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Edgar Wallace (1875 - 1932)

Related: King Kong (1933) - British literature - crime fiction

A 'giallo' edition of Edgar Wallace
image sourced here.


Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875 - February 10, 1932) was a British crime writer, journalist and playwright.

Presumably born in London, he was found abandoned at the age of nine days in Billingsgate by a fishmonger, who subsequently brought him up as his own son. His career started as a war correspondent for the Daily Mail in the Boer War, following which he turned his hand to writing crime thrillers at a prolific rate. He is generally credited with inventing the modern thriller novel.

He wrote an immense number of novels in the last ten years of his life and his output is often compared to that of other prolific authors, such as Isaac Asimov. It is generally claimed that Wallace produced 175 novels and 24 plays, many of which were filmed. There is a famous anecdote in which visitors to his home actually observed him dictate a novel in the course of a weekend.

It is said that Wallace was the first British crime novelist to use policemen rather than brilliant amateur sleuths as most other writers of the time did. However his heroes were far from ordinary - they were mostly special investigators of some sort who worked outside the normal police force. Most of his novels are independent stand-alone stories; he seldom used series heroes.

He did write a popular series about the heyday of the British Empire, starring "Sanders of the River". The movie of the same name is remembered today mostly because it co-starred Paul Robeson as a tribal chief.

Today we think of Wallace as a novelist but in his time he was a very popular playwright. His play The Ringer was a vehicle for Gerald du Maurier, the actor who was the father of novelist Daphne du Maurier.

He died in Hollywood on 10th February 1932 of pneumonia while working on King Kong and is buried in Little Marlow, England.

A large number of movies have been based on his novels. The Green Archer was a well-regarded serial in the days of silent cinema, and post-war there were a string of B-movies made in both Britain and Germany. These later became a staple of late-night television. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Wallace [Apr 2005]

German phenomenon

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). --http://www.dantenet.com/er/ERchives/reviews/d_reviews/daffodil.html [Nov 2005]


Edgar-Wallace-Filme sind Spielfilme, die auf Werken des britischen Schriftstellers Edgar Wallace (1875 - 1932) basieren.

Obwohl es im In- und Ausland unzählige Verfilmungen von Stoffen nach Edgar Wallace gibt, werden heute vor allem die Kriminalfilme der zwischen 1959 und 1972 entstandenen Wallace-Serie der deutschen Produktionsfirma Rialto Film als Edgar-Wallace-Filme bezeichnet. Aber auch die deutschen Filmproduzenten Artur Brauner und Kurt Ulrich sowie der britische Filmproduzent Harry Allan Towers brachten einige Edgar-Wallace-Verfilmungen in deutsche Kinos. --http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar-Wallace-Filme [Jul 2005]

A large number of movies have been based on Edgar Wallace's novels. The Green Archer was a well-regarded serial in the days of silent cinema, and post-war there were a string of B-movies made in both Britain and Germany. These later became a staple of late-night television. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Wallace [Jul 2005]

Tim Bergfelder's contribution, 'Extraterritorial Fantasies: Edgar Wallace and the German Crime Film', looks at the fin-de-siecle British crime novelist's impact on German cultural production. Wallace's books were adapted for the German screen during the 1920s, and resurfaced in the 1960s to become the bread and butter of the German film industry. Bergfelder points out that while Wallace seemed to represent the quintessence of British ambience, there was really not that much specifically British about the novels, which rendered them ideal for cultural appropriation in Germany and the United States. Bergfelder traces the manner in which Wallace's work was variously shaped and readapted in various eras of German history. During the Weimar era, Wallace's work fitted right in among the crime films preoccupied with serial killers, such as in G. W. Pabst's rendition of John Gay's _Beggar's Opera_ (1928), Fritz Lang's _M_ (1931), or Robert Weine's _Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari_ (1920). Under the Nazi takeover, the crime genre fell into decline as they put many Jewish artists, managers, and publishers out of business, and furthermore regarded the crime genre as a corrupting influence on the public readership. During the 1950s the appreciation for Wallace's British ambience came to be regarded as indicative of Germany's normal status vis-a-vis other nations. Many Wallace adaptations during the 1960s -- internecine feuds about inheritances shot in the labyrinthine settings of country mansions harboring subterranean hideouts and trapdoors -- were among the top-grossing films in Germany during that era. These adaptations -- peopled with stereotypes about the class system, Dickensian characters, dotty old ladies, and subversive butlers -- were a form of distraction or escape. Bergfelder summates the appeal of these films among West Germans as a form of progressive nostalgia, because the historical reference point for these films was a period untainted by the fascist past, yet the pleasures gained from the consumption of these narratives were intended to be a substitute for a sense of national identity repressed by realpolitik of the contemporary era. --Angelica Fenner, 'German Cinema History as Rhizome: _The German Cinema Book_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 8 no. 7, February 2004, http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol8-2004/n7fenner [Jul 2005]

