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Secret of the Red Orchid (1962)


 

Secret of the Red Orchid (1962) is one of the least twisted adaptations of an Edgar Wallace novel that I’ve seen. It’s a straight-forward gangster drama with a light, often humorous, touch. It’s nice to see Christopher Lee smile for once.

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He plays FBI agent Captain Allerman, who opens the film by apprehending mob boss Kerkie Minelli (Eric Pohlmann) and sending him back to Italy. A year later, when wealthy elites in London receive letters demanding money in return for their protection… in the style of a Minelli ransom note… Allerman joins his old friend from across the pond, Inspector Weston (Adrian Hoven) of Scotland Yard, to solve the mystery.

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Actually, it’s not much of a mystery. Once we’re introduced to a character who brings flowers for Lilian Ranger (Marisa Mell), the title spoils any surprise. It’s more interesting than it is exciting as we watch two rival gangs destroy each other based on the actions of the person pulling the strings.

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Klaus Kinski plays Steve… yeah, simply “Steve”… the face of the O’Connor gang that’s encroaching on Minelli’s London territory. His nickname is “Pretty Boy,” which had me sometimes confused. His presence looms more than it appears and it’s a subdued performance. You know... gangster nicknames. There’s also a “Babyface” (Edgar Wenzel.)

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It’s Eddi Arent who steals the show as Parker, the butler who constantly seeks a new job as his employers are eliminated one by one. He wears his experience with the victims as a badge of honor, claiming it gives him insight into the villains. However, I’m not sure it’s a selling point that everyone he serves dies. If not so funny, he might be the prime suspect.

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Secret of the Red Orchid is quick-moving and entertaining. To perfectly convey the tone, consider that Allerman says, “I have only one good friend,” as he spins a pistol on his finger. Then, in the next scene, after shooting a bad guy with two pistols, he says, “Two is better.” It’s not horror, although there’s a neck-slicing, but it’s nevertheless worth watching.


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