The Third Man begins with a world-weary narrator declaring, “I never knew the old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss waltzes, its glamour and easy charm.” He means it too. But if you long for the old Vienna, then Vienna Blood may be the ticket. It has Strauss waltzes, glamour and easy charm … and murder. Needless to say, there is a detective, Inspector Oskar Reinhardt (Jürgen Maurer), competent but brooding due to the death of his daughter and the consequent desertion of his wife. All he has left is his work, but he’s plagued by a string of unresolved cases, an impatient commissioner, and a snooty rival inspector who clearly delights in Reinhardt’s failures.
Enter Dr Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard), a doctor attached to a Viennese hospital and, as it happens, a student – quite literally – of a certain Dr Freud.
The psychology of crime fascinates him, and the commissioner orders Reinhardt to permit the young doctor to accompany him on the investigation of a murder.
A lovely séance-medium has been discovered dead in her apartment, clearly shot through the heart, and laid out as if for a photograph. The problem? For one, every door and window is locked from the inside; in addition, the coroner, probe as he may, finds no bullet or exit wound. How can these things be?
A gifted amateur, Max finds himself quickly drawn into the investigation, psychologising along the way about the deceased, the unknown killer, and even about Reinhardt whose troubles he correctly diagnoses. And although Reinhardt would as soon be dead himself as take Max in tow, he soon realises Max’s talent, learning slowly to tolerate, then appreciate, and finally like his colleague. For that – a colleague – is exactly what Max becomes as the series progresses and the two comb the city or, in one instance, a military academy outside it for the hows and whys of three murders.
The formula of detective and psychologist is hardly new. Remember Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution? Fact is, however much Freud’s stock has fallen in the world of psychoanalysis, it remains solid gold in Hollywood. Generically speaking, Hollywood’s got him in Vienna Blood, and, love Freud or hate him, by golly, it works.
The Viennese setting helps immensely, but no more than the two chief characters. Beard’s Max is just callow enough to be loveable, yet he manages to be equally convincing as the brilliant detective-shrink. And Maurer’s Reinhardt is exactly right: desperate to make the arrests that will save his reputation but too honest to conceal the truth. All told, Vienna Blood is a pleasure to watch. You might even decide to take waltz lessons when you’re through.
Dr Carl C Curtis III is a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia