Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse/Le tigre sort sans sa mère (1967)

‘It must be fun to court an electronic brain.’

A top French secret agent meets an old colleague in Berlin who has information regarding a major espionage operation. However, a sniper’s bullet intervenes before any vital intelligence can be exchanged. The agent begins his own investigation, uncovering a plot to undermine East-West relations and start another war…

Running around Europe as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ wasn’t much of a stretch for French actor Roger Hanin by the late 1960s. This Italian-West German-French co-production finds him tangling with the usual spying intrigues under the direction of Mario Maffei.

A meeting on a German barge goes south for French agent Julien Saint-Dominique (Hanin) when his old friend Felix (Edy Biagetti) bites an unexpected bullet in the middle of their conversation. Unfortunately, he’d provided little information before taking a header into the canal; just that something big was brewing. Outside his rented flat, Hanin rescues the beautiful Olivia (Margaret Lee) from a kidnap attempt in the street. The altercation turns out to be a novel (and pointless) way of inviting him to a conference with an American intelligence agent, Steve (Ivan Desny), who tells him to stay out of things and return to Paris.

Instead, Hanin starts to utilise his own contacts in Berlin; the elderly Von Rudolf, known as ‘Papillon’ (Ennio Balbo), and his blonde Girl Friday Frida (Brigitte Wentzel). He also saves Ingrid Richleau (Helga Sommerfeld) from an abduction attempt in the same place and by the same goons who seemed to be trying to snatch Lee. In a twist that will surprise no one, it turns out she’s the daughter of another of Hanin’s old friends and colleagues. What’s happened to him? He’s been kidnapped, of course! Berlin, eh? Not safe to walk down the street.

The case proves to be a tangled web, as Hanin finds himself followed, shot at, hiding in the funnel of a boat and sent over to East Berlin disguised as a Russian soldier. Eventually, events lead to a secret organisation using misinformation to stoke up trouble between the Superpowers. Hijacking communication channels from their secret underground base, they convince the Americans that the other side is planning to invade West Berlin through the sewers, setting the stage for the spark which will ignite global conflict.

Although all the ingredients are present and correct for a spy adventure on the more outlandish end of the spectrum, Maffei’s entry has a surprisingly serious tone, and the action is more grounded than in most similar vehicles of the time. There are no extravagant gadgets, flamboyant stunt work or quasi-science-fiction plot developments, with even the villain’s secret base looking reasonably sensible and fit for purpose. If that all sounds a little disappointing, then there is still some fun to be had, thanks to a capable cast and a brisk pace that helps to paper over the somewhat meandering plotline.

Hanin is a likeable leading man who can turn on the charm but also convince on the occasions that his character is required to display a harder edge. Lee also has a lot of fun as femme fatale Olivia, her loyalties in question throughout. She’s sexy and appealing on the one hand but ruthless and deadly on the other. The cat and mouse game that she plays with Hanin is the film’s most interesting element. Elsewhere Peter Carsten is excellent as the sadistic Günther, and there’s some nice work from Balbo and Hanin, who suggest a long-term friendship with just a few minimal gestures and facial expressions.

The story also takes an interesting direction when Hanin’s investigation takes him to Mexico to meet English spy Lord Kinsey (Jorge Rado). Within moments, Hanin has him pegged as an imposter and kills him, leading to a brief shootout with some of his men. Then he pops on a flight back to Berlin. In terms of the story, it’s completely pointless. However, it does allow Hanin to play tourist for five minutes of the runtime with yet another pretty blonde, Kinsey’s assistant Jill Garfield (Jane Massey). Including a splash of the wonderful local colour and Hanin hanging around some stunning locations may speak to some Mexican finance behind the production. There’s no other apparent reason for this sudden and relatively brief excursion.

Hanin and Lee had already teamed up in the far sillier spy adventure ‘An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite’ (1965). That was the second of two films where Hanin played secret agent Louis Rapière, known as ‘le tigre’. Presumably with an eye on the box office, this film was released in France as ‘Le tigre sort sans a mère’, the literal English translation of which is ‘The Tiger Leaves Without his Mother’. A pretty baffling title, to say the least, and the possibility that it was a nod to the character of Steed and Tara King’s spy boss on TV’s ‘The Avengers’ seems unlikely. Patrick Newell’s first appearance in that role wasn’t broadcast until September 1968 in the UK, and the film debuted in French theatres two months earlier. There was another ‘unofficial’ film in the series a year earlier when the Hanin-starring espionage thriller ‘Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8’ (1966) was retitled as ‘Agente Tigre sfida infernale’ for the Italian market.

