JACK THE RIPPER (Dir Jess Franco, 1976)
Basic plot: Dr Dennis Orloff is the son of a prostitute – he kills prostitutes as a way of getting his revenge for the abuse he suffered as a child. Police Inspector Selby’s hunt to catch the murderer (known to the general public as Jack the Ripper) is unsuccessful until his girlfriend Cynthia goes undercover to assist him.
Cast: Dr Dennis Orloff / Jack the Ripper – Klaus Kinski; Cynthia – Josephine Chaplin; Inspector Selby – Andreas Mannkopff; Charlie (the fisherman) – Herbert Fux; Marika Hoffmann (Third victim) – Lina Romay; Frieda – Nikola Weisse; John Pritchard (the blind man) – Hans Gaugler; Sally Brown (First victim) – Francine Custer; Jeannie (Second victim) – Esther Studer
Filming location: Zurich, Switzerland, including the following locations: Schanzengraben; Oliver Twist Pub at Rindermarkt 6; Cloister of Fraumuenster Church of our Lady on Fraumuensterstrasse; Theater Neumarkt at Neumarkt 5
Release date: 23 September 1976
Availability: Jack the Ripper is available on DVD in the UK for less than £5 but, and I complain about this time and time again, I would much rather have subtitles than see a dubbed film and this one is badly dubbed. I’d like to hear Klaus’s wonderful voice rather than some dubbing provided by someone who sounds like they are reading out a shopping list. The English dialogue in Jack the Ripper is absolutely appalling anyway (for example, “You vulgar, old rogue – away with you! All the crown’s jewels couldn’t buy that. Get out of my sight, YOU KNAVE!!!”), but the stilted delivery just makes it even more unbearable. However, there are numerous extras on the DVD that make it well worth while, including a documentary on the restoration of the film; behind the scenes documentary; theatrical trailer; a deleted scene; cast and crew biographies; production stills; and a feature length audio commentary by the producer Erwin C Dietrich.
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
Sally Brown, a prostitute, is seen leaving the Pike’s Hole pub with a gentleman friend (ahem!). After making an improper suggestion (we’re later told he was after “a queer kind of rut”), the gentleman friend is promptly abandoned by Sally who decides it’s time to head off home. She chooses to walk home alone instead of taking a cab. During her journey home she senses that she is being followed by someone and confronts a blind man who appears to be in pursuit, asking him what he wants from her. “No, my child, I look for no one! I only wait for my death. If you would help me, my child, a pittance would be welcome. It’s small gifts from charitable friends which hold my body and soul together until God claims the latter. You understand?” With a sense of relief that he has come to the end of his monologue and not tried to kill her as well Sally gives the blind man some money to buy himself a drink and he bids her farewell with these ominous words: “I wish you a long and happy life; God willing.”
But the awful Dr Orloff (Oops! Thinking of another Jess Franco film…) is watching from his hiding place and is there to make sure that Sally’s life is not a long one. Within seconds of their encounter, Sally’s clothes have fallen off (well, it is a Jess Franco film after all!) and Dr Orloff is murdering her. The blind man, John Pritchard, can only listen on helplessly to her cries for help and ask, “My child, what has he done to you?” No answer is given as Dr Orloff is carrying away her dead body by now.
Dr Orloff transports the body by boat and goes to a house, which appears to be part of the Botanical Gardens, where a rather simple woman (Flora?) awaits him thinking that he has brought her “a new doll”. In a brief moment of tenderness Dr Orloff reaches out to the woman with his black leather gloved hands and strokes a scar on the side of her face. She realises that her new doll is “broken” and then helps Dr Orloff to get rid of it in the Thames, “as usual”. When he goes to leave she tries to kiss his gloved hand and is pushed away with a terse, “Enough of that!” Will he return soon? The viewer suspects so but he tells the woman that he never knows, “…so don’t ask me!”
The woman sneaks a look into the bag before disposing of it and retrieves an eyeball; the viewer now knows that Dr Orloff not only murders but mutilates his victims. No wonder the general public are calling him a crazy lunatic!
