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Der unheimliche Mönch

The Sinister Monk

West Germany 1965
produced by
Horst Wendlandt, Preben Philipsen for Rialto
directed by Harald Reinl
starring Karin Dor, Harald Leipnitz, Siegfried Lowitz, Siegfried Schürenberg, Ilse Steppat, Dieter Eppler, Hartmut Reck, Kurt Waitzmann, Rudolf Schündler, Kurd Pieritz, Uta Levka, Dunja Rajter, Susanne Hsiao, Uschi Glas, Eddi Arent
screenplay by J. Joachim Bartsch, Fred Denger, based on the novel The Terror by Edgar Wallace, music by Peter Thomas, cinematography by Ernst W. Kalinke

Rialto's Edgar Wallace cycle, Edgar Wallace made in Germany

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Siblings Patricia (Ilse Steppat), Richard (Siegfried Lowitz) and William (Dieter Eppler) are fighting over the inheritance of their father, especially since William, a lawyer, has the actual last will in his hands that would leave everything (safe for Patricia's boarding school for girls) to their niece Gwendolin (Karin Dor), who's father's (their brother) in prison for life. Now William offers to destroy the will - for a price of course. Patricia and Richard turn him down, Richard for wanting more of the take, Patricia because she feels for Gwendolin, and thus invites her to stay with her at the boarding school, to protect the young woman from her brothers - and it turns out also from her own son Ronny (Hartmut Reck), who's later revealed to be a rapist and murderer. But the boarding school isn't half as safe a place as it should have been, as several of the students have disappeared over the last few months, and of late the "sinister monk" is prowling the premises, and time and again kills people using a whip to break his victims' necks. And there are plenty of weirdos populating the boarding school, too, like morbid artist Mr. Short (Rudolf Schündler), the creepy French tutor Monsieur d'Arol (Kurd Pieritz), and the too-harmless-to-be-true caretaker Smithy (Eddi Arent). Scotland Yard, led by Sir Jon (Sieffried Lowitz) but actually operated by Inspector Bratt (Harald Leipnitz) investigates of course, but for the longest time with no results, the Sinister Monk is apparently able to enter and leave the premises as he pleases and kill whomever he has taken a dislike to. And the students continue to disappear as well - until Bratt makes a connection between the pidgeons Mr. Short keeps and the missing girls, has one of them followed and is led to the hideout of the Sinister Monk, who apparently runs a white slavery ring. The monk manages to make a getaway though, even if wounded ...

Meanwhile Gwendolin receives a note that leads her to a cottage where she's to receive evidence that her father is innocent of the murder he spends life in prison for - and enter the wounded Sinister Monk, who makes good of his promise, then is gunned down by the police and unmasked - as Smithy, who ran the white slavery ring together with Short, but has fallen in love with Gwendolin and thus saw it his duty to see to it that her father is released from prison. And in the end, the inspector gets the girl - Gwendolin that is ...

 

As is the case with pretty much all German Edgar Wallace mysteries, this one's over-convoluted (heck, this one offers three mysteries for the price of one), over-populated, and doesn't make perfect sense - including its resolution. And the acting by all the usual faces from the series seems (as it often does) horribly dated. The redeeming value of this film is its directorial effort though: Harald Reinl, assisted by his frequent cinematographer Ernst W. Kalinke, puts the muddled plot into elegant pictures that often work with depth the story is sadly missing, and many well-composed and stylish shots give the film class, with the director never forgetting to steep things in creepy atmosphere that's so necessary to make a film like this work. It might not be style over substance here, but the direction really adds a busload to the proceedings.

That said, the plot's still a mess, but if you're a sucker for vintage murder mysteries of this ilk (and I know I am), this is well worth a watch for sure.

 

By the way, Rialto remade this film only two years later as Der Mönch mit der Peitsche/The College Girl Murders, directed by Alfred Vohrer, who had by then by and large taken over the Edgar Wallace series.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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