Lee was an English actress, a Londoner born in Wolverhampton, whose beauty, natural screen presence and facility with languages saw her employed in films all over Europe in the 1960s. Equally adept at comedy and drama, she debuted as the heroine of Peplum adventure ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962) and took a similar gig soon afterwards in ‘Sansone contro i pirati/Samson and the Sea Beast’ (1963). Subsequently, she did her apprentice work almost exclusively in Italian comedies, working her way up to leads from supporting roles.
Eurospy adventure ‘From the Orient with Fury/Agente 077 dall’oriente con furore’ (1965) was the first of several similar projects that included ‘New York Calling Super dragon/New York chiama Superdrago’ (1966), ‘Our Man in Marrakesh’ (1966), ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die/Se Tutte le donne del mondo… (Operazione Paradiso)’ (1966) and ‘OSS 117 Murder for Sale/Niente rose per OSS 117’ (1968). She diversified into other genres over the next few years, appearing in films with notable stars like Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Rita Hayworth and George Sanders. She began concentrating on family life in the 1970s, and her final screen role was in 1983. In later life, she moved to California and began working periodically in the theatre.

Mildly entertaining espionage antics, elevated by the talented cast.

Ypotron/Operation ‘Y’/Agente Logan – missione Ypotron (1966)

‘A bulletproof vest under a tuxedo? My tailor would never OK that.’

A top scientist working at a missile plant is kidnapped just as he is about to complete his life’s work. The authorities send in their best agent to crack the case, and he soon discovers that the scientist’s beautiful daughter is being blackmailed into handing over a mysterious briefcase…

Standard Eurospy shenanigans with Argentine actor Luis Dávila fighting the good fight as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget.’ This Italian-Spanish-French co-production comes from co-writer and director Giorgio Stegani, who spices up the action with some timely elements of the space race.

It’s happy holiday time for super spy Lemmy Logan (Dávila, wonderfully billed as Luis Devil), who is running around exotic Acapulco juggling a choice selection of beautiful women. Sadly for him, his fun is interrupted by his killjoy sidekick Wilson (Jesús Puente), who delivers the inevitable news that he’s needed back home. Missile expert Professor Morrow (Alfredo Mayo) has been kidnapped, something that comes as no surprise to any audience member who noticed that his chauffeur, Strike, was being played by ubiquitous villain Luciano Pigozzi.

Mayo has been working on a mysterious project for smooth-talking industrialist Revel (Alberto Dalbés) called ‘Operation Gemini’, but Dávila prefers to pursue a more attractive prospect. The lead in question is Mayo’s beautiful daughter, Jeanne (Gaia Germani), who Pigozzi and his criminal gang have already contacted. The price of her father’s ransom is a mysterious briefcase, but the situation is complicated by the presence of the beautiful Carol (Janine Reynaud), who seems to be playing a game of her own.

This is pretty much a by-the-numbers, low-budget spy game of the mid-1960s. There’s the dashing hero who looks sharp in a suit and is handy with his fists, the kidnapped scientist with the super weapon, his beautiful daughter and the usual parade of faceless goons for our main man to work through before he unmasks the true evil mastermind. These minions include the giant Goro (Fernando Bilbao), whose only weakness turns out to be getting a burst of hot steam to the face. The gadgets are nearly all of the surveillance variety, including a tracking radar hidden inside a bible and one that can take photographs from inside a closed suitcase. A handy little device can also make telephones ring from across the room.

Unfortunately, the film only seems to be available with a rather careless English dub track, which may be responsible for some of the apparent inconsistencies in the story. It also turns Dávila into ‘Robbie Logan’ and makes it difficult to assess the cast’s performances, although Pigozzi delivers another of his trademark creepy villains. As with many similar endeavours, the lack of budget really begins to show through in the final third when Dávila and Germani reach the villain’s lair. This hi-tech headquarters turns out to be little more than the maintenance level of a typical high-rise, complete with steam pipes and boiler room. Not forgetting the model rocket sitting in the desert on top, of course. Inevitably, the action also lacks scale, and the fight choreography is workmanlike at best, but director Stegani does create a couple of memorable sequences. The first sees Dávila trapped in a wind tunnel at the missile facility, and the second involves the abduction of Germani from a nightclub. This snatch takes place during a striptease act and is surprisingly effective.

