Note: thanks to Keith for setting me up with a copy of this film.
West Germany/Denmark/France: Harald Reinl, 1964
Zimmer 13 (Room 13) is my first encounter with the krimi movement, a series of thrillers produced in Germany during the late 1950s to early 1970s based on the writings of British novelist Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace. These films are often compared to the Italian giallo movement, and indeed many gialli were marketed in Germany is krimis - for example The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, What Have You Done to Solange? and Seven Bloodstained Orchids. Compared with their Italian counterparts, these films tend to emphasise professional detectives and organised crime rather than amateur sleuths up against lone madmen, while the (70s) Italian modernism favoured by giallo directors tends to be eschewed in favour of an image of what appears to be a pre-World War 2 England.
I’m feeling in the dark here, so bear with me. The plot focuses on a private detective, Johnny Gray (Joachim Fuchsberger, who also appeared in Solange, further emphasising the krimi connection), asigned to protect Denise (Karin Dor), the daughter of Sir Marney (Walter Rilla), who finds himself owing a favour to the wrong crowd and fears for her safety. There’s also a razor-wielding maniac on the loose, and a maverick ganster named Joe Legge (Richard Häussler), planning a grand heist with his lackeys in the ominous Room 13.
The strongest element of the film, and its most giallo-like part, is the mystery surrounding the identity of the razor killer. I didn’t guess the outcome, and it came as significantly surprising, although I tend not to think too analytically about a killer’s identity the first time I watch a film. The heist itself, as it happens, is not particularly interesting or remarkable - the whole thing is made out to be intricately planned, right down to the second, but in reality it’s just a run of the mill train robbery. The ominous-sounding Room 13 also turns out to be anything but - it’s just a room in a club where the gansters meet (given that the film is named after it, I was expecting a little more).
Still, the film is nicely-paced, and the monochromatic Scope photography, by Ernst W. Kalinke, is rich and evocative (I always considered a shame that so few gialli were shot in black and white, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much being pretty much the only one I can recall right now). Elsewhere, Fuchsberger makes a reasonably effective lead, even if he’s not particularly convincing as a “brilliant” detective - a failing of the script rather than his performance. Karin Dor is also a sympathetic heroine/damsel in distress, cut from the Nora Davis (to again reference The Girl Who Knew Too Much) mould - vulnerable, but not completely gutless. Some attempts at comic relief, most involving bumbling police scientist Dr. Higgins (Eddi Arent), don’t work particularly well, given that they tend to crop up at the most inappropriate moments - usually immediately following a death.
As my first krimi, I don’t really know how this compares to the rest of the line-up. Chances are I’ve either slated what is considered a masterpiece or bigged-up a clunker. Who knows. I also have Dead Eyes of London to watch, so maybe I’ll have a better idea of what these films are generally like soon. In the meantime, this gets a 7/10.