Companies churning out serials—Edgar Wallace thrillers, Karl May Westerns and Heinz Erhardt comedies—dominated the postwar German film industry. Brauner’s enterprise was one of them, and in some respects his Mabuse films are comparable to the popular Edgar Wallace series. Both abound with formulaic horror and suspense, and teem with master-criminals possessed of secret identities and ruthless organizations. Die tausend Augen already bore a certain resemblance to the Wallace films, [...] --Sven Lütticken, http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR25904.shtml [Jul 2005]

Artcritic and - historian Sven Lütticken (1971 - ) studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and the Freie Universität, Berlin. In 2004, he was granted the Price for the Art Criticism of the BKVB fund, Amsterdam. Lütticken teaches at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and is editor for De Witte Raaf. He publishes regularly in (inter)national art magazines such as Jong Holland, Artforum, New Left Review, Afterimage, Texte zur Kunst, Camera Austria, and contributes to catalogues and exhibitions as writer or guest curator. --http://www.wdw.nl/participant.php?part_id=222&id=36 [Jul 2005]

Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was one of the most popular authors of the 20th Century. He wrote a prodigious amount of criminal thrillers, written at a rapid pace (some started and finished in just a weekend!). Understandably, film producers took an early interest in his novels, and Wallace himself, fascinated by the new medium, became a director and screenwriter.

As an author of international repute, his books were popular in Germany in the 1920s onward, though banned during the Nazi years. Germany had already begun filming Wallace titles in 1927, but the Nazi era stopped any further production of such films. In 1959, inspired by the British Wallace film THE RINGER (1952), Preben Philipsen A/S and Rialto Film began making their first Edgar Wallace film, DER FROSCH MIT DER MASKE, based on Wallace's THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG (1925). The German Edgar Wallace "krimi" was born. (A criminal or mystery thriller is called "krimi" in Germany.) Soon a familiar cadre of actors was inhabiting the Wallace krimi world: Joachim Fuchsberger, Heinz Drache, Siegfried Schurenberg, Siegfried Lowitz, Eddi Arent (providing comic relief), and that lovable maniac Klaus Kinski, best known to American audiences for his many films outside of the krimi genre. The jazzy, innovative music, provided by such composers as Martin Bottcher and Peter Thomas, added a contemporary hipness to stylish updates of stories decades old. It is these series of Rialto films, and a couple of other films made at the same time but from different producers, that represent "The German Edgar Wallace Films," and not any productions made in the 1920s or after the early 1970s.

Because of their national and international popularity, the Wallace krimis had many imitations, some involving Wallace's son, Bryan Edgar Wallace. In articles, online sites, discussions, and video catalogs, the Bryan Edgar Wallace krimis are frequently mistaken for films based on his father's work.

There was a substantial quotient of chilling and gruesome elements in many of these krimis, and it's not surprising that several were promoted in other countries as horror films, a sales pitch likewise used in the distribution of the Dr. Mabuse films, which shared stylistic elements and certain filmmaking talent with the Wallace thrillers. By the 1970s, the Wallace films began to merge with Italian thrillers (gialli), which clearly sought inspiration from their earlier German counterparts. Soon thereafter, the German Wallaces disappeared, done in, partially, by the competitive high production rate and unrepentant exploitation of the Italian filmmaking business.

Almost all of the German Wallace films were made available in English-dubbed versions for American audiences. Though a few saw theatrical exhibition, most were first seen on American television in the late 1960s and early 1970s, pruned of any nudity and a few distinctive elements, such as the typical introductory credit sequence of gunshots and a voiceover announcing, "Hallo, hier spricht Edgar Wallace! (Hello, this is Edgar Wallace speaking!)" Subsequently, public domain video companies released these edited films on video, sourced from 16mm elements, which did not do the films justice, but which at least kept a watchful flame burning for these important films. Germany has already released a fine video series of these films, and is beginning a superior DVD presentation. Unfortunately, all these have been presented without English-subtitles and, of course, in the European PAL format. Fortunately, American DVD releases of a few of these Wallace krimis loom in the distance, either as announced projects or speculation.

In the filmography below, films not part of the Rialto series, but in most cases no less important, are indicated by an asterisk following their German title. --M.L. via http://www.latarnia.com/krimi.htm [Jul 2005]

see also: Edgar Wallace - Weimar - Germany - film - Klaus Kinski

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