Directed by Rolf Randolf (1927)
Henry Stuart (Tom Wilkins)
Elsa Temary (Mabel Strong)
Hanni Weisse (Mme. Tréville)
Carl de Vogt (Beggar)
Fritz Kampers (Chauffeur)
Robert Scholz (Marquis de Puissac)
Eugen Jensen (Police Commissioner)
The movie is tinted a bright, vibrant yellow throughout and has beautiful photography of 1920's Köln. There are stunning outdoor scenes of the cathedral plaza and surrounding countryside. The movie opens with Tom Wilkins, the famous police detective, motoring up to the bustling Hotel Excelsior across the square from the Köln cathedral. He is hot on the trail of an international band of gem thieves that has moved their operations to Köln.
Wilkins checks into the hotel and asks for a room overlooking the cathedral. While looking out his window, Wilkins sees someone jostle the Kölner cathedral beggar who then collapses. Wilkins rushes out to the plaza, while a young woman passerby asks a chauffeur what has happened. As she is told that the beggar has been stabbed, Wilkins rushes off to the police station.
We next see the young woman entering a literal "den of thieves". She tells the bartender that the beggar has been stabbed. The real beggar, sitting unnoticed in the corner, gets up and tells her that getting stabbed was the price that an imposter paid when he took the beggar's place.
At the police station, the Commissioner shows Wilkins a telegram: "International band from Brussels is missing. Presumed working in Köln. Observe unobtrusively hotels in Köln. Communicate with our Commissioner Wilkins." The Commissioner tells Inspector Wilkins that he had immediately sent Detective Winkler over to the cathedral to stand in for the begger. Someone in the gang must have recognized him and stabbed him.
The beggar is brought in, and Inspector Wilkins listens as the Commissioner questions him. The beggar says he knows nothing about the stabbing and is indignant about being arrested.
We next see the beggar in front of the cathedral selling cigarettes. A drunk asks for matches while a chauffeur surreptitiously puts a paper with a coded message into the beggar's hand and then leaves. When the beggar tries to follow him, the drunk prevents him from following the chauffeur. At the police station, it is revealed that the beggar is Inspector Wilkins in disguise. Wilkins tells the commissioner that the drunk has hindered him, but the Commisioner tells him that the drunk is notorious and harmless.
While the Commissioner and Wilkins try to decode the secret message, we see the drunk at Wilkins' hotel getting Wilkins' room number from a clerk. Meanwhile, Wilkins and the Commissioner decode the message which reads: "Inspector Wilkins - Hotel Excelsior". Wilkins advises the Commissioner to let the beggar go free while he, Wilkins, arranges a surprise for the gang.
The scene shifts to the hotel room where a young woman announces herself to the chauffeur as Mabel Strong and asks to see the Marquis de Puissac. He greets her as a long lost relative as she shows him a telegram which recommends that she meet the Marquis as he is her only living relative on her mother's side. They decide to go to the Karneval together later. After showing her out, the chauffeur joins the Marquis and congratulates him on convincing the girl that she is his niece.
The beggar is reading a newspaper which tells of a fabulous Indian prince who is visiting Köln's famous Karneval. We next see the prince arrive from Paris. It is Rosenmontag or Rose Monday, a national celebration in Germany the day before Mardi Gras. Everyone is dressed in costume, and we see actual footage of the 1926 Köln Rosenmontag parade of floats. At the hotel, two detectives arrive and are hired to look after the prince. We see the chauffeur whisper to someone the prince's room number.
The prince enters the lobby followed by servants bearing a large sealed box. The prince tells the manager that it contains jewelry and the box is put into the hotel's safe, a vault-like affair with two keys needed to open it.
In the lobby, the Marquis tells a woman, Madeleine Tréville, to reserve a table next to the prince's and to try to get acquainted with him at that evening's celebration. Meanwhile, a hotel clerk hands the beggar a note which he passes on to the chauffeur who later gives the note to the Marquis which tells him of the jewelry box in the safe.
At dinner, the Marquis introduces Mabel Strong to Mme. Tréville. While the prince is dining amid a blizzard of confetti and costumed people doing the Charleston, masked revelers carry Mme. Tréville off to the lobby. The prince follows them and tells them that Mme. Tréville doesn't appreciate their jokes. She thanks him for rescuing her and introduces him to the Marquis. They go back into the dining room and the prince meets Mabel Strong. The detectives guarding the prince have been given drugged wine and the lights dim in the room. Everyone lights candles and discovers that the room is locked. After the doors are broken open, the manager appears and tells the prince that the box has been stolen. The prince replies that he feels sorry for the thief as the box is booby-trapped with a hidden bomb.