There are also some enjoyably cheesy moments. Although initially distrusting Dávila, Germani comes on board immediately when he tells her he’s a secret agent working for NASA with the codename of ‘Cosmos 1’ (stop laughing at the back!) It’s also fortunate that Reynaud can blink in morse code and that Puente’s in contact with stock footage of a navy destroyer in the middle of some ocean or other. Oh, and a word for all you budding film producers out there. If you want to use an invented word as the title of your movie, probably best to come up with something that doesn’t need a pronunciation guide!

Stegani began as a writer and worked uncredited on Giorgio Ferroni’s remarkable ‘Mill of the Stone Women/Il mulino delle donne di pietra’ (1960). He doubled as Second Unit Director on his next writing gig and received his first full directing credit for the ‘Italian Version’ of ‘Operation Hong Kong/Weiße Fracht für Hongkong’ (1964), although this may have been for quota purposes only. However, he was in full charge as writer and director of Spaghetti Western ‘Adiós gringo’ (1965) before he moved into the world of the Eurospy. More tales of the Old West followed, including ‘Beyond the Law/Al di là della legge’ (1968) with Lee Van Cleef, but after the end of the decade, he worked only sporadically.

Unremarkable spy games, but fans of the genre will probably find some things to like.

Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8/Agente Tigre sfida infernale (1965)

‘Sometimes changing some characteristics of a person is enough to deflect the suspicions of an overly curious eye.’

The niece of a foreign ambassador is persuaded to take a necklace through customs on her diplomatic passport. Afterwards, she finds out that it contained microfilm, and she is blackmailed into taking part in a plot to kidnap a scientist…

Serious-minded French-Italian black and white spy games from director Roger Vernay. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is Roger Hanin, although his adventures in espionage are a long way removed from the glitzy world of 007.

Diplomat’s daughter Eva Dolbry (Christiane Minazzoli) is living the high life in Paris. Sports cars, parties and eligible bachelors; playboy Serge Alerio (Antonio Passalia) and ‘man from the ministry’ Mirmont (Hanin). Her father, the Ambassador (Donald O’Brien), favours his colleague, of course, but Minazzoli finds the bespectacled Hanin to be a bit of a bore. She would much rather make time with the dashing Passalia. It’s also a thrill when he asks her to take a necklace through customs as a gift to an old friend who lives in Warsaw. Unfortunately, after she delivers the bauble to a nightclub singer, he tells her that she’s smuggled some secret microfilm.

Surprise, surprise, Passalia is an enemy agent and, having evidence on tape of Minazzoli handing over the necklace, blackmail is the order of the day. Sensibly, she confesses everything to security chief René Dary, who puts his best man on the case. In another huge surprise, this turns out to be Hanin, who turns into a top spy once he takes his glasses off. Passalia and his associates want Minazzoli’s help kidnapping family friend Professeur Wilkowski (Lucien Nat), whose latest secret formula looks to be a global game changer. So, she gets to play double agent with Hanin as her handler.

If audiences were expecting some spy antics in the vein of Sean Connery’s early outings as Ian Fleming’s secret agent, they likely left the theatre after this experience extremely disappointed. Vernay’s film drifts far closer to John Le Carré territory, with a dour, almost documentary feel. Action is limited to occasional gunplay, car chases and fisticuffs. The most notable combat takes place in the hull of a ship when Hanin is taking part in a search for the kidnapped scientist. Inexplicably, the vessel is then allowed to disembark, even though Hanin’s colleagues know exactly where he was, and he hasn’t returned!

The production’s lack of scale and ambition is the real problem here. It brings nothing to mind so much as television shows of the same period, although there’s no evidence that this was anything other than a big screen effort. However, this does mean that they are few points of interest. Minazzoli heroically wrangles a pair of false lashes that probably gave her eyelids a hernia and does her best to inject some life into the moribund proceedings. Aside from that, the scenes where vehicles are forced off the road are competently staged, and Vernay likes to put the backs of people’s heads in the corner of the frame to create some depth to his shots.

Whether this was an attempt to deliver a more grounded espionage drama is unknown, but it is possible. The presence of the kidnapped scientist and his invention of a synthetic substitute for oil are little more than incidental plot devices. They lead only to a standard hostage exchange and a hurried, anti-climactic shootout. The villains are a colourless bunch, too, without a gadget or secret base between them. Purists may prefer this more realistic approach to the more extravagant flourishes of a Bond-like adventure. However, such an approach needs a compelling story with some surprising twists and turns, and Vernay’s film has none of that.

