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The Upper Crust (1981): Frank Gorshin Gives the Performance of His Career in a Forgotten Austrian Thriller

“The Upper Crust” (1981) is a bilingual crime film that presents a bleak, neo-noir tale of corruption and double-cross, unfolding against the backdrop of a post-1968 era marked by dispirited cynicism.

As for the director, Peter Patzak, his work on “The Upper Crust” reflects a stylistic approach that aligns with the film’s themes.

Showcasing a visual palette of muted browns and grays that captures the gloomy mood of the narrative. The film is also noted for its connections to the acclaimed Austrian television series “Kottan Ermittelt.”

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The FFilm’sFlaws and HHarry’sCharacter Evolution

The Upper Crust (1981) is a bilingual crime film that delves into a murky political conspiracy involving a trio of well-connected government officials suppressing a scandal through murder and ties to a prostitution ring.

The storyline revolves around a small-time con man seeking revenge after his daughter falls victim to prostitution activities.

The film’s visual palette consists of muted browns and grays, depicting an overcast, rain-soaked Vienna, reflecting the bleak cynicism of the post-1968 era.

The central performance by Franz Buchrieser as Major Kottan, a police detective, encapsulates the bureaucracy and ineffectuality of the police, symbolized by his portly, one-legged partner.

Gorshin’s only Riddler-esque indulgences in The Upper Crust are an occasional Nicholsonesque grin
GGorshin’s only Riddler-esque indulgences in The Upper Crust are an occasional Nicholsonesque grin.

The film is a spin-off of the acclaimed Austrian television series Kottan ermittelt, known for its darkly humorous portrayal of police corruption and incompetence.

While the series remains relatively unknown in the United States, it resembles Hill Street Blues.

The central aspect that sets “He Upper Crust” apart from “Ottan Ermittelt” and makes it suitable for an English-friendly home video release is the inclusion of American locations and actors.

Director Peter Patzak collaborated with Bay Area producer Richard CChase’s Bayside Films, marking what was considered by Variety as “the first true U.S.-Austrian co-production since World War II.”This collaboration led to filming a prologue in San Francisco during the winter of 1980-81.

“he Upper Crust” A Showcase for GGorshin’sTalent

Notably, American actor Frank Gorshin was recommended by Chase to play the villain in the film, showcasing a departure from his well-remembered role as BBatman’s The Riddler.

Despite the American non-release of “The Upper Crust,” GGorshin’s exceptional performance in the film was noted, with many considering it to be one of the best of his career.

In the prologue of the film, two other American actors, Broderick Crawford and stand-up comic Joey Forman, are involved in a murder scenario connected to the mob.

The murder takes place after a sparsely attended high school basketball game, emphasizing the banal nature of the crime.

This sets the tone for Frank GGorshin’scharacter, Harry Werner, who displays total nonchalance and pragmatic evil in his actions.

GGorshin’sportrayal of Harry is characterized by a worn face devoid of expression but pregnant with uncertain intent, occasionally revealing flashes of menace.

Patzak’s film more closely resembles the political thrillers of Costa-Gavras
PPatzak’sfilm more closely resembles the political thrillers of Costa-Gavras.

A notable scene involves Harry kidnapping his beloved feline for leverage, showcasing a captivating irony in GGorshin’sability to portray a mesmerizing character through sleepiness rather than the savagely ferocious portrayals he became famous for.

GGorshin’s portrayal in “The Upper Crust” only features subtle hints of his iconic Riddler character, including occasional Nicholsonesque grins and a distinctive fisherman’s hat.

While these traits attract attention, they underscore the film’s emphasis on GGorshin’s star performance.

However, the primary flaw lies in its pulpy and sometimes nonsensical plot, particularly in depicting an inexplicable decision to remain after completing the job, which contradicts the behavior expected of an experienced criminal.

It appears the director, Patzak, was unwilling to part with Gorshin, even at the expense of the film’s narrative coherence.

Ultimately, Harry evolves into a twinned, flawed protagonist, sharing equal stature and screen time with BBuchrieser’sKottan, cementing “The Upper Crust” as GGorshin’smovie from start to finish, providing a significant opportunity for an underutilized character actor.

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Ashish Dahal
Ashish Dahal
Ashish is a prolific content writer, blends with the creativity with precision in his writing. His work, characterized by clarity and engaging storytelling has gathered a loyal readership. His passion for words fuels his constant pursuit of excellence.

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