Germany has given the world plenty of great films and filmmakers, but their greatest contribution to genre cinema is the Krimifilm. Literally, this just means crime film, but the Krimi is much more than that. A good Krimi has a style and structure that started in the silent era, and can still be seen in efforts as recent as Netflix’s Babylon Berlin. The first master of this style was Fritz Lang, who then took it to the United States and helped create the film noir. Italian directors were so impressed with the German Krimi films that it inspired them to create the giallo and poliziotteschi genres.1
In the fifties and sixties, Krimis were extremely popular in West Germany. DEFA, the East German film production company, mostly ignored the genre. A good Krimi requires an underworld, and the authorities weren’t willing to acknowledge that any such thing existed in the German Democratic Republic. Even if a filmmaker did so, the film wouldn’t stand a chance of being made and that director might himself be relegated to television or blacklisted. But Krimis did well at the box office and, as much as the GDR rallied against capitalism, money still talked, even at DEFA. One way DEFA got around the problem was to either set their Krimis in the West, or attribute the crimes to West German black marketeers. Murder on Monday (Mord am Montag), for example, takes place entirely in West Germany.
At the start of the film, a Mercedes-Benz drives through an unnamed West German city at night while the credits roll over noir jazz. The car is owned by Peter Lacour (Carlo Schmidt), returning his date, magazine model Monika Stangel (Angelika Waller), to her apartment. It becomes apparent quickly that both of these people are up to no good. The next day, Ms. Stangel is found murdered and a man is seen fleeing the crime. Although, we know he’s not the guilty party, the detectives in charge of the case decide to follow the lead and see where it takes them. Soon, they’ve discovered an international diamond smuggling ring operated by Dr. Ingo Vogelsang (Horst Schulze) who, due to his wealth, is above the law. The two detectives in charge of the case are a May-December pairing along the lines of Lt. Mike Stone and Steve Keller on The Streets of San Francisco. Criminal Inspector Laube (Herbert Köfer) is an old hand at police work. He understands the system and has developed his own style of investigation. Assistant Inspector Bentheim (Eberhard Esche) is still wet behind the ears and doesn’t fully appreciate how effectively a capitalist system can bury its crimes, and is ready to dig as deeply as necessary to uncover the truth. He does, but the message here is clear: The rich can get away with anything in a capitalist system, even murder.
Murder on Monday was the first feature film by Hans Kratzert. Prior to this, Kratzert had worked as an assistant director for Kurt Maetzig on that director’s 1967 film, The Girl on the Diving Board (Das Mädchen auf dem Brett). Kratzert did a good job with Murder on Monday and probably could have continued to make great Krimis, but he was noticed by dramaturges Gudrun Deubener and Inge Wüste-Heym, who wanted him for their Kinder- und Jugendfilm group, a DEFA film group devoted to making children’s movies. He joined them and became one of the most successful children’s film directors in East Germany. His children’s films include We’re Buying a Fire Engine (Wir kaufen eine Feuerwehr), Hans Roeckle and the Devil (Hans Röckle und der Teufel), Ottokar, the World, Reformer (Ottokar der Weltverbesserer), The Oath of Rabenhorst (Der Schwur von Rabenhorst), and Daniel the Dragon (Der Drache Daniel).
As with many other DEFA directors and technicians, his career as a feature film director ended with the fall of the Wall. He continued to make short films and documentaries, and has written several essays on children’s films.
Herbert Köfer, who plays Inspector Laube, got his start on the stage in 1941. After the War, he worked primarily at theaters in Berlin. He helped inaugurate the DFF, East Germany’s television production company, and was there for the last broadcast by that company on December 31, 1991. He is best remembered for his role in Rentner haben niemals Zeit (Pensioners Never Have Time) in which he starred opposite Helga Göring, who plays the shady Lydia Amberger in Murder on Monday. Köfer appeared in dozens of movies and television shows in East Germany. His films for DEFA include Naked Among Wolves, Black Velvet, Pension Boulanka, and The Dove on the Roof. Perhaps because of his extensive work in television prior to the fall of the Wall, the Wende had little effect on Köfer’s career. He has continued to work in television, with occasional appearances in films. He continues to perform on stage, most often at the Comödie Dresden Theater.1
The Polish Actress Barbara Brylska plays Hanna Stern, an actress who lives upstairs from the murdered woman, and who knows more than she’s letting on. Brylska is a beautiful woman who bears a passing resemblance here to Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers, thanks to her hairstyle and costume designer Günter Schmidt’s outfits. Although it isn’t specified, her voice was most likely dubbed by Annekathrin Bürger, who also did her voice in The Falcon’s Trail and White Wolves.
Barbara Brylska graduated from the University of Film and Television in Łódź in 1967, but was already a star thanks to her appearances in Bumerang (Boomerang) and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Pharaoh (Faraon), both in 1966. She started appearing in films for DEFA almost immediately after graduation, starting with Trail of the Falcon. Besides her appearance in Polish films, she continued to work in East Germany, most notably in the hit TV series, Archiv des Todes (Archive of Death), playing the Polish partisan Hanka. Brylska’s biggest hit came in 1976 with the Russian mini-series The Irony of Fate (Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!), directed by Eldar Ryazanov. The mini-series is still popular and has become a staple of New Year’s Eve television in Russia. Since the Wende, she has appeared in numerous movies and television shows in Russia and Poland.
Eberhard Esche practically made a career out of playing befuddled characters who were either out of their depth, or clueless. He is as well known for his recitations of ballads and poems as he is for his acting. Esche was born in Leipzig and studied at the Theaterhochschule Leipzig. His film appearances include Divided Heaven, The Second Life of F.W.G. Platow, and Till Eulenspiegel. While working on the fairytale film How to Marry a King (Wie heiratet man einen König) he fell in love with and married his co-star, the Dutch actress Cox Habbema. Since the Wende, he has appeared on television, but not often, appearing more often in radio plays and on recordings. His daughter from his first marriage, Esther Esche, has gone on to become a successful actress in her own right. He also has the distinction of appearing in Novalis – The Blue Flower (Novalis – Die blaue Blume). the last film attributed to DEFA. Esche died in 2006 and is buried in the French Cemetery (Französische Friedhof) in Berlin.
The music was by DEFA’s most versatile composer, Karl-Ernst Sasse. Trained as a classical musician, Sasse could write virtually any style of music, from pre-Renaissance ballads to modern jazz. For this film, he’s created a loose, John Barry-esque score featuring someone riffing on an organ in the style of Johnny “Hammond” Smith or Jack McDuff. (for more on Karl-Ernst Sasse, see Her Third). It’s effective and fun.
The poster for the movie also deserves mention. In keeping with the West German setting, the poster is designed to imitate the front page of Bild, a German tabloid that was known for its rabidly right-wing stance at the time (it has mellowed a bit since then). Since the film is an attack on the “greed is good” philosophy espoused by Bild, the poster design is apt.
Although largely ignored today (it doesn’t even have its own page on the German Wikipedia), Murder on Monday was a successful film at the time, and continued a tradition of anti-West crime films that include Rendezvous Aimée, Black Velvet, The Story of a Murder and Murder Case Zernik.
1. It’s worth noting that both the Krimi and Giallo films got their names and ideas from literature. There were books called Krimis before there were films, and the Giallo subgenre gets its name directly from the yellow covers of a popular line of crime novels.
2. Comödie Dresden is a fun theater, which, as the name implies, specializes in comedies. Among their productions are the stage version of The Addams Family, and a musical version of the Ostalgie hit, Go Trabi, Go.
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