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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:
spines shook the seats and set the very air atrembling” -- New York
“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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
am only going to briefly outline the dirty doings of the first 20 or so
minutes of the film and with no spoilers here.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
(1) I added the word “hidden” as it was obviously unintentionally deleted.
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.
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.