Release Date(s)1973 (November 3, 2015)
Studio(s)Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION A/B Blu-ray release.]
Tenderness of the Wolves (Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe) is a West German crime thriller from 1973. Directed by Ulli Lommel and produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it is based upon the serial killer Fritz Haarmann, who sexually abused and murdered as many as 27 young men and teenage boys during the early twentieth century in Hanover, Germany. Lommel directed many films of varying qualities after, but Wolves is considered by many to be his best work.
Although the film slightly alters some of the minor details, it remains relatively faithful to the events that took place. As portrayed in the film, he becomes a police informant, patrolling the Hanover train station, watching for suspicious commuters and, unbeknownst to everyone, picks up wayward young men and brings them home with him. In reality, Haarmann lived in different houses, but in the film, he dwells only at one location. He also had a sister, who was left out of the film entirely, shifting the focus directly to him. He would often bite his victim’s Adam’s apples and/or strangle them to death, dumping their bodies in a river nearby, which the film doesn’t change. His eventual capture does differ from true-life events, however. After one of his sexually abused victims comes forward, the police begin to follow Haarmann, and after confronting him, he is arrested. Once they discover the blood stains and clothes from various missing persons, Haarmann eventually confesses to his crimes, is convicted, and is executed. In the film, these events play out differently, but I’ll refrain from spoiling them.
The film feels very systematic in its approach as there’s barely any score and most of the gory details are left to the imagination, although it isn’t ashamed of occasionally showing a couple of grisly moments. There’s nothing exploitative about it either. It may be a horror film, technically, but it’s a little better than what’s appears to be on the surface. If it had been released today, it would have been marketed as a silly horror movie. Truth be told, it’s quite the opposite. It just sort of plays out the events without any bias in one direction or the other. What really drives the film is Kurt Raab’s performance as Fritz Haarmann. While being a complete monster, he is also charming, leaving you with a really terrible taste in your mouth. And with the film mainly being told through his eyes, it makes it all the more unsettling. He looks upon his victims with love and affection, but we know what he is going to eventually do with them once he has them where he wants them.
All told, Tenderness of the Wolves is a very dark and disturbing film that doesn’t shy away from the details, but does so with a sense of purpose. It’s very well-made with great performances and isn’t easily shaken once you’ve seen it. And although Haarmann’s story was also the basis for Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M, this is a much different, more visceral, experience.
Arrow Video’s presentation of Tenderness of the Wolves is quite stellar. It should be noted that this is a Region A/B compatible disc, as well. It’s a remarkable improvement over the previous DVD presentation. There’s a very well-refined grain structure with an enormous amount of depth and fine detail. There are strong colors and very accurate skin tones, as well as very deep blacks and wonderful shadow detailing. As for brightness and contrast levels, they’re perfect. There’s little to no film artifacts leftover and no digital enhancements have been made. For the soundtrack, there’s a German 2.0 LPCM track, which is stemmed from the original mono. It’s a very wide and well-rounded soundtrack with clean, clear dialogue, excellent sound effects, and strong score when it’s actually present. It’s also a very clean presentation, with little to no hiss or other distractions. All in all, it’s a nearly spotless presentation. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
As for the supplements, there’s a good amount of them to dig through, and most of them are brand new. There’s an introduction to the film by director Ulli Lommel; an audio commentary with Lommel, moderated by Uwe Huber; The Tender Wolf, an interview with Lommel; Photographing Fritz, an interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges; Haarmann’s Victim Talks, an interview with actor Rainer Will; An Appreciation by Stephen Thrower; a stills gallery; the film’s theatrical trailer; a DVD copy; and a 16-page insert booklet featuring an essay on the film by Tony Rayns.
Tenderness of the Wolves is probably the best film made about this subject matter. It acts as a bio pic of sorts, but has more style and substance than most that you’re likely to come across. It still holds a lot of power and can get under your skin without resorting to cheap tricks, instead relying on its actors and its story. It’s also a top-notch presentation by Arrow Video.
- Tim Salmons