The Doctor heads off towards his home in St Petersburgh Place, Bayswater, London. His interfering landlady, Mrs Baxter, hijacks him on his way in, insisting that he sit down and take tea with her; telling him that he needs a better class of clientele for his general practice as the ones he has have soiled her passageway with their muddied boots; then offering up a slice of pie “made with pure hogfat”. Because, as Mrs Baxter puts it, he is “always thinking of other people”, Dr Orloff finds it easy to turn down the offer of the delicious pure hogfat pie and goes to see his patients instead. Mrs Baxter is not offended as she has a little crush on Dr Orloff – I can tell.
The patients all love him too – “Don’t hurry, Doctor, we can wait a bit longer to get well!” Even the small children love him: “So, my little one, you’re not afraid of the Doctor?”, No, she says. If only she knew that Dr Orloff had this Mister Hyde side to him she might not be so unconcerned…
In what was the worst part of the film for me, Dr Orloff appears to remove an abscess from Charlie the fisherman’s leg; it looks like bubblegum and anyway I thought you cut and clean an abscess, not pull it off with tweezers, but I still feel a bit sick anyway. Charlie appears to be immediately cured – that just shows what a good Doctor Dennis Orloff is, doesn’t it?
In the meantime Inspector Selby of Scotland Yard is investigating the recent murder of Sally Brown and has called some irascible old lady – who should know better than to be out and about of a night, if you ask me – and, ironically, the blind man in for them to make their eyewitness testimonies. The blind man, whilst he can’t see, seems to be the more reliable of the two eyewitnesses although he does speak a fair bit of nonsense too: “But I know [Sally Brown] was murdered. My senses are twice as acute than most men and I have a sixth sense – I recognised the screams of a dying woman.” Now, call me old fashioned but I wouldn’t have thought you’d really need ‘a sixth sense’ to be able to recognise the screams of a dying woman, and, if I’m not mistaken the blind man only has four of the five senses anyway so how would it be a sixth sense?!!
Nonetheless, with his “sixth sense” the blind man recognises Doctor Orloff for the mad genius that he is – and he could be describing Klaus Kinski here as well – when he says that he has “a madness that could be transformed into brilliance.”
Well, the Inspector does not have much else to go on yet so he might as well suck it all up. With no other leads to follow he takes time out to see his sometime girlfriend, Cynthia, at her ballet class. Someone ought to remind him that he has a murderer to catch but he’s more interested in grilling the rather toothy Cynthia about why ballet means everything to her; now there’s an enquiry he might get somewhere with. You don’t need a blind man to tell you that from the look of her offhand behaviour she doesn’t appear to be that bothered about the Inspector really.
For the first time we get an insight into what goes off in Dr Orloff’s evil mind when we see him being tormented by bad dreams, hearing voices in his head and having visions of an evil temptress trying to entice him to stop suppressing his passions.
Naturally after his bad dreams he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and gets a bit grumpy with Mrs ‘Can’t-take-no-for-an-answer’ Baxter when she sexually harasses him once again with her ‘let’s have a cup of hot tea’ routine.
“But, Doctor, you’re very angry with me!”, Mrs Baxter says like the unselfaware harridan that she is. Dr Orloff responds with, “Why these questions? Enough of your tea parties now!”, throwing her tea across the room to scare her even more. He relents slightly and tries to soothe her when she begins to cry but with women like Mrs Baxter, you give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, so, wisely, he doesn’t go too far with his caresses. “Do women always disturb you so?”, Mrs Baxter says as he goes to leave. You see what, I mean? He’s already shouted at her about all the questions and she just has to ask another one for the road. Pass Dr Orloff some more tea to throw at her, will you?!!
Dr Orloff is so disturbed by Mrs Baxter that he inadvertently picks up a prostitute called Jeannie. He reluctantly goes home with her and she pays him a bit of attention somewhere near his nether regions. He can’t seem to relax though as he starts to squeeze her with his gloved hands and apparently he squeezes a wee bit too hard. By the time her neighbour has come in to see what all the moaning is about Dr Orloff has scarpered and left her severed breasts on the dressing table – nice of him to tidy up, he’s kind like that; always thinking of others. He left the pool of blood near her dead body for someone else to clean up though. He’s a busy guy…
And so is Charlie the fisherman who is trying to earn himself a few bob down at the river. Unfortunately he doesn’t catch any fish to make fingers with but he catches a severed hand instead. He takes it over to Inspector Selby along with some terrible jokes about giving the inspector a hand and putting their hands on the murderer. The Inspector thanks him for ‘the exotic gift’ and sends him on his way, before promptly bringing him back in again to attend a meeting of all the case’s eyewitnesses. A police sketch artist draws a picture of what looks like Klaus Kinski as an alien and the majority of the group (aside from the irascible old lady and the blind man) agrees that this is Jack the Ripper. Not to be outdone by the sighted, the blind man offers up his fresh insights and expertise at recognising scents. As if to prove the blind man’s point, a policeman enters the room to inform the Inspector that a pine needle found in Sally Brown’s hand came from a tropical plant, the odour of which the blind man detected on Jack the Ripper.
With this fresh piece of evidence in place, you’d think Selby would knuckle down to some detective work but instead he heads off to see his ballerina friend, Cynthia. Upon leaving the house she realises she has forgotten her handbag so Selby says he will get it for her – he loves to fetch and carry for her – and leaves her in the carriage alone. At this opportune moment Dr Orloff, or Jack the Ripper if you prefer, appears and stares her out a bit. Of course she’s frightened; who wouldn’t be?
You can tell by the look in her eyes, she’s seen that Klaus-Kinski-looking-like-an-alien face in the artist’s sketch and she recognises it in Dr Orloff. Luckily Selby returns with the handbag and Orloff runs off. The hapless Selby runs after him but loses him.
Where could Orloff have gone? Well, he’s in the Pike’s Hole, if you’ll pardon my French, watching a bawdy singer performing for the clientele. He is clearly rather taken with her – and who wouldn’t be? She’s a classy girl who sings lyrics like, “…If you have the brass, I’ll give you the ass…”. Dr Orloff has some brass and gives it to a woman who arranges for him to meet the singer, Marika, outside; presumably so she can give him the ass. He has a horse drawn carriage so I’m not sure what he will do with the ass, but let’s not trouble ourselves with such details.
Orloff takes Marika out for a drive on this dark and foggy night. When he takes her somewhere isolated she starts to panic but his overtures at lovemaking are not spurned and she stops complaining when he kisses her, tongues and all. What Mrs Baxter would give for that! But he can’t control himself and she flees when he becomes violent. A chase ensues and when she is finally caught, poor Marika is stabbed and raped. Orloff then takes her body with him and slices off her breasts. But this time Orloff slips up and he is seen. As he returns in his boat, Charlie the fisherman is loitering behind the bushes – possibly suspicious that Orloff might be Jack the Ripper after seeing the artist’s sketch at the police station – and sees what Orloff has been doing in the boat.
Cynthia, the ballerina, is planning on going on tour with her dance troupe but when the pianist at the dance class tells her that the public frowns upon police inspectors who dally with beautiful ballerinas instead of pursuing killers, she gets a stupid idea into her head. So whilst Dr Orloff is killing Charlie who has come to see him at home in order to blackmail him, Cynthia is foolishly getting herself up as a prostitute and planning on snaring Jack the Ripper herself to help save Inspector Selby’s reputation. The ever nosy Mrs Baxter, hearing noises coming from Dr Orloff rooms uses any excuse to gain access and thus finds the dead body – ha!
The police have had reports that Marika Hoffmann is missing and they have also had news of bloodsoaked clothing being found in Kensington Park, which, incidentally, is not far away from Dr Orloff’s home in Bayswater. Then Inspector Selby gets a call to say that Cynthia has not returned home.
