, and that this was then included in the 1932 film, but in any event Christie would have still written it earlier.  This film is sometime referred to as THE SCARF MURDER MYSTERY. 

Surprising things often pop up on computer monitors when we enter our search words.  This happened last week when I accessed a site with the heading: “Michael Goodliffe: Wartime Shakespearean Actor and Producer”(3) The site contains material including photographs about the theatrical productions Mr. Goodliffe staged at Eichstatt, a prisoner of war camp in Germany during WW II.  One of the productions was THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY and it featured a prisoner of war actor with the name of Desmond Llewellyn.  The photograph shown is of a well-mounted production and quite unlike what I would have expected to see for a play put on by the inmates of a Stalag.  The text mentions that the photographs were taken by prison guards and that the Munich Opera House often supplied sets and costumes. “Q” was later removed to another Stalag because of a botched escape attempt.  I later read elsewhere that he was taken by guards on the eve of an escape attempt in the tunnel that he and other prisoners had dug.  This immediately recalled THE COLDITZ STORY and other similar films, up to the recent HART'S WAR involving prisoner of war camps, theatrical shows put on by allied prisoners, and attempted tunnel escapes at the same time.  

The play was again performed for television in 1983 and it was again a 75-minute production as the previous telecast. Virginia McKenna played Lady Lebanon and Warren Clarke (Dalziel of Dalziel and Pascoe) was Inspector Tanner.  I do have a copy of this and it was interesting to see the very close resemblance that it has with the original play.  Much of the dialogue is exactly the same, and the minor plot changes work well, one being the addition of a third murder.  McKenna is excellent in her role, as is Clarke in his.  Interestingly Clarke, although saying much of the same words as the play’s Tanner, imbues the role and words with the same personality and intensity as his Dalziel.  Sergeant Totty, although a little subdued from the original play Totty, is enjoyable and there is one sequence where he is wearing a bowler hat and a light colored raincoat that reminded me of how Eddi Arent appears in some of his Wallace Krimi roles.  All that Totty lacked was the umbrella. Walter Kingsford, incidentally, played Toddy in the 1932 Broadway production. 

I have found references to a 2001 film titled THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY and directed by Jesus Franco; however I have been unable to find out if this has anything to do with the Wallace play.  Let’s hope not. 

And this now brings us to THE INDIAN SCARF (4).  The film was directed by Alfred Vohrer, who directed a good number of the Wallace Krimis including two of my favorites: DARK EYES OF LONDON and DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS.  Heinz Drache plays Frank Tanner (an attorney and not a Police Inspector here); Elisabeth Flickenschildt is Lady Lebanon, Hans Clarin is Lord Lebanon, Corcy Collins is Isla Harris (Isla Crane in the play and 1932 & 1940 films), and Richard Haussler is Dr. Amersham.  

The titles letters appear quickly, one by one, to the sound of a gun, followed by the wail of what sounds like a cat in heat, and then with a tenor sax quickly coming in with the “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” steal from Chopin, accompanied by a tacky 60’s Tijuana Brass sound-alike arrangement.  Much of the music, although credited to Peter Thomas, is composed of familiar romantic piano concertos. 

I am only going to briefly outline the dirty doings of the first 20 or so minutes of the film and with no spoilers here.  

THE INDIAN SCARF begins with a cheap looking drawing of a not very impressive priory and with what seems to be gushes of smoke being blown at it from below.  I imagined 2 or 3 members of the film crew puffing away to achieve the skimpy effect.  Actually the entire film appears to have been filmed on a meager budget, with sets that are mediocre at best.  We also hear what is meant to be the baying of wolves, I think. 

The camera pans down and out of the manor depiction and into a room of the place where young Lord Edward Lebanon (Hans Clarin) is playing the same Rachmaninoff piece on a none too grand looking piano with his mother, Lady Lebanon (Elisabeth Flickenschildt) near him.  Bonwit, the butler, a character name not in the play or earlier films, enters.  He is played by Eddi Arent.  Bonwit announced that Dr. Amersham has arrived.  

Lady Lebanon and Dr. Amersham have a brief conversation before the camera pans to another room where we see a man pick up a ringing telephone and answering “Lord Lebanon here.”  As he talks, we see feet emerge from behind a curtain at his rear.  Then we are looking through the eyes of the unknown killer, seeing both extended hands in black gloves furling a scarf and slowly approaching the back of the head of the Lord until it is wrapped around his neck and strangles him.  This will be the modus operandi for almost all of the murders to come; black shoes emerging from a secret panel or from behind a curtain always at the rear of the victim to be and the strangulations through the murderer’s eyes.  

Now back we return to the priory drawing, only now it is evening and there are lights on in the windows and the crew is still exhaling smoke on the drawing.  Later in the movie we are informed that we are in the moors of Scotland.  Aha!  So that’s why all the smoke! 

