At the Palace Hotel in Swinging London a certain Mr. Jefferson welcomes Leila, a sexy chorus girl, to his room for some late night nookie. But a knife in his back from a hideous man with a glass eye in a black cloak and hat proves the ultimate coitus interruptus. Despite fleeing the scene, hours later Leila is dead too, poisoned backstage at the theatre. Bald, bungling police commissioner Sir Arthur (Hubert von Meyerinck) abandons a lady friend to rush to the crime scene where dapper Inspector Perkins (Horst Tappert) and his sniggering mod sidekick Sgt. Pepper (Stefan Behrens) (no sign of his Lonely Hearts Club) are already on the case. With the detectives circling sinister suspects at the theatre, a crime syndicate continues abducting dancers from the Las Vegas Girls for a sex slave ring, only one by one the traffickers are bumped off by the man with the glass eye. Meanwhile one of the dancers, Yvonne (Karin Hübner), a young woman with a troubled past, is having a secret affair with Bruce (Fritz Wepper), an aristocrat with an unfortunate connection to these grisly events.
Throughout the Sixties the West German film studio Rialto produced a string of so-called 'krimis' ostensibly adapted from the pulp novels of British thriller writer Edgar Wallace though more often from those penned by his son, Bryan Edgar Wallace. With their masked master criminals and seedy plots the krimis evoked Fritz Lang but the kitsch combination of gothic murder mysteries, mod fashions, sex and sadism also anticipated the Italian giallo that eventually usurped the genre at the European box office. By the time of The Man with the Glass Eye the tone had lightened up quite noticeably. From the opening shots of a neon-lit Piccadilly Circus set to Peter Thomas' jazzy score things have a decidedly Swinging Sixties vibe. Although the early krimis had their share of broad comic relief here the cops are a wacky bunch of funsters ("The longer your hair, the dumber you get!" Sir Arthur snaps at Pepper) while the suspects include such colourful red herrings as a knife-throwing cowboy (Jan Hendriks), a creepy ventriloquist who talks through his bubble-headed dummy, and a gangster with a (gasp!) glass eye. Nevertheless the bumbling sleuths are an entirely amiable bunch, from the hyper-manic Sir Arthur, the comical yet notably competent duo of Perkins and Pepper to bubbly secretary Miss Finlay (Ilse Pagé) who merrily volunteers to be a revolving target for the knife-thrower, licks a sample of smuggled heroin like it was sugar, and happily indulges Sir Arthur's wandering hands.
Alfred Vohrer was involved with the krimi genre from the beginning with Dead Eyes of London (1961). He directed genre highlights College Girl Murders (1967) and The Hunchback of Soho (1965), Karl May westerns like Winnetou and Old Firehand (1966) and later episodes of the cult German detective show Derrick also starring Horst Tappert. In his skilled hands The Man with the Glass Eye comes across like Fritz Lang directing an atypically gritty episode of the Sixties Batman TV show. The plot is incredibly convoluted but adds up with a number of poignant twists that prove highly satisfying while the incidentals (a surreal scene in a shop full of strange toys, a dance number with the leggy Las Vegas Girls, a hilarious cops vs. criminals punch-up in a pool hall) are charming. Vohrer imbues the action with tremendous energy and panache, matched by his enthusiastic cast. Euro-horror fans might recognise Ewa Strömberg from Jess Franco's trash classic Vampyros Lesbos (1970) and Christiane Krüger appeared in AIP's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971). British viewers might be bemused to see so much gunplay on the streets of London but it is rather interesting to see European filmmakers project their alternately stylish and seamy fantasies onto our shores when it is so often the other way around. "Now we know we're in England," remarks one imperilled dancer when facing a villain's lair. "The richer the people, the more peculiar their whims."