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TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe, Die) (director: Ulli Lommel; screenwriter: Kurt Raab; cinematographer: Jürgen Jürges; editors: Thea Eymèsz/Rainer Werner Fassbinder; music: Peer Raben; cast: Kurt Raab (Fritz Haarmann), Jeff Roden (Grans), Margit Carstensen (Frau Linder), Hannelore Tiefenbrunner (Police Kommisar), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Wittkowski ), Brigitte Mira (Frau Engerl), Ingrid Craven (Dora); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1973-W.Ger.-in German with English subtitles)
“A black comedy of manners, but the crimes are so ghastly that they drown out the comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A wickedly entertaining but harrowing tale of serial killer Fritz Haarmann, a German who was executed in 1925 for the murder of some 30 to 40 boys aged between 13 and 20. The madman who roamed the streets during the post-war Depression years becoming known as the infamous “Vampire of Dusseldorf,” who drank the victim’s blood and carved up the body parts as meat sold on the black market or served as delicacies for his circle of friends. Haarmann’s story was put on film in 1931 in Fritz Lang’s M, starring Peter Lorre as the child serial killer. This version keeps the same theme that society by its complicity permits these criminals to exist. The film goes into great detail to show how the corrupt police are bought off by the killer and never investigate his darker secrets, how the nosy neighbors never report until it’s too late his suspicious activities such as boys entering his apartment and never leaving and his carrying out large bundles at night that he dumps in the river, and how his circle of friends look away at his suspicious activities only too glad to do business with such an enterprising person. In director Ulli Lommel’s mesmerizing treatment of the con man, black marketer, police informer, and gay serial killer, the story veers back and forth between a Hollywood crime thriller and one that bluntly shows his vampire acts with no holds barred (though never is the gore used as exploitation, it’s still a much tougher watch than Lang’s masterpiece). Haarmann’s pictured as a helpless loser acting resourceful in such dark times, as many Germans wished they could do; it plays as a black comedy of manners, but the crimes are so ghastly that they drown out the comedy.

The film’s writer, Kurt Raab, also stars as Haarmann. Raab is brilliant in this bizarre role, as he goes about his sinister business establishing that society is the ‘tender wolves.’ If it looks like a Fassbinder production, both Lommel and Raab are veterans of Fassbinder’s plays and movies. Fassbinder appears in a minor role as a petty criminal and is the producer. It has become recognized as a cult film, one that is tough to watch but is unforgettable. The Expressionist style of filming further creates the chilling mood established by the hard-edged narrative.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”