We next see the beggar and chauffeur in their lair with the box. As they try to open it, Mme. Tréville rushes in and warns them about the bomb. Next we see the Marquis looking for Mme. Tréville. We see her in her room practicing writing "Mabel Strong" for an insurance policy. She then signs a document making the Marquis Mabel Strong's only heir.
In the lobby, the prince chats with Mabel Strong and finds out that the Marquis, her only relative, was unknown to her until she had gotten a telegram a few days before announcing his existence. While they talk, we see the chauffeur attach a bomb to the prince's car.
Back in the thieves' den, a huge man has been hired to open the box. He bashes it and throws it; and the harder he tries to open it, the further away the beggar, chauffeur and Mme. Tréville get. He finally gets it open and out pops a jack-in-the-box with a note saying: "Success never comes easily". The beggar asks if the prince is an enemy or a competitor and tells Mme. Tréville to go back and get the truth.
Returning to his room, the prince finds a masked woman. It is Mme. Tréville. He takes off his turban and we see that the prince is really Tom Wilkins. She shows him the puppet's note. She asks how much of the insurance he is going to claim, and he offers her half and they shake hands as colleagues.
Disguised as the prince again, Wilkins and Mme. Tréville are eating in the hotel dining room as the chauffeur arrives and tells them the car is ready. The chauffeur leaves and the Marquis arrives, and during dinner a bellboy searches the prince's room. He finds a holster which shows that the prince is a police detective.
The chauffeur drives Mme. Tréville and the prince into the country. She pushes a button on the door and suddenly steel bands wrap around the prince's arms, pinning him against the seat. The chauffeur turns around and tells the prince: "Don't you know that you're the entertainment, Mr. Wilkins?" He turns the car around and they head back towards the city.
We next see Mabel Strong driving away from the hotel on her way to Bonn to meet her "uncle", the Marquis. Meanwhile, the prince and the beggar are in the thieves' den. The prince tells the chauffeur to leave and he will make short work of the prince. Outside Mme. Tréville tells the chaufeur to act as navigator as she drives the car. They wait for the beggar as we see him fire a gun at the prince who lunges at the beggar and overpowers him. He handcuffs the beggar to a bannister and shows him that he is wearing body armor which has protected him from his bullets.
Next we see the beggar get into the car with the chauffeur in the back and Mme. Tréville driving. The chauffeur tells him that everything has gone according to plan and that the poisonous gas bomb he attached to Mabel Strong's car will explode at 24 kilometers. As they reach the countryside, the beggar pushes a button and steel bands pin the chauffeur to the seat. The beggar rips off his disguise and reveals himself to the chauffeur as Tom Wilkins. He tells Mme. Tréville to drive to the police station. Once there, Mme. Tréville and the chauffeur are arrested, and Tom Wilkins gives the the police the key to the den and tells them to look after the" Marquis". He then drives off towards Bonn.
Meanwhile, the two detectives assigned to protect Tom Wilkins visit the "Marquis" and order him to march or the bomb will blow up. We see Mabel driving along a canal and Tom Wilkins on a motorboat calling to her. Too late, a puff of poisonous gas blows out of her dashboard and Mabel faints and the car goes into the canal. Tom Wilkins jumps in and saves her while the two detectives drive up with the "Marquis" in a tiny motorcycle with a sidecar. Wilkins congratulates them and they drive off with the Marquis to the police station.
As Mabel sits shivering in an inn by the fireplace, Tom Wilkins comes in; and she thanks him for rescuing her. They shake hands goodbye. We then see them shaking hands from two cars in a fork in the road, and Tom Wilkins tells her that life isn't as beautiful as the movies and that they must separate. The film ends.
This film emphasized the period's fascination with spies, masked villains and secret societies. The wildly improbable double-identity switches and a gang of thieves with members in all strata of society gave the illusion that anything was possible for anyone to achieve if one didn't have moral convictions. The scenes of actual Karneval revelers emphasized the hedonistic tone of the film and the idea that merely changing one's identity enabled everyone to have a wonderful time. The inevitable consequences of this behavior didn't seem to matter except that one lesson was paramount: no one was what he seemed, and no one was trustworthy. The stalwart hero, Tom Wilkins, used multiple disguises and had a wonderful time traveling around in a beautiful car, staying in the best places and living the good life surrounded by beautiful women - eternal happiness to an audience teetering on the edge of massive unemployment, inflation and political unrest.
Rolf Randolf directed Carl previously in Das Geheimnis von St. Pauli (1926) and later in Die Lindenwirtin am Rhein, Die Geschichte einer jungen Liebe (1927). Carl appeared with Fritz Kampers in Lumpenball (1930), Ein Lied geht um die Welt (1933), and Schüsse an der Grenze (1933).
A copy of this film is in the collection of the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin.