It seems like ages ago now that I reviewed Jess Franco’s Jack the Ripper (1976) but, if you’ve been paying attention, you might recall that as Klaus Kinski’s character was called Dr Orloff I made reference in the review to another Jess Franco film called The Awful Dr Orlof (1962).
I had originally thought this was just a homonym but in fact it seems there are more coincidences than just the name. I watched The Awful Dr Orlof recently and I can thoroughly recommend it. It’s a kind of rip-off of Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage aka Eyes Without A Face (1960), mingled in with aspects of Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).
Although The Awful Dr Orlof has a very different story line to Jack the Ripper, some scenes from the latter are almost straight re-runs of scenes from the former. So whilst The Awful Dr Orlof is about a retired doctor who employs a monster called Morpho to abduct young women so he can take skin grafts from their faces to repair the disfigured face of his daughter, and Jack the Ripper is about a serial killer who targets prostitutes, some scenes are common to both films.
The protagonists are called Orlof (The Awful Dr Orlof) and Dennis Orloff (Jack the Ripper) and as both films are set around about the same period, these characters dress similarly. And although Klaus Kinski is the more attractive of the two (of course) there appears to be some physical similarity between the two actors.
Both Orlof and Dennis Orloff are driven by personal conflict. Dr Orlof’s daughter has a facial disfigurement which he wishes to repair as he fears for her health. Dr Orlof says that up until the day his daughter was burnt in the fire he had always tried to benefit mankind and, in fact, the crimes he commits are, primarily, done in an effort to save his daughter. Although there is the case of faking Arne’s death to get her out of a lifetime prison sentence, which is not truly explained other than with the statement that he believes he was in love with her then, the other crimes (including faking Morpho’s death to allow him to escape prison) are all motivated by his desire to treat his daughter’s facial disfigurement. The day that he issued a false death certificate to help Morpho escape from prison, he retired from practising medicine.
Dr Dennis Orloff was abused by his mother who worked as a prostitute and he believes he can wash away his sins with the blood of dead prostitutes. Dr Dennis Orloff is said to be a pushover as far as his patients are concerned, he works hard and he charges them little, allowing them to pay whenever they are able. The irony is that whilst he saves lives during the daytime, he goes out looking for victims to murder in the evening.
Orlof and Dennis Orloff have assistants who help them with their crimes. Orlof has a more active assistant in Morpho, who is said to have been found guilty of murdering a 12 year old girl and appears to enjoy helping the Doctor with his work. Morpho does not question Orlof’s motives for wanting to kill the women and goes along with it all willingly until he realises that Orlof has accidentally killed Arne, the only woman for whom Morpho feels any fondness. It should be noted that Orlof only kills Arne – and this was accidental – but that all the other murders are carried out by Morpho at his instigation.
Dennis Orloff has a more passive assistant in Frieda, who helps Dennis Orloff with the disposal of the bodies only and does not participate in the killing. Whilst Morpho clearly has murderous tendencies and he and Orlof mutually benefit from Orlof’s scheme, it is unclear what Frieda gets out of covering up Dennis Orloff’s serial killings. Frieda appears to be mentally deficient and has some unexplained scarring to her face – it’s possible she is one of Dennis Orloff’s patients (but this is never mentioned) and it is also possible that she is in love with him (she tries to kiss his hand at one point but he pushes her away) and this could be why she willingly assists him.
But whilst Dr Orlof requires Morpho to carry out his bidding, Dennis Orloff can be seen to be an amalgam of both Orlof and Morpho – he is the respected gentleman doctor and the murderer rolled into one; to throw another story into the mix, he’s a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character.
In both The Awful Dr Orlof and Jack the Ripper there are fairly incompetent police inspectors (Inspector Tanner and Inspector Selby) who are besotted with beautiful ballerinas (Wanda Bronsky and Cynthia). Both Inspectors are given serial murder cases to solve and do not appear to be getting anywhere fast with the investigations; the help they get is in the form of information and assistance from a fisherman (Jean Rousseau and Charlie) and from their girlfriends going out secretly in disguise as prostitutes in a bid to attract the murderer and to help Tanner / Selby to find their killers.
Both Orlof and Dennis Orloff transport their murder victims by boat down the river and then take them to a secret location (a castle or the Royal Botanical Gardens), before disposing of the remains by dumping the body further down the river. In the case of Orlof, the attack is carried out by Morpho who carries the body to his master. Dennis Orloff carries out the attack himself and carries the body away.
Both Orlof and Dennis Orloff are attracted to the Inspectors’ girlfriends. As Tanner passes copies of the portraits of the suspects to policemen on duty and Selby goes back indoors to retrieve a bag, in almost identical scenes, Orlof / Orloff spots Wanda / Cynthia waiting alone in a carriage:
Upon Tanner’s / Selby’s return, Wanda / Cynthia announces that she has just encountered the murderer and that he has fled the scene. In both cases Tanner and Selby pursue the suspect only to find that they have accosted the wrong person:
Despite having a description of the murderer, neither Inspector catches his killer/s before further murders are committed. In The Awful Dr Orlof the singer Irma Gold disappears from the nightclub after Orlof and Morpho kill the pianist she was working with and then abduct her:
Irma Gold’s mother: “My daughter, she’s gone all night long. That never happened before. She sometimes works late, although she knows I’ve been sick for months. She’s never left me alone like this though. She’s all I’ve got. She sings every night in a cabaret at Le vieux Colombier. First thing this morning I went over to the place, they said my daughter had to practice some special numbers, she often stayed late with the pianist. O! I’m frightened that something’s happened to her; that they’ve killed my daughter. And I’ll never see her alive again; the same as those other poor girls.”
