I just love when nobody’s sure what the title of a movie is. This is especially common with foreign films with translations. But the people behind the 1959 German film Der Frosch mit der Maske, or Face of the Frog, but translated to The Frog with the Mask, thought the English title card for the movie should read The Fellowship of the Frog, which is the 1925 book (re-released as Mark of the Frog) by Edgar Wallace that this film was adapted from. If things could possibly be any more confusing, Wallace’s name is also on the poster, as though he was somehow involved in this project (he died 27 years prior to its release).
The main reason I’m reviewing this movie is the role it played in influencing the Italian giallo genre. You can tell that filmmakers of the next couple decades took notes from how this German thriller executed many of its elements, including story structure and stylization of the villain and the mystery itself.
The film, directed by Harald Reinl, follows a group of Scotland Yard officers and an amateur American sleuth, Richard Gordan (Joachim Fuchsberger) as they investigate and try to track down a criminal mastermind, known as The Frog. We see the man plenty of times, always donning a admittedly creepy face mask with bulging eyes–which may be the real selling point of the movie.
The detectives’ trail leads them to a country home of John Bennet and his two older children, Ella (Eva Anthes) and Ray (Walter Wilz). Ella and Richard become smitten with one another, but the Frog also has his bulging eyes on her, and tries to convince her to run away with him. She obviously refuses, but he eventually finds a way to force her hand.
There are plenty of subplots throughout this disorganized story, and we have no firm protagonist, which only makes matter worse. Instead, the filmmakers should have focused more on the Frog, himself. The movie plays out as a mystery trying to figure out his identity. But when it finally gets revealed, we have no interest in who he is. He’s not only somebody who’s only been talked about over the course of the film, but he’s also the only real suspect that’s ever given to us. No surprise at all.
Luckily, the movie fills itself with a few other fun twists along the way. Though often times the plot points are sorely undeserved with no justifications for how characters arrive at any specific location. At one point, a character is unable to prove his innocence simply because he conveniently “can’t remember” what actually happened after getting punched in the face.
The script is wordy–especially with subtitles–and much of the development is hurried along or jumped to with little build-up. Even though some of the suspense is fairly decent, Reinl tries his very best to imitate Alfred Hitchcock, but can never quite match the way he develops his story.
The Fellowship of the Frog, or whatever it’s called, constantly shows its hand to the audience, leaving the ultimate “reveal” at the end underwhelming, along with the most of the film.