Zdf series celebrates 55th anniversary: female crime fighters.

The ZDF series "Die Karte mit dem Luchskopf" proved that women have mastered the crime genre. Unfortunately, the crime production does not reach the same level.

Kai Frohlich (l.) founds the private detective agency Luchs together with her aunt Viktoria Photo: PIDAX

Der Spiegel is also wrong. In 1967, the Hamburg news magazine noted that Emma Peel from the British TV series "With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler Hat" had broken the "male monopoly on fighting crime." This was not true of Great Britain, and in the Federal Republic, too, the agent, who is quick-witted in every respect, had a predecessor who was no less clever: Kai Frohlich (Kai Fischer) from the series "Die Karte mit dem Luchskopf" ("The Card with the Lynx Head").

The premiere occurred in April 1963, just two days after the start of the Second German Television. Because ZDF was more dependent on advertising money than its ARD colleagues, the pre-evening advertising program had to be as attractive as possible.

In-house productions from the "Kleines unterhaltendes Spiel" editorial team alternated with imported series. Uniform program colors were a priority: Mondays were reserved for adventure stories, Wednesdays for crime thrillers, and Fridays for family series.

It’s true that the series, which were mainly bought in the U.S., were far ahead of the German ones in terms of budget, technology and star casts. But Wolf Neumeister, author of "Die Karte mit dem Luchskopf," and the cinema-experienced director Hermann Kugelstadt knew how to make up for such deficits with wit and ingenuity – and with the skills of the lead actress Kai Fischer, who herself had provided the idea for the series.

Not an everyday occurrence

Before that, Kai Fischer had long been seen in the cinema mostly in frivolous roles. ZDF offered the actress the opportunity to show other facets. As Kai Frohlich, she is the owner of the Munich detective agency Luchs. Not an everyday occurrence in a time when women needed their husbands’ permission if they wanted to pursue a job.

And only a few years earlier, a German Higher Regional Court had ruled: "Domestic work has always been part of a woman’s life, even today. It is indispensable in a woman’s life." This is precisely what is indirectly addressed in the series.

Kai Frohlich wants a working life without domestic duties, so she helps herself with a ruse: to undermine the reservations against self-employed women that were still omnipresent at the time, she invents a company owner named Luchs.

She herself acts as a secretary to her clients and accepts assignments on behalf of them, which she then completes herself with skill, verve and chutzpah. She often investigates undercover, taking on a wide variety of roles – a perfect scenario for the ambitious actress.

Objectification

The sexualized objectification of the heroine does not go unaddressed either. Again and again, the male gaze is undermined with intelligence, wit and often hand-wringing. Many a macho man learns painfully that the gender image of the defenseless woman does not correspond to reality.

Kai’s aunt Viktoria von Porschwitz (Ursula Herking) works in the background. When she uses her smoky voice to harangue all too persistent petitioners over the phone or through an intercom, they think they hear the ominous Mr. Lynx and quickly back down. This Viktoria is also a progressive person.

She is always concocting new technical gimmicks; tinkerer Major Boothroyd alias Q from the early Bond films would have found an equal in her. Unfortunately, ZDF’s crime production did not remain at this level – in later series such as "Der Kommissar," women are relegated to the second row; the so-called "Freitagskrimi" remained a male domain for many years.

Interesting encounters

All the more astonishing, then, what was already anticipated in 1963 with the series "Die Karte mit dem Luchskopf." From the present point of view – the thirteen-part series is available on DVD – there are also interesting encounters.

Among the episode actors are the later "Bergdoktor" Gerhard Lippert – here once as a villain – and Kathrin Ackermann, today occasionally seen alongside her daughter Maria Furtwangler in Hanover "Tatort" episodes.