The thrillers of the British novelist Edgar Wallace became very popular in Germany between the world wars, partly thanks to a successful ad campaign based on the slogan "Es ist unmöglich, von Edgar Wallace nicht gefesselt zu werden!" ("It is impossible not to be captivated by Edgar Wallace!"). In 1927 the first of them was adapted into a (silent) German film, and four more followed until 1934, but then the franchise dried up. Until the late 1950s, German film producers would not touch the genre again.
In 1959 the Danish firm Rialto Film produced Der Frosch mit der Maske, the first post-World War II Edgar Wallace film, for the West German distributor Constantin Film. It became a surprise hit and led to Rialto setting up a West German affiliate firm and buying the exclusive rights for all Wallace novels to produce more. All in all, Rialto produced 32 Edgar Wallace movies, and other firms also jumped on the bandwagon, producing six more Wallace-themed crime and detective films. Most were produced by Horst Wendlandt, the man also behind another very successful German film franchise of the 1960s, the Karl May Westerns. The Edgar Wallace franchise was looked on as lowbrow by most movie critics, but was very popular with the German public and the films continue to be shown on German television to this day.
The films were produced on a comparatively small budget and thus were filmed not in England, where they are set, but in West Germany, usually in Hamburg and its environs, the footage then intercut with stock establishing shots of places like Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus. The tone was often a bit tongue in cheek, and even some of the leading stars of West Germany's stages and screens liked to perform in an Edgar Wallace or two. From quite early, there was a tendency towards tongue-in-cheek comedy. The franchise was later parodied in Der Wixxer.
The series had a number of stock characters and actors associated with it:
- There usually was a young, earnest Scotland Yard detective, although in a few the investigations would be done by a private detective or lawyer. Normally this character would be played by Joachim Fuchsberger or Heinz Drache.
- A young, attractive actress like Karin Dor or Karin Baal would serve as both Damsel in Distress and Love Interest and frequently become the distaff half of a couple with the investigator at the end of the film.
- Plucky Comic Relief would often be supplied by Eddi Arent, who took parts like butlers, assistants to the main investigator, and newspaper reporters. Arent appeared in 23 Edgar Wallace films in all, making him the most used actor of the franchise.
- Two actors appeared in 16 movies, Siegfried Schürenberg, who usually played the main hero's bumbling superior at Scotland Yard, and Klaus Kinski, who as per usual played crazy or troubled characters and always wound up dead before the film was out.
And there was a big assortment of other actors filling the parts of the heavies, mysterious characters, old ladies who knew more than they let on and what have you. Also as the series progressed, the films sometimes subverted this typecasting, and thus on at least one occasion each, comic relief Eddi Arent and upright Horst Drache turned out to be the Big Bad.
The success of the Rialto films inspired their biggest competitor, CCC Film, to jump on the train and buy the rights to the spy novels of Edgar Wallace's son, Bryan Edgar Wallace. Their plots were thoroughly rewritten (to the point they had little to do with the novels), but the resulting movies (which were utterly dependent from the Rialto films stylistically) could be advertised as "B. Edgar Wallace Movies" — in the apparent hope that audiences wouldn't know the difference.
- Der Frosch mit der Maske (The Fellowship of the Frog, 1959)
- Der rote Kreis (The Crimson Circle, 1960)
- Die Bande des Schreckens (The Terrible People, 1960)
- Der grüne Bogenschütze (The Green Archer, 1961)
- Die toten Augen von London (The Dark Eyes of London; 1961)
- Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen (The Daffodil Mystery, 1961)
- Der Fälscher von London (The Forger of London, 1961)
- Die seltsame Gräfin (The Strange Countess, 1961)
- Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee (The Riddle of the Red Orchid, 1962)
- Die Tür mit den sieben Schlössern (The Door With the Seven Locks, 1962)
- Das Gasthaus an der Themse (The India Rubber Men, 1962)
- Der Zinker (The Squeaker, 1963)
- Der schwarze Abt (The Black Abbot, 1963)
- Das indische Tuch (The Frightened Lady, 1963)
- Zimmer 13 (Room 13, 1964)
- Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloss (The Tomb With the Mystery Lock, 1964)
- Der Hexer (The Ringer, 1964)
- Das Verrätertor (Traitor's Gate, 1964)
- Neues vom Hexer (Again, the Ringer, 1965)
- Der unheimliche Mönch (The Sinister Monk, 1965)
- Der Bucklige von Soho (The Hunchback of Soho, 1966, with this film the series switched to colour)
- Das Geheimnis der weißen Nonne (The Secret of the White Nun, 1966)
- Die Blaue Hand (The Blue Hand, 1967)
- Der Mönch mit der Peitsche (The Monk With the Whip, 1967)
- Der Hund von Blackwood Castle (The Hound of Blackwood Castle, 1968)
- Im Banne des Unheimlichen (In the Spell of the Sinister, 1968)
- Der Gorilla von Soho (1968)
- Der Mann mit dem Glasauge (The Man With the Glass Eye, 1969)
- Das Gesicht im Dunkeln (The Face in the Night, 1969)
- Die Tote in der Themse (The Dead Woman in the Thames, 1971)
- Das Geheimnis der grünen Stecknadel (The Secret of the Green Pin", 1972)
- Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds (The Riddle of the Silver Crescent, 1972)
- Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Koffer (The Secret of the Black Trunk, 1961)
- Der Würger von Schloss Blackmoor (The Strangler of Blackmoore Castle, 1963)
- Der Henker von London (The Mad Executioners, 1963)
- Das Phantom von Soho (The Phantom of Soho, 1964)
- Das Ungeheuer von London City (1964)
- Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Handschuhe (The Bird with the Glass Feathers a.k.a. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, 1970; co-produced with Seda Spettacoli, Rome and directed by Dario Argento)
- Das Geheimnis des gelben Grabes (1972; co-produced with Mondial Tefi, Rome, and Inex Film, Belgrade)
These films show examples of:
- Beware the Nice Ones
- Catchphrase: "Hallo, hier spricht Edgar Wallace!" (Hello, Edgar Wallace speaking), usually from a telephone speaker just before the opening credits.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Before Der Bucklige von Soho. In some cases the films were black and white, but the actual titles were written e. g. with red letters.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Die toten Augen von London features a gang of blind criminals.
- Fake Nationality: Usually Fake Brit, but also a few fake Americans and Australians.
- Locked Room Mystery: Das indische Tuch is a good example.
- Malevolent Masked Men: A lot of the villains, such as the Frog With the Mask, would not look out of place in a superhero comic or film.
- Proto-Superhero: The titular masked archer of Der grüne Bogenschütze appears a bit like a dark and gritty version. But then Edgar Wallace's 1923 novel The Green Archer could have inspired Green Arrow.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Eddi Arent, usually.
- Ten Little Murder Victims: Again Das indische Tuch.
- Vigilante Man: Der Hexer.