This was almost the last example of a film based on a novel by French writer and occasional film director Maurice Dekobra. His work was regularly adapted for the screen from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s. Italian distributors added ‘Le Tigre’ to the film’s title on release, presumably to cash in on the spy character Hanin played in two other (much better) films of the time. The same trick was tried again a few years later when the multi-national production ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse’ (1967) was retitled ‘Le tigre sort sans sa mère’ for French audiences.

Hanin was born in 1925 in Algeria, which was still a French colony at the time. After abortive attempts to study law and chemistry, he debuted on the Parisian stage and made his debut before the cameras in 1951. Minor supporting roles followed over the next few years, including a couple of films starring Jean Gabin, including the unusual crime film ‘Gas-oil’ (1955). A more significant part in Jean-Luc Godard’s critically-acclaimed ‘Breathless/À bout de souffle’ (1960) raised his profile, and leading roles followed almost immediately. He starred in several other Eurospy features in the 1960s, aside from his appearances as ‘Le Tigre’, and he remained regularly employed until a few years before his death in 2015. However, he is probably best remembered for his 17-year run as the Police Commissioner in the small screen crime drama ‘Navarro.’ He was buried in Algeria by special presidential permission.

A dreary, rather lifeless experience.

Deadly Shots On Broadway/Dead Body On Broadway/Todesschüsse am Broadway (1969)

‘Greetings from Charlie the Nose.’

A successful armoured car heist nets three million dollars in gold, but the wheelman is an undercover FBI agent, and he stashes the haul in a secret place. The gang catch up with him almost immediately, but he dies before revealing its location. A top FBI agent tries to bring the shadowy figures behind the crime to justice and recover the gold…

The last of the West German eight-film series starring American actor George Nader as top undercover operative, Jerry Cotton. All the usual elements for his last hurray are present and correct, including director Harald Reinl, co-star Heinz Weiss and the production’s usual desperate attempt to make it appear that the film was shot on location in New York.

After an armoured car robbery, undercover secret agent Johnny Peters (Hans Heyde) finds himself driving the van with its fabulous haul of gold bars. Hiding the booty in New York’s harbour, he only has time to scratch the pier number on his girlfriend’s old apartment key and put it in the mail before being gunned down by his partners in crime. The gang are rounded up almost immediately, and it seems the case is closed, apart from the missing gold. Nader and partner Phil Decker (Weiss) are brought in to look for it, but gang leader Joe Costello (Miha Baloh) breaks jail before they can get too far. Heading straight for a backstreet plastic surgeon, the hoodlum grabs a change of face and begins his own search for the treasure.

Meanwhile, a syndicate led by local Mr Big, Woody Davis (Horst Naumann), also has its eyes on the prize. His life is complicated by his inquisitive niece, Alice Davis (Michaela May), who mistakes his criminal activities as the actions of a blackmail victim. All the parties agree on the need to interrogate Heyde’s girlfriend, Cindy Holden (Heidy Bohlen). She’s left for parts unknown, but Nader tracks her down at the Boulder Dam, where she is working as a waitress. He’s quickly convinced that she knew nothing about the heist, Heyde’s true identity or the location of the gold. He persuades her to return to New York to act as bait to flush out the various villains and maybe find the booty in the process.

The Jerry Cotton series is often classified as 1960s Eurospy, along with the multitude of cut-price James Bond lookalikes who spent the decade running around the glamorous capitals of Europe, making the world safe for Western democracy. That definition is a bit of a stretch as firearms are the only fundamental element of the ‘guns, girls and gadgets’ formula to be found. Also, the character is working for a law enforcement agency, not an espionage outfit, and his opponents are almost always criminals with no greater ambitions than robbery and swag. In line with the original novels, there was also no womanising. Cotton might be suave and handsome, but he was all business. However, he often acted as a ‘one-man band’, and the films are filled with gunplay and fisticuffs. And it was the 1960s when 007 fever was at its height.

Rather than marking the usual limp end to a long-running series, this is one of the better entries. The arrival of director Reinl for the sixth film ‘Death and Diamonds/Dynamit in grüner Seide’ (1968) gave the franchise a real shot in the arm as the director delivered tighter, pacier vehicles than what had come before. In this entry, in particular, Reinl displays a fine skill with location work, setting a lot of the action in abandoned industrial sites and buildings. These types of locations became quite the cliché on television over the next decade, but it works fine here, and the gun battles are lively and well-shot. It also helps that gangster Baloh’s signature move is using grenades, which allows for some good pyrotechnics and a legitimate excuse for things blowing up (for a change!)

One of the critical elements running throughout the Jerry Cotton series is the musical soundtracks by Peter Thomas. On the one hand, