Friday, February 24, 2012

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Last week Lina Romay passed away, the iconic actress and partner of director Jesus Franco. It became official yesterday. For me, and for many others, this came as a shock – I had no idea Lina was battling with cancer and I can’t even imagine how Uncle Jess must feel now when his soulmate has left him after so many years. One of the first movies by Franco I saw was Jack the Ripper, the Erwin C. Dietrich-produced thriller from 1976. Hardly a historical correct retelling of mystery of Jack the Ripper, Franco just takes the basic idea of a brutal murderer of whores in London and tells it from Jack’s point of view instead.

Klaus Kinski is Dr. Dennis Orloff (a relative of The Awful Dr. Orloff maybe?), a doctor popular among the poor and freaks in society. He’s very kind and wants to help those who can’t afford to take of their health, but he’s also a sadistic killer of prostitutes and showgirls. Hot on his trail is the ambitious Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopff) who also dates a dancer, Cynthia (Josephine Chaplin) – and believe it or not, soon our good old ripper gains interest in her…

Jack the Ripper is not the most loved of Franco’s output in the seventies, and I wonder why? Sure, it’s a bit too talky – but I think that’s only main drawback with the screenplay. I guess Dietrich wanted something serious, something with class – not just gore and nudity – maybe glancing at the more serious Edgar Wallace-thrillers out there or even Hammer. And Franco did what was expected of him. The weak spots is the police procedure, which never gets especially interesting. But every time the story jumps back to Klaus Kinski and his inner demons this becomes a super-classy and original production. Kinski, as the master-actor he was, uses his favorite form of telling his characters story – less dialogue, more acting. He never goes as far like in Count Dracula, where he has not dialogue at all – but here it’s kept to a minimum and it works out very fine.

When watching it now I realized I totally forgot how Kinski is tormented by a former victim (or is it his abusive mother?), who haunts him in his house and makes him feel guilty. His relationship with the lobotomized maid is also excellent, and gives us a great performance from a very convincing Nikola Weisse. But why I first watched this movie again was the presence of Lina Romay. Here she has a minor part – but probably the most spectacular – as a showgirl getting stalked and killed by Kinski. And boy, she’s probably most unlucky victim I ever seen in a Jack the Ripper-movie: she first gets repeatedly stabbed in the guts, then brutally raped and finally carried home to the good doctor and getting chopped up in pieces while still alive! Romay has not much to do except looking sexy, getting scared and then die – but she’s also shows a lot of comedic talent when she performs her dance number, strutting around pouting her lips and having a ball with the scene.

It’s a violent movie, but much is off-screen – but when it’s onscreen it’s bloody as hell and graphic in the cheap way only Franco could do it.

Jack the Ripper is an underrated movie with gorgeous cinematography by Peter Baumgartner and excellent directing from Jess Franco. And if you don’t like those things, watch it for Lina Romay.

Rest in peace, Lina. You will be missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow i didn´t even know that she was ill. R I P Lina! She was a icon.
Of those versions of Jack the Ripper that i´ve seen thru the years this is my favourite(Kinski is brilliant).