Policeman: “You mustn’t be so upset. I’m sure this is only a false alarm.”
In Jack the Ripper the singer Marika Stevenson disappears after leaving the club with Dennis Orloff:
Marika Stevenson’s mother: Has she been found yet?”
Selby: “No. But you shouldn’t fear the worst yet.”
Marika Stevenson’s mother: Don’t raise false hopes. My Marika always came home. Despite her profession, I could always rely on her, even if she came home very late. She knew I would be worried.”
In an attempt to identify the murderers both Tanner and Selby bring together all the possible witnesses they have in one room and have them describe what and who they saw so that a police artist can draw suspect sketches. In both cases, the Inspectors are given a variety of descriptions by their witnesses which do not tie up; in The Awful Dr Orloff this is because there are in fact two suspects (Orlof and Morpho) who look nothing alike, whilst in Jack the Ripper this is due to the unreliable testimony of bystanders. However, in both cases the police artists come up with sketches which look very much like the murderers:
Tanner and Selby get important evidence and information from a local fisherman – in Tanner’s case from Jeannot and in Selby’s case from Charlie. Jeannot finds a necklace in the river; it belonged to one of the murder victims:
Jeannot: “But I know the necklace came from further up the stream on account of the current… extremely powerful current there and it might have carried those beads a long way to where I was.”
Policeman: “Where will I find you?”
Jeannot: “At Albert’s Tavern; that’s my home away from home.”
Charlie finds a severed hand in the river – there is a ring on one of the fingers; the hand belongs to one of the murder victims:
Charlie: “This was in the water for less than a week. I know what I’m talking about. And the fact that she’s still wearing the ring will make your work easier. Take a close look at it. If I were you I’d have the whole canal searched, but further up from where I found this; in the current, of course.”
Policeman: “Where can we find you, if we need you?”
Charlie: “Well, I’m of no fixed abode, but if you need me you’ll find me at the Dolphin. I like to have a little drink now and then, you see?”
Both Jeannot and Charlie appear to have a lack of confidence in the policemen that assist Tanner and Selby, and both demand that he should leave the room whilst they talk only to the Inspector.
Despite all the leads they are given, both Inspectors are criticised for their lack of progress with solving the cases; the criticism implies that Tanner and Selby are distracted from their cases by their girlfriends:
THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF: “While the city’s new Bluebeard continues his reign of terror, the inspector in charge of the case is spending all of his time with a young ballerina. What sort of an investigation is he conducting?”
JACK THE RIPPER: “It’s unfortunate for him that Scotland Yard’s search for the killer hasn’t been successful. People don’t like seeing a Scotland Yard inspector taking home a pretty dancer like you in the evening, while Jack the Ripper is slipping through his fingers… To make matters worse, The Times prints those readers’ letters…”
Because of this and despite their fear of Orlof / Orloff, both Wanda and Cynthia take it upon themselves to dig out provocative clothing to disguise themselves as women of the night in a bid to attract the murderer and thus assist Tanner / Selby with their investigations:
Both make a poor job of it and put their lives on the line in the process. Wanda leaves willingly with Orlof believing that her note will get to Tanner in time for him to rescue her. In fact she awakens in a strange castle and discovers Irma’s mutilated body chained up in one of Orlof’s rooms, now fearing for her life. Quite rightly as she winds up on an operating bed and only manages to escape having her face removed when Morpho finds Arne’s concealed body and stabs Orlof in a rage. Morpho is about to murder Wanda when Tanner arrives in the nick of time and shoots Morpho.
Cynthia is not so lucky when she encounters Dennis Orloff in a bar where she is posing as a prostitute. She takes the barman to one side and asks him to inform Scotland Yard that Jack the Ripper is on the premises. When she comes back, Dennis Orloff has gone. She leaves the bar and is inevitably abducted by Orloff who takes her off to the botanical gardens. Once there he attacks her and tells her that whores must suffer as he did as a child at the hands of his mother. By the time Selby arrives, Cynthia has already been attacked.
Take that as a warning, girls, it’s definitely not a good idea to dress up as a prostitute to help a policeman trap a serial killer…
Another similarity to mention briefly is the tapping of a stick – Orlof taps a stick so Morpho can sense where he is and follow him and the blind man in Jack the Ripper taps his stick as he walks. I’m not sure why Jess Franco felt compelled to recycle so many aspects of The Awful Dr Orlof in Jack the Ripper as The Awful Dr Orlof is a great film in its own right and did not need to be remade. But apparently Jess Franco had wanted to make a version of Jack the Ripper for some time and had planned it out very thoroughly before getting the funding together to make the film.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little comparison of the two films and that you check out The Awful Dr Orlof for yourself. They’re both very good films, and let’s face it (however much I like a small number of his films) not all of Jess Franco films are that good!