Death and Diamonds/Dynamit in grüner Seide (1968)

‘It’s somewhat annoying when one of my clients end up in the electric chair.’

A criminal gang steal a supply of poison gas from a factory site in a daring operation that leaves men dead on both sides. The FBI is convinced that a notorious kingpin has ordered the theft as part of a wider scheme. Discovering that an English expert on burglar alarms is an integral part of the next phase of the plan, they incarcerate him and put an agent in his place…

The sixth of the eight-film West German series starring American actor George Nader as FBI undercover specialist Jerry Cotton. This time directorial duties are handed to Harald Reinl, and the film plays more like a heist movie than the agent’s previous investigations.

Speeding away from a burning factory site with booty in hand, you might think it’s time for gang boss Bloom (Carl Möhner) to sit back and savour a job well done, but you’d be wrong. An evil villain’s work is never done, and he busies himself polishing off most of the men he’d used in the heist. Unfortunately for him, one of them manages a few dying words and these point in the direction of security system expert Rick Trevor (Claus Tinney). He’s just finished a stint in the pokey back in Merrie Old England and flies into LAX, only to be conveniently delayed by visa irregularities. Nader steps into his shoes, and the game is on.

As the agency expected, the gang is really under orders from a man named Stone, an underworld mastermind who has never been identified. Möhner runs the operation from a club owned by his glamorous ex Lana (Silvia Solar). Having figured out that relations with a bad boy isn’t the best route to long-term happiness, she wants to keep things on a strictly business basis from now on. Of course, Möhner doesn’t get the memo, forcing Nader to step in. Already suspicious of the agent, Möhner keeps him in the dark, sending him on a fact-finding mission to look at the household alarm system of art collector, Santon (Karl-Heinz Fiege).

The crew then steal a newly-developed ‘Absorber’ unit which has just been shipped to the city after being developed at Cape Kennedy. The device is essential to their ultimate goal. Nader thinks it will be a raid on Fiege’s art treasures, but it turns out that the target is a meeting where experts will appraise diamonds worth approximately twelve million dollars. Nader baulks when he realises that the poison gas will be pumped into the conference room and tips his hand. By then, the operation is in full swing, however, and a rapid game of cross and double-crosses follows to secure the loot.

The continuing investigations of Nader as Jerry Cotton are often bracketed in with the Eurospy genre that sprung into vigorous life after the global success of Sean Connery’s early James Bond films. In truth, that is casting wide to some extent as the series is more firmly grounded in the criminal underworld rather than that of super villains planning world domination. There’s little evidence of the kind of outlandish gadgetry peddled by Q Division, with the film delivering only wristwatches that work as two-way radios and the Absorber. This device turns out to be little more than a vacuum cleaner with an extendable hose that hoovers up the precious gems in question. I guess some of the NASA technicians working on the Apollo space program had a little free time while their colleagues were off shooting movies at Area 51.

Despite these noticeable limitations, the production as a whole takes things up a notch from the preceding entries in the series. Debuting screenwriters Rolf Schulz and Christa Stern provide a script stuffed with shady side characters, intrigue, and so many perilous situations in the final third that Nader could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d stepped into an old-fashioned cliffhanger serial. Director Reinl also proves an excellent addition to the team, for the most part delivering a quick pace and some solid suspense when required. The stuntwork is also more ambitious, with one performer jumping feet first through the windscreen of an approaching car. It’s possibly the standout moment of the entire series.

However, this is a Jerry Cotton movie, and praise needs to be qualified by acknowledging the usual problems. There’s still the doomed attempt to make it look like an American movie. There’s far more stock footage of cars on US streets, but we still get appalling green-screen shots when we switch to the actors in closeup. As usual, this is present throughout the airport scenes and was such a feature of the films that you have to wonder why the unit didn’t go to a German air terminal and shoot the actors there. It might not have looked very American, but it could hardly have looked any worse.

Solar’s club is also one of the strangest (and cheapest) in movie history. There’s no bar or stage, just girls jigging about in their underwear surrounded by busy pool tables! All very nice, I’m sure, but not the ideal way to concentrate on your safety play. There’s also a slight plot hole around Stone’s criminal activities. After every job, the usual procedure is to liquidate all the low-level crooks involved in the caper. Even if that’s not common knowledge outside the FBI, it beggars belief that word would not have got around in the underworld. But he has no problem recruiting minions, apparently.

Reinl shot his first feature in 1949 but is probably best remembered for his output in the 1960s. Fritz Lang returned to Germany to make the overdue final film in his trilogy starring criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse in 1960. It was enough of a domestic success to kick start a series, and it was Reinl who picked up the baton for ‘The Return of Dr Mabuse’ (1961) and ‘The Invisible Dr Mabuse’ (1962). These displayed both the necessary style and thrills, and the director began a fruitful working partnership with star Lex Barker. They collaborated on a long-running series based on the popular ‘Winnetou’ Western novels of Karl May, beginning with ‘The Treasure of Silver Lake/Der Schatz im Silbersee’ (1962). There was also Poe-inspired horror ‘The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism/Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel’ (1967), which co-starred Christopher Lee. Reinl worked consistently throughout the 1970s and 1980s but varied dramatic subjects with several documentaries on the search for ancient astronauts.

A brisk, efficient thriller that is somewhat limited by its lack of production values.

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