Retro Movie Review: "The Corpse Packs His Bags" (1972)

by PiddeAndersson

A review of the 1972 crime thriller directed by Jess Franco.

"The Corpse Packs His Bags" is a German-Spanish crime thriller from 1972, directed by the legendary Jess Franco. The movie is based on a story by Bryan Edgar Wallace and is the last entry in the long string of German Edgar Wallace thrillers. This film was shot in Spain, which stands in for London, and it's a quite surreal experience.

I noticed that there’s only one review of this rather obscure movie on the IMDb -- and it’s in German, so I decided I needed to do something about that.

I’m not really sure why, but legendary British crime writer Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace used to be extremely popular in Germany -- so popular there was a long series of German movies; so-called krimis, based on the Wallaces’ stories. There were actually two series; two different production companies -- CCC and Rialto Film -- who competed and produced these quickies between the late 1950s and the early ‘70s. Tim Lucas wrote about these movies more than twenty years ago and I got extremely fascinated when I read that piece. I had never heard of them. Now I’ve seen a few of them, and yes, they really are fascinating. Very cheap, a little odd, Germany is standing in for England, and most of the cast is German. But they are cool, fun and quite moody -- the majority of these movies are in black and white, and London has never ever been foggier and more threatening (and sometimes a young Klaus Kinski was lurking in the dark alleys).

“The Corpse Packs His Bags,” originally known as “Der Todesrächer von Soho” and “El muerto hace las maletas” (it’s a German-Spanish co-production from CCC) from 1972 is apparently the very last entry in the Wallace series. And what makes this one interesting is that it was directed by the late Spanish sleaze maestro Jess Franco, here calling himself Jess Frank. However, this film seems to be so obscure few Franco fans have seen it or know of it.

I don’t think I would have guessed this is a Jess Franco movie if I didn’t know it. “The Corpse Packs His Bags” plays like a regular, very cheap and rushed B-movie, and lacks most of Franco’s usual trademarks. If you really look for it, you can find certain typical Franco camera angles and compositions, there are a handful of women wearing fancy and crazy early ‘70s clothes, and Franco himself shows up in a small part as Gonzales, a Spanish knife throwing expert wearing a pretty cool hat.

The film is based on Bryan Edgar Wallace’s “The Secret of the Black Trunk,” which CCC had adapted already in 1962. There isn’t really much to say about the story -- since Franco’s take on it is a rather confusing, incoherent mess. A serial killer is on the loose in Soho, killing people by throwing knives in their backs. German actor Fred Williams (real name is Friedrich Wilhelm Löcherer, and mainly known from Franco’s “The Devil Came from Akasawa” and “She Killed in Ecstasy,” but he was also in Richard Attenborough’s “A Bridge Too Far” and in Fellini’s “And the Ship Sails On”) plays Scotland Yard Inspector Ruppert Redford (!) who’s on the case. Horst Tappert, who was in a couple of the earlier Wallace movies and in the same two Franco movies featuring Williams I just mentioned, is a crime novelist who hangs out with the Inspector. The killings have something to do with a drug ring, the gangsters have a really cool laboratory, and there’s an evil female villain with a bald sidekick who sneaks around and kills or kidnaps people. The Inspector does of course fall in love with the prettiest girl around.

The film was apparently shot in Barcelona and other Spanish places, the locations look nothing like London, there’s a blind beggar playing a barrel organ in an empty alley in the middle of the night (good luck making money there, pal), there’s lots of comic relief which doesn’t work at all; it’s just silly, and the jazzy music score is pretty wild. The version I saw was in German (and subtitled in English) which made it all even more bizarre.

There really aren’t any reasons to watch this movie, unless you’re interested in obscure European genre cinema. But on the other hand -- who isn’t?

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Updated: 07/15/2014, PiddeAndersson
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