Germans spoof British pulp fiction


COLOGNE, Germany -- Scotland Yard detectives in bowler hats chasing criminals across murky moors, a fog-hidden Tower Bridge with Big Ben tolling ominously behind and a Hitler-look alike singing "My Way" -- they're all scenes from the spoof "New From the Wanker," which bowed at No. 1 in its home territory with its spot-on parody of British B-films of the 1960s.

The thing is, it isn't British.

"New From the Wanker" or "Neues vom Wixxer" is the latest from German comedians Oliver Kalkofe and Bastian Pastewka. Though shot entirely in German, the whole film, from its set design to the cheesy music is a loving homage to Edgar Wallace, the Brit pulp icon the British forgot.

There are more than 130 films written by or based on Wallace's novels, making the author, who died in Hollywood in 1932, the all-time adaptation king. He is even credited with the original story idea for "King Kong."

It wasn't until the 1960s that Germany caught Wallace fever, with local production companies shooting dozens of adaptations in that decade. "The films were hugely popular, and growing up they used to run on TV every Saturday," Kalkofe says. "This was literally my vision of England -- foggy streets, mysterious killers, all in grainy black and white. When I first went to London, the sun was shining, people were friendly and everything was in color. You can imagine how disappointed I was."

Wallace's popularity had waned, however, by the time Kalkofe, along with writing partners Pastewka and Oliver Welke, pitched the idea of doing a big-screen spoof of their favorite childhood films.

Expectations were low when "Der Wixxer" ("The Wanker") opened in 2004. But the film spent eight weeks in the top 10, grossing $14.5 million.

Kalkofe and company had tapped into Germany's growing wave of nostalgia for Euro pulp fiction, which helped turn Michael "Bully" Herbig's 2001 "Manitou's Shoe," a parody of the German-made Winnetou westerns of the 1960s, into a blockbuster a few years earlier.

With the success of "Der Wixxer," Wallace films -- long absent from German TV -- suddenly started turning up on primetime again. Munich-based station Kabel 1 began programming Wallace tribute nights. The DVDs of the old films started selling.

"These movies weren't just popular in Germany. They were hits in Italy, Spain, many of them in France. We've sold Wallace films all across Europe," says Stelios Ziannis, head of world sales at Kinowelt, which holds international rights to the German Wallace collection.

The Brits might have forgotten Wallace, but Kalkofe, Welke and Pastewka are almost obsessively proud of the British origin of their films. "When it comes to comedy, we just bow down to the British," Pastewka says. This German version of British pulp fiction seems to have legs. Preparations for a third film -- "Triple Wixx" -- already have begun.