Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Das Geheimnis der Gleben Narzissen (1961, aka The Devil's Daffodil, aka The Daffodil Killer) Review by Holger Haase

Edgar Wallace is a German phenomenon. Pretty much all of his 100 plus mysteries are easily available in German translations, when you'd be hard pushed to even find a handful in their original English. His special mix of fast paced adventure and elaborate whodunnit resulted in a series of 32 German Wallace movies ("Krimis") shot between 1959-1972 by Rialto Film. They were so popular that other production companies soon followed suit and tried to get their share of the market. Even Jess Franco jumped on that bandwagon with Der Teufel kam aus Akasava (THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, 1970).

The Rialto films are modernised and often very loose adaptations of the Wallace source material. Staff and production teams rarely changed: Kinski alone can be found in 17 films of that series. Their iconic mixture of ingenious serial killings and galleries of memorable off the wall characters – including killers in black gloves and knifes – made them forerunners of both giallo and slasher movies. Their story lines may not always be the most sophisticated, but – Boy! – were they fun to watch: full of fog laden atmosphere, secret doorways, sadistic thugs and helpless damsels in distress. No wonder millions were queuing up to see them in their heyday.

Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen was Rialto's sixth Wallace production and the first co-produced with Britain. Both an English and a German version of the film were shot simultaneously.

At first glance the film seems to have all the typical Wallace ingredients: A mysterious killer who always leaves daffodils as his trademark at the scene of the crime. People get tortured, knifed, hanged and shot, not to forget the nasty death of an old biddy whose wheelchair gets pushed down the stairs. Everyone's a suspect and everybody seems to lead a double live with secrets of their own.

Nevertheless, the film ends up being a very pedestrian contribution to the sub-genre. Where other films of the series have mysterious monks, skeletons, archers or killers hiding behind frog masks stalking the grounds, in this production the chief culprit simply wears... a black stocking over his head. The only secret doorway is actually not very secret, but pretty openly covers the entrance to an office in the Cosmos Club. Even the "mystery" of the daffodils that are placed on all the murder victims is not very mysterious: From one of the first scenes on, it is obvious that they are used to smuggle drugs. And not even an Eddi Arent in sight as comic relief.

GEHEIMNIS even fails when it comes to the location. Shot in Shepperton Studios and being a UK/German co-production it had every chance of reproducing the "typical" English flair better than most other parts of the Edgar Wallace series. Despite a few scenes shot on location on Piccadilly Circus and in other parts of London, the majority of the film, however, comes across even less English than most of the other films. Most sets look strangely sterile, deserted and non-descript. Even the Cosmos Club – apparently one of Soho's most notorious hot spots – rarely ever has more than one or two guests. How that club ever managed to make money is beyond me.

(For the anorak: GEHEIMNIS was actually the first UK/German co-production since ATLANTIC (1929). Akos von Rathony, director of GEHEIMNIS, was also second assistant director of ATLANTIC. First assistant director on that production was none other than Alfred Hitchcock.)

Christopher Lee as Hong Kong detective Ling Chu, anxious to avenge the murder of his own daughter, has by far the best role in the film. This is his third outing in Chinese make-up after Hammer's THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1960) and an episode of the TV series 'Tales of Hans Andersen' (1953), "The Nightingale," in which he played the Emperor of China. All of these were, of course, only precursors to his most famous Chinese part as Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in five instalments of the series shot between 1965-68.

His character appears in both the English and the German version of the film. Being fluent in several languages, you can hear his own voice in both versions. This method of filming was already familiar to him. Just the previous year he could be seen – and heard – in both the English and French version of THE HANDS OF ORLAC/LES MAINS D'ORLAC.

Though dressed in a very un-Asian pervy looking raincoat and – as Joachim Fuchsberger's character's friend – clearly on the right side of the law, Lee's part already has a healthy dose of Fu Manchu in him. In the most memorable scene of the film, he is shown gleefully torturing a suspect in search for information. To drown the cries of the victim he has a radio blasting at full power.

For the rest of the film, his main contribution is to dispense bits of Confucian wisdom that have been oh-so popular ever since Charlie Chan was teaching son Number One the ways of the world. At least in this case his character admits that he has them all made up.

In The Films of Christopher Lee he is quoted as saying:

"I played a Chinese detective in English and German. It wasn't exactly easy playing in German with a Chinese accent, but I seem to have managed it."

Well, he didn't... Though his German is pretty much faultless, there sure is no trace of any kind of Chinese accent in it.

Later the same year Lee returned to Edgar Wallace territory when filming DAS RAETSEL DER ROTEN ORCHIDEE (THE SECRET OF THE RED ORCHID). Though this time only filmed in German, he again spoke his own part. Unfortunately for his next German co-production SHERLOCK HOLMES UND DAS HALSBAND DER TODES (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE), even the English version was inexplicably dubbed by someone who didn't even remotely sound like Lee.

The other memorable part of the film – at least in the German version – goes to Klaus Kinski. In the English version his character was played by Colin Jeavons.

Kinski plays Peter Keene, ex-convict and loyal to the point of obsession to his boss and mentor, Raymond Lyne (Albert Lieven). From one scene to the other, his character can switch from being a slimy, flattering lick arse to a maniacally raving psycho, defending his boss against anyone that may stand in his way. He is like an obedient dog who just wants to please his master and protect him from any attacks.

A TV interview with Joachim Fuchsberger about Kinski and his treatment of co-star Sabine Sesselmann shows the other side of the coin when it came to his apparently amazing success with the ladies:

"He always had this image of being a lady killer, but there were female colleagues who successfully spurned his advances, and he then made them pay for it. I can remember a scene at a cemetery near London where he took revenge on a colleague and practically tore her hair when he dragged her across the graves, that she was just reduced to screaming. He had complete chunks of her beautiful blonde hair in his hand. In the end he also took the opportunity when fighting with me – I was following him and she was his hostage – to touch her up everywhere he had always wanted to. And finally he even shot at her hand with fake bullets."

Fuchsberger has his standard role as the clean living, straight-faced hero of the Wallace films. This time he is Jack Tarling of Global Airways' security service. That profession seems to give him semi-offical status as Scotland Yard opens all doors and files for him. He clearly has carte blanche to do anything he wishes to progress in his investigation, even going as far as allowing Ling Chu to torture a witness in the line of duty. In one if his best scenes, he barely escapes death by falling through an elevator shaft. When older, Fuchsberger became one of Germany's most popular TV talk show hosts.

Ingrid Van Bergen plays Gloria, performing artist in a nightclub. She sings and also does a very innocent strip tease. Van Bergen was later involved in a real life murder mystery: She was imprisoned for 5 years for the murder of her lover in a fit of jealousy. A passion crime if ever there was one.

Walter Gotell, who plays Superintendent Whiteside in GEHEIMNIS, also appeared in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) as Morzeny and subsequently had a regular part as General Gogol in a couple of later Bond movies.

Albert Lieven's lecherous businessman would have sexual harassment charges against him left, right and centre in these more politically correct times. Lieven later returned for other Wallace Krimis (DAS VERAETERTOR/TRAITOR'S GATE, DER GORILLA VON SOHO).

Overall GEHEIMNIS is worth a look for Lee and Kinski alone, but otherwise only a very average Wallace production, and a missed opportunity to take proper advantage of its English location shots.

This is Holger Haase's first review for ER.

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