Stupid Cynthia is dressed up to the nines posing as a prostitute and fooling no one; not even a blind man. That’s right, the blind man encounters Cynthia, gets a small gift from his new charitable friend and tells her in return that with his sixth sense he can tell that she is not what she is pretending to be, that she is in fancy dress and that she is “playing a role; a part in a dangerous play.” The thought of being caught out by a blind man does nothing for Cynthia’s nerves and so she heads into a bar which is just about to close. The barman takes pity on her – asks her if she’s new to the job (you see, she’s fooling absolutely no one!) and then says she can get a brandy whilst he counts the night’s takings. The barman has only just gone downstairs when Dr Orloff arrives – such impeccable timing.
Cynthia recognises him as Jack the Ripper and when he says he will buy her some champagne (no wonder he’s behind with his rent to Mrs Baxter!) she offers to order it saying that the barman is a friend of hers. The barman who has only just met her does not argue when she tells him to leave by the backdoor to get assistance as Jack the Ripper is on the premises; meanwhile, she says she will detain him whilst the barman gets the police. I find this very odd as the barman is effectively leaving the bar open and his takings there for this new-to-town prostitute to ransack in his absence. O well, he is obviously a very trusting soul and he does just as she suggests anyway. But as Cynthia goes back up to the bar she realises that Jack the Ripper has gone.
Instead of waiting for the barman to come back with the police she goes out into the night alone and, so much for her plans to trap him, she is, inevitably, herself snared by Jack the Ripper. Dr Orloff takes her away in his carriage and then transports her in the boat.
The Inspector arrives too late, as usual, and questions the barman and some other hangers-on about the identity of the woman who reported seeing Jack the Ripper. Selby, like the blind man, clearly has a sixth sense as he knows it is Cynthia and has brought along a photograph to show them; they confirm that it was indeed her. The police head off to the tropical greenhouse in their hunt for Jack the Ripper and with the hope of finding Cynthia still alive.
They’ll be lucky – she might still be alive right now but Jack the Ripper is already waving a knife at her and offering to use her blood to wash away his own sins, and, in a two-for-one which most people could refuse, he says it will also purify her. Cynthia does not look like she cares too much for being purified and objects when he starts to take her clothes off a little bit – does she not realise this is a Jess Franco film or what? And, finally, we get to the nub and the gist of it all when Jack the Ripper tells Cynthia that whores must suffer as he did when only a lad and the ramblings of a tortured mind pour out as he attempts to rape her. Dr Orloff’s simple lady friend looks on as this takes place but she does not intervene – unsatisfactorily, the viewer is never quite sure of the nature of their relationship and why she offers this assistance to the Doctor – and then when she hears footsteps approaching she warns the Doctor that “the enemy is coming.”
It’s too late for the Doctor though and it’s too late for Cynthia really – she may not be dead but she has been violated. She probably won’t go on tour with the dance troupe now, I’m guessing, so she tells Inspector Selby that she loves him and that she did this to help him. He decides to show her who’s the man all of a sudden and gets all tough with Orloff, telling him he’s surrounded and that they won’t let him get away. Selby shoots one shot up to the top of the building where Orloff is concealing himself and, for no apparent reason, Orloff decides to give himself up.
Because Dr Orloff is played by Klaus Kinski he does this with great panache, pulling on his black leather gloves and unemotionally staring the Inspector out with his huge blue eyes.
And when Selby puts the cuffs on him and tells him that they are arresting him for the crimes of Jack the Ripper, he just sneers at Selby coldly and says, “You’ll never prove it!”
He’s probably just calculating on probabilities when he says that as Selby certainly didn’t get anywhere in his investigations without the help of a blind man and his ballerina girlfriend in the first place, did he?
