Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Fellowship of the Frog - English Language Review

Der Frosch mit der Maske aka The Fellowship of the Frog
(West Germany/Denmark, 1959)

Directed by: Harald Reinl
Starring: Siegfried Lowitz, Elfie von Kalckreuth, Joachim Fuchsberger, Karl Lange

Rating: 2.5/5

The "krimi" movies are the bastard offspring of German Expressionism and classic Hollywood or British mystery flicks of the '30s. They are German language adaptations of Edgar Wallace crime novels. Well, loose adaptations, that usually involve the Scotland Yard against a criminal mastermind in a mask of a funny costume with a soft spot for a young woman. And "The Fellowship of the Frog" is the first one of them and it combines all the elements above, plus some very welcome comic relief, which is also one of the main traits of the series.

Having been a somewhat avid reader of Wallace novels when I was much younger, I was quickly seduced when I recently discovered the Krimis. Even though they are not faithful adaptations and the mystery is always pretty easy to solve, I am attracted by the visuals, mostly by the use of expressionist filming and editing techniques. In "The Fellowship of the Frog", for example, there is a fight scene in the last third of the movie, involving The Frog's henchmen and and amateur detective and his man-servant. As the fight begins, the camera angles suddenly become slanted to almost 45 degrees (what is called a Dutch or, more accurately, a Deutsch angle) and they remain like that throughout the duration of the fight. 

There are elements in the movie which are slightly more... subversive, let's say. The Frog, an underground criminal, frequently uses poison gas to dispose of his enemies, a detail which might refer to the horrors of Nazi-ism, which was not exactly far in the past at the moment the movie was made. Also, even though the movie is set in England (as are all of the Krimis, to my knowledge), they are set in contemporary times, rather than in the time in which they were written and, as such, they offer a social commentary about German society (as seen in portrayal of the night life, the connections between criminal organizations and corporations, the use of music etc.)

Although they are not gripping mysteries or great detective stories, the Krimis are often a guilty pleasure, with nice visuals and a unique atmosphere.

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