The next scene is of a grouping of the heirs to the deceased Lord and at the head of the table, addressing them, is Heinz Drache playing Frank Tanner.  However in this film, Tanner is now an attorney and is he is about to read the last will and testament of the late lord.  Well, the next to last will anyway.  He informs all that they will each receive a substantial inheritance if they remain in the priory for 6 days and 6 nights.  On the seventh morning, he will read to them the very last will.  Among the heirs to be is Klaus Kinski who is a step brother to Edward with both having the same father, a reverend, an American cousin with spouse, an expedition leader and his wife, Isla Harris, having a slightly different role than in the previous versions of the play, and Lady Lebanon and her son.  

At the conclusion of this event the lights flicker and then go out completely.   The phone rings and all are informed that there is a severe storm on the West Coast of Scotland, several shipwrecks have occurred, and the dyke has broken leaving the section of land where the manor is located cut off from the mainland.  Eddi Arent, the dutiful butler, tells the group that food must now be rationed and particularly “mustard, which is in short supply.”  

Let’s skip a scene and go to the Reverend’s room.  He is in his room when two windows burst open because of the storm and wind blown rain bellows in.  Along with the rain comes Ady Berber who climbs in menacingly.  Ady Berber was the remarkable look-alike of Tor Johnson, both sharing another occupation as professional wrestlers in addition to their thriller movie roles.  Berber made another nine films until his death three years later.  He seemed to have been typed with strangler movies since three of the last four were titled: (English Titles) NYLON NOOSE, KILLER WITH A SILK SCARF, and THE STRANGLER OF THE TOWER.  After being asked who he is and what does he want, Berber says “It’s raining, it’s raining . . . I’m Chiko!” and exits the room into the hall.  We later find out that Chiko is the manor’s cook, valet and chauffeur.  A most improbable, and particularly considering that this is Ady Berber, combination. 

The reverend now sits down, opens the top of his cane, pulls out a long slender vial and proceeds to drink from it.  Before one can say “Whoa, Bro!” we again see the black shoes, and then the black gloves and scarf a-twirling and it’s curtains for the reverend. 

The following scene is the next morning and all are having breakfast.  Bonwit (Arent) comes in, taps a serving cart and after he passes it, it dutifully follows him around the table.  Bonwit and his trailing self-propelled serving cart are seen one or two more times during the film.  A whimsical touch for sure, but why? 

The female American is next to go, strangled while seated at her vanity.  Later, after another heir bites the dust, Arent informs Tanner that the manor chapel is now reserved for the “Newly Deads.”  That is a funny line . . . in English, but since the actor is speaking in German, I wonder what the actual spoken words translate to.  

The remaining 60 plus minutes of the film concern similar extraordinary events and elements including secret passages, a poisonous spider, a strung up corpse in an aviary, a heck of a lot of Edward playing Rachmaninoff et al, and the death of all remaining heirs, save for one.  

The film concludes with Drache reading the final will to the remaining heir, the last words of which are “the family will have succeeded in exterminating themselves out of greed.  And one half of Mark’s Priory I hereby bequeath to the great man whom I consider as the finest writer of the century . . . Edgar Wallace!”  A preposterous but touching last line.  

I cannot imagine this film being on anyone’s ten favorite Wallace Krimis list.  The basic Wallace plot is barely there, with the bulk of the film being a variation on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.  The Christie alibi device that I mentioned earlier is retained here, as is the identity of the murderer.  Only five of the original play character role names are retained, and even the occupations and motivations of some of these are changed.  

Drache’s dedication to Edgar Wallace did strike me as a sincere and touching homage.  This is certainly justified considering the many paychecks that went to people employed in the German film industry in the 60’s because of the Wallace mania.  But perhaps it was also an apologetic afterthought considering what Alfred Vohrer and his writers and cast perpetrated to THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY.  Between us, I enjoyed it.  Ssh! 

George Koch
phlegm@prodigy.net


(1)   I added the word “hidden” as it was obviously unintentionally deleted.

(2)   I cannot find any of Wallace’s plays that are currently in print in the US.  However almost all of Agatha Christie’s 12 mystery plays are readily available. What a pity. In New York alone, there has to be a slew of us Wallace devotees that would line up to see revivals of his plays.  

(3) This is the web site address  http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/jgoodliffe/mgpow/  

(4) I viewed the Sinister Cinema release of this film. Some dialogue was lopped of mid-sentence and it appeared that there may have been numerous other cuts, but the print was only 2 minutes short of the 86 minutes of the original German release time per imdb.com. The original print was in ultrascope, 2.35:1 ratio – but this was one of those rare situations for me where viewing the film in 1.33:1 was not a problem.

 

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