My opinion, Klaus Kinski was the perfect choice for the role of someone who is tortured with a split personality in what was essentially a fusion of the Jack the Ripper story and Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde. The split personality, though, I would argue is not so split as you would imagine – even in his moments of kindness to his patients, his restraint with those who he finds irksome, and his tenderness towards others, he shows nothing more than a vague understanding of social customs and expected behaviour (he just about manages to stay in line but looks uncomfortable with most interactions); there is a thin line and distinction between the Dr Orloff behaviour and the Jack the Ripper behaviour. As Jack the Ripper he appears to get no pleasure from his immoral and bloodthirsty behaviour and no rest from the torment that he feels; he does not transform when he murders, rather he remains as emotionless as he is in his everyday life. Murder for him is an attempt to take away the pain and torment that he feels from his childhood abuse but he gets little from the experience and remains in pain and tormented, looking for this elusive way of washing away his sins. In an utterly restrained but nonetheless intense performance Kinski manages to make you feel for the Ripper, if not quite the love that the patients and Mrs Baxter feel for Dr Orloff then at least the same kind of brief and cursory tenderness that Orloff manages to display towards others.
Kinski’s acting methods:
Kinski once said said that O W Fischer told him, “I need your eyes”, for the film Hanussen. Whilst Kinski’s response to this was, “Now that’s really no reason to hire an actor, as far as I’m concerned”, as far as I am concerned I can see why a director would want those eyes. As ever Kinski makes great use of his eyes, telling us so much without saying a word. Were he mute Kinski could have used those his eyes to speak to us in the same way that the blind character John Pritchard says that he uses his ears and his nose to do the work that his unseeing eyes cannot do for him.
Also look out for the Klaus method of casually sauntering into the screen space with his hands in his pockets, which crops up regularly in his films…
Other information about the film: From what I can make out (my German is pretty bad) from Christian David’s Kinski Die Biographie (Aufbau Taschenbuch, Berlin, 2008, p245) filming took place in Zurich over eight days in June 1976. Kinski was keen to get filming done quickly so he could get back to Paris to Minhoi who was heavily pregnant at the time (in fact, Nikolai was born just one month later on 30 July 1976). Working so quickly meant working from early in the morning until late at night, so Kinski was effectively as tired and worn out as his character was supposed to be in the film. Maybe the tiredness could explain why Kinski suddenly jumped for no apparent reason on Herbert Fux (who played Charlie the fisherman) one day and began to strangle him. Later he said he had been rehearsing how he planned to strangle Fux in the next scene, which was to be shot in the attic of a villa close to Geneva. After this incident, Fux apparently negotiated with Jess Franco and the producer Erwin C Dietrich to be replaced by a doll in the scene as it was to be shot at night time anyway and he obviously felt that Klaus could not control himself. Fux then decided to leave and whilst heading for a taxi he could hear Klaus shouting, swearing and verbally abusing him from the villa’s skylight. Luckily for Fux Klaus did not manage to catch the car as it sped off. Since they later appeared alongside each other in Woyzeck you can only assume that both of them had “forgotten” this incident. They had also appeared together in Killer’s Carnival (1966); The Black Cobra (1963); and Der rote Rausch (1962).
However, according to Erwin C Dietrich, who discusses working with Klaus in the bonus documentaries on the DVD, Klaus was well behaved! It’s surprising just how often people who worked with Klaus Kinski disagree about his behaviour. Erwin C Dietrich had the following to say:
“The filming in Zurich took place mostly at night. Klaus Kinski proved himself to be a very cooperative actor. Everything I had heard about him before turned out to be untrue. I don’t know why other producers have had difficulties with Klaus Kinski. As long as you pay his wages on time you don’t have any problems with him.
He had agreed to shoot all his scenes within 7 days. These days weren’t 8 hours long as it said in his contract. Instead they were 15 hours long. In this, he was very cooperative. According to his contract, he could have easily asked me for a day’s wages for every eight hours. He never did, because he stood behind the project and wanted it to succeed.
Later, I shot two more films with Klaus Kinski in the Philippines: Commando Leopard and Codename Wildgeese. In these films, too, I could fully count on Klaus Kinski. He was always reliable. Of course it was also him who took over directing the scenes he acted in…”
That’s another story that will be covered when I finally get around to reviewing Commando Leopard!