When we think of Van Der Valk, we inevitably think of Barry Foster and the 70s TV series. However, Foster was just one of four actors to play the role of the Amsterdam detective; Fellow Brits Frank Finlay and Bryan Marshall also played him in Euro TV and film respectively. Indeed, I've already blogged about Marshall's turn in the harsh and gritty, Clockwork Orange style 1973 film Because Of The Cats (Here)
The first screen Van Der Valk however came in 1968 (some four years before Barry Foster) with the small, near forgotten Gerry O'Hara directed film Amsterdam Affair based on Nicolas Freeling's first Van Der Valk novel from 1962, Love In Amsterdam. In it the intrepid Commissaris is played by German actor Wolfgang Kieling.
His is a rather unique Van Der Valk (though I must admit I've never seen Frank Finlay's interpretation) for one he's distinctly older than both Barry Foster and Bryan Marshall and that brings a different edge to the role - though admittedly, the character in the books is a little older than the most famous characterisation of Foster's - he even calls his prime suspect (played by William Marlowe, more of later) "Young 'Un" throughout, which brings a rather stern paternal angle to the relentless mind games and questions of his interrogation technique and general crime solving.
Perhaps it's my distinctly British mind at play here, or perhaps it's the fact that Kieling's most famous role was as the East German agent in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, but there's something of the Gestapo and Stasi about his depiction of our hero, as he marches briskly through Amsterdam's police stations, prisons and grubby nightclubs dressed in a dark blue suit and mac and leather gloves barking clipped questions in his Teutonic accent. As such his Van Der Valk is much more abrasive and bullish, which is in keeping with Freeling's original in the books and certainly the earlier episodes featuring Barry Foster (but not as swaggeringly aggressive as Bryan Marshall's performance would have it) As an audience we flinch and wince at some of his deliberately offensive and crude questions and statements; his preoccupation with his suspect's sex life and how, at one point, he openly admits to Marlowe's second wife (played by the beautiful Catherine Schell) that he "like(s) looking at your legs"
The inspiration for the story came about in the most fascinating and unfortunate turn of events; Freeling, a Brit writer living in Holland, was wrongly arrested one night and hauled in for questioning. He was confronted by a Commissaris whose interrogation skills provided the basis for the novel and the character of Van Der Valk. From this serendipitous event, the germ of an idea developed into Love In Amsterdam, a book which is split into three parts (a trick Freeling would often employ, perhaps most successfully in the Van Der Valk novel Criminal Conversation which focuses on his role and investigation in the first half, and the last half is told entirely from the murderer's point of view) the first part being the interrogation between Van Der Valk and Martin Ray, the British writer and the Freeling alter ego, whose first wife has been found dead. The second part details his relationship with the victim and the third part is the finale in which good prevails and the real culprit is caught.
The film largely dispenses with this three act formula, instead relying on the tried and tested formula in crime movies/TV shows; the (hazy) flashback. Its tinted picture is invariably naff yet somehow quaint as we see Marlowe's Ray frolic with his first wife, the occasional almost noir like narration accompanying it.
It's William Marlowe as Martin Ray, the film's only Briton who is given the honour of leading man status and it would prove to be a rare thing indeed in his career. He's rather good in the role and carries an awful lot of the film's heart, as Van Der Valk himself is played as an outsider really; a man whose thoughts and motivations are kept largely from the audience. Marlowe was a familiar face in supporting roles in film and more heftier roles (ironically often as a policeman) on the small screen primarily in the 60s and 70s but indeed right up until his death in the early 90s, notably in such fare as Doctor Who, The Legend Of Robin Hood, The Gentle Touch, The Chief, Family At War, The Heroes Of Telemark and Robbery.
It was on the set of Amsterdam Affair that he met his second wife, Catherine Schell, and the marriage would last nine years. Following a divorce in 1977, Marlowe married Kismet Delgado, widow of Roger Delgado, the first actor to play The Master in Doctor Who
One certainly can't deny that Marlowe had taste, as Schell was one of the most beautiful Euro Cuties of the day. I especially like this shot of her from the film; she's wearing a rather nice chic 60s dress and I'm rather taken with The Ray's Amsterdam apartment; the little wooden bed residing under the window, looking out at the rainy rooftops of their neighbours and the Dutch skyline beyond.
For a film shot entirely abroad, O'Hara never manages to fully capitalise on his location. Amsterdam looks rather drab, grey and distinctly unexotic and it's unclear whether this was his intention or not - perhaps it was, as the title shot of the bunch of flowers looks traditional and tourist friendly enough, before the camera pulls back to reveal they are merely table decoration on the wing of a prison Ray has found himself placed in whilst under investigation.
Where O'Hara excels is the grubbiness of the permissive foreign locale; a red lit nightclub full of sweating heaving young bodies gyrating to a rather dull score is the setting for Van Der Valk's questioning of the victim's first husband, a grubby, sweating and impotent fat man who comes off part Peter Lorre, part Sydney Greenstreet. The ITV series would never shy away from the tawdry Soho stylings of Amsterdam, but they would balance it with picturesque shots of the canals and waterways - all to the famed Simon Park score of Eye Line. No such concessions for tourism are placed here, or in Because Of The Cats
It's an old fashioned B movie with a simplistic story that, despite capable performances, wouldn't hold much interest or detain anyone now were it not for the fact that it was the first tentative debut of Van Der Valk, a character who would go on to captivate the UK for some twenty years, albeit under a completely different guise.
Unsurprisingly this has not received a DVD release on any region, but bootlegs are available. Tut tut tut ;)