Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Honourable Mentions: Le Vampire de Düsseldorf


This was a Robert Hossein film from 1965 and looked at the case of Peter Kürten (Robert Hossein), the so called Vampire of Düsseldorf. We have previously mentioned Kürten in relation to the masterpiece M, although Lang denied that his film was about a real criminal.

In this case it is and focuses on 1930, at a time when Kürten was already being referred to as vampyr in the press and the end of his criminal career, if you like. This is already taking liberties with the truth as Kürten’s last murder took place in 1929 (he instigated several non-lethal attacks in 1930, though they were probably intended as lethal). However this ties it in with the German political situation in 1930.

a sad figureThe Kürten who is portrayed is actually quite a sad figure. He is quiet, almost old fashioned – to the point that he (and no other character) almost looks like he has walked out of a silent movie. We hear a story of his childhood that suggests he was, on at least one occasion, tortured. He is also very much in love with a girl named Anna (Marie-France Pisier).

Marie-France Pisier as AnnaShe is a cabaret singer, by the posters across the city she is the hottest act there and she rebuffs his overtures at first. The frustration of this seems to be the trigger for his killing of women. Indeed when he actually kills a man it is through jealousy as he went back to Anna’s home. This does not sit well with the historical Kürten or indeed other aspects we see within the film.

a victimThe historical Kürten killed men and women, adults and children. During his trial he suggested that he was trying to strike at society, and that whilst he molested his victims it was not his primary reason for killing. However, whilst awaiting execution, he confessed that sexual stimulation was his primary motivation, that the number of stab wounds varied with the length of time it took to reach sexual gratification and blood played a primary role within the gratification.

watching the policeIn the film he does seem to molest one victim, Paula (Annie Anderson), but he also attacks out of jealousy, as I said, and to kill witnesses. There are no child murders in the film and part of his makeup is to taunt the police, personified by Commissaire Momberg (Roger Dutoit). He sends them notes, reveals the locations of victims and even, it appears, suggests where he will strike. The first victim found in the film is discovered because Kürten tells Momberg where she is and he observes her discovery from afar.

brownshirts attack a communistI mentioned the German political situation and the film begins with archive footage and discussion of the rise of National Socialism. Indeed in 1930 Hitler started to become a real political force in Germany, gaining some 107 seats in the Reichstag in the September of that year. We see marches for bread and work, we see employment riots and Kürten loose his job. We also see the Sturmabteilung or brownshirts smashing windows of bookshops and burning the books and beating a communist to death.

hiding evil within evilTo me Hossein was making Kürten the representation of the spirit of the age. It was almost as though he was a physical manifestation of the evil of National Socialism. Indeed, at one point Kürten writes a letter to the police, mocking their attempts to catch him and bragging of the murder of an undercover police woman, and hides his missive within the pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf; hiding evil within evil. The real Kürten claimed he first murdered at the age of five, in 1888/9, and his first provable murder occurred in 1913, years before the rise of Nazism.

Robert Hossein as KürtenYet the film works well with the direction Hossein took it in and, during these days of recession, it is a stark reminder to the powers that be of the evil that can blossom within society especially when they ignore the base needs of the people to pander to the already all too rich. The imdb page is here.

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