In the beginning intelligent subversion of conventions
I recently purchased a DVD with the two-hour pilot and the first installment of this series I once watched as a teenager. And I was very pleasantly surprised.
At the time the series was created, 1977, a whiff of New German Cinema seems to have penetrated TV productions of this kind, and I should say the makers had the audacity to subvert a genre. How on earth did they get away with it? I am convinced that today a bold step like is impossible mainly because the public would not be ready to stomach it.
In Germany there was a tradition of pappy" crime mysteries: An old police inspector (often very close to retirement) solves cases by sheer street knowledge and the wisdom of advanced age. The predecessor of Der Alte" was The Comissar", and its star, Erik Ode, portrayed a cute father figure in the mold of Heinz Rühmann. The social changes in the 1970s made this type of cop increasingly ludicrous.
But what did they do when they saw that the old recipe grew stale? They came up with another dusty old guy in a slightly unkempt gray business suit and called him Der Alte". Apparently English versions of the series run under the name The Old Fox", but the anything but respectful German term might as well mean The Has Been". And in fact, Der Alte" of the first installments seems to be an embittered and frustrated crime solver who is somehow isolated in the force and without friends clearly a man on his way out. He does not crave for sympathy and his actions often seem to be outright suicidal: In the pilot he offers himself as a hostage in exchange for some bank clerks in a Dog Day Afternoon" situation. In the following installment he sets himself up as a blackmailer of murderers and goes to a meeting completely exposed and without any protection. When the murderer's bullet misses him a shade of delusion seems to pass over his face. He really does not seem to care anymore.
Der Alte" I write about here is a rather nasty guy, a loner who is unkind, sarcastic, arrogant and leers after young girls. He is plainly unlikeable and there is nothing particularly funny about him. But once he's taken up the scent he makes the right moves and what else do we expect of a crime-solver? Experienced actor Siegfried Lowitz was dead right for this character and I guess he can largely be credited for the success of the series.
But not only the acting and the screen writing is of a very high quality, the whole visual style fits in perfectly. A pretty gloomy atmosphere of stark realism is created but all the set ups seem to be rigidly controlled, nothing seems out of line, every detail fits. An interesting aspect is the use of new Pop music themes to heighten the tension, the above mentioned installment for example uses excerpts of the song Asylum" by Supertramp who were about to become very popular. Another installment used Alan Parsons Project's The Raven". Again they must have purchased the rights at the time when the corresponding album was released. So they must have had a smart musical adviser on this series and an intelligent crew who knew exactly how to fit the tunes in hey, maybe Der Alte" is a predecessor to MTV which I think came a few years later.
Anyway, everybody who would like to get a feel of the mid 1970s in Europe will find the early seasons of this intelligent, artistically interesting series a treasure trove.
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