Murderers Club of Brooklyn/Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn (1967)

‘Waiters don’t usually carry Mother’s Little Helper.’

A circle of wealthy businessmen are the targets of a deadly blackmailer, who demands a million dollars from each of them. One of the tycoons calls the FBI, but they are powerless when masked men break up a party at his home with machine guns. They kidnap one of the guests, believing she’s the man’s daughter, but kill her instead when they find out it’s the wrong girl. It’s just the beginning as more blackmail letters follow…

It’s the fifth time around for FBI agent Jerry Cotton (George Nader) swinging into action in his trademark red jaguar. The character came from a long-running series of crime books and magazine stories that debuted in the mid-1950s and proved wildly popular in Europe and Scandinavia. The fact that he eventually got his own film series may have had more than a little to do with a certain Agent 007. However, the films are more crime than espionage based and, although there’s plenty of gunplay. ‘gadgets and girls’ most definitely took a back seat.

Seeing that his drapes are drawn, super-agent Cotton (Nader) smells a rat and takes the ‘alternative route’ to his high-rise apartment, leaving partner Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss) to arrive by more conventional means. It’s a good call as there are a bunch of disposable villains lying in wait for him. The credits roll once he’s dealt with this minor annoyance, and the picture explodes into colour after the black and white opening. Boss agent Mr High (Richard Münch) figures something big is about to go down and orders Nader and Weiss to accept a mysterious party invitation from banker Henry Dyers (Karel Stepanek).

The shindig is strictly a black-tie affair for the smart set, but Nader and Weiss get little time to cruise the buffet and grab a cocktail. Stepanek has received a blackmail note to the tune of one million dollars, and fellow financial tycoons, John Cormick (Rudi Schmitt) and Henry Johnson (Helmuth Rudolph), have been subjected to the same threats. That’s about as far as Nader and Weiss get before an armed gang in stocking masks crash the party and grab Sally Chester (Ira Hagen). Sadly, it’s a case of wrong place, wrong time for her as the gang thought she was Stepanek’s daughter, Jean (Dagmar Lassander). A couple of hours later, she’s found dead on a park bench in the lifeless arms of a suspicious waiter Nader had singled out at the party.

The blackmail letters continue, with Rudolph’s wastrel son, Burnie Johnson (Helmut Kircher) and Schmitt’s daughter, Edna (Helga Anders), being used as leverage. Rudolph agrees to pay, dropping the cash at an airport locker, but it’s an FBI trap set with counterfeit money. Of course, on stakeout duty are Nader and Weiss, but they are fooled when unseen hands grab the stash by drilling into the locker from behind via an empty shop on the concourse. The next time the financier pays for real and, even though our increasingly less-than-dynamic duo chase the pick-up men through subway tunnels, they still can’t make an arrest. Nader begins to suspect smooth local operator Harry Long (Wolfgang Weiser) is involved somehow, and the plot starts to smell increasingly like an inside job.

Until now, the cinematic odyssey of Jerry Cotton had been a grimy, black and white business, but Constantin-Films splashed out on a colour process for this film and the others that followed. The switch from one to the other after the pre-credit scenes is undoubtedly an unusual choice. It may be that the original opening sequence has been lost or, just as likely, that the black and white scenes were shot for an earlier film and never used (possibly ‘3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan/Um Null Uhr schnappt die Falle zu’ (1966) as that has a similar scene). These initial events have no direct bearing on the story that follows, and we never see any of these criminals again. It does make you wonder about Nader’s home security arrangements, though. His ‘alternative route’ to his apartment involves swinging up the side of the building in a cradle on the end of a crane operated by Weiss. Is the crane always sitting there, then? You know, just in case?

Of course, the story mechanics of the films in the series often don’t stand up to close scrutiny, but it’s not the premier consideration for this type of enterprise. The mission statement is fast-paced action and two-fisted adventure, and, to some extent, director Werner Jacobs delivers. Once one problem is resolved, Nader and his crew run into another complication almost straight away. No sooner has he removed a bomb from his car than he’s strafed with gunfire from a passing helicopter! The stuntwork on a moving train is decent too, and that’s obviously Nader performing some of the simpler escapades, despite the undoubted level of danger involved.

Unfortunately, the thin budget shows through in the usual way, the attempt to make the project look American hamstrung by the obvious New York stock footage and tatty SFX. The production apparently had enough money for an airport set for one of the ransom drops. It looks ok, so why intercut with terrible ‘green-screen’ of Nader and Decker against footage of JFK International? It would look better if Jacobs had shot them against a wall hanging with a few promotional airline posters. Not a great solution, obviously, but better than what’s on offer instead.

Worse still, there are plenty of dull stretches, which mainly involve the plot, which never really develops beyond a sequence of repetitious events. An anonymous blackmailer targets bankers through their grown-up offspring, and there are various ransom payoffs and attempted payoffs. There’s little else here; it’s merely a question of who is behind the scheme. Surprises are minimal, and it’s hard to be invested in our trio of faceless victims who seem far more concerned about their money than their children. Nader does remark on this at one point, but Herbert Reinecker and Manfred R. Köhler’s screenplay isn’t really worried about highlighting an anti-capitalist agenda. Peter Thomas contributes his usual loud, swinging soundtrack, which is simultaneously distracting and the best part of the entire enterprise.

Nader was a capable actor with some screen presence who had come to West Germany after an underwhelming American career. An early starring role in Phil Tucker’s notoriously awful ‘Robot Monster’ (1953) was hardly the best introduction, but Universal Studios still signed him to a contract. Allegedly, this was as a possible substitute for Rock Hudson in the event of a scandal involving the handsome star. If so, it was a strange choice as Nader was also gay and didn’t bother making any special effort to hide it. After his stateside career went nowhere, the actor decamped to Europe but never made a great impression outside the Jerry Cotton series. A late big-screen appearance came courtesy of Eddie Romero and John Ashley’s ‘Beyond Atlantis’ (1973), but he retired shortly afterwards.

Another unremarkable entry in the series. The only surprise is that the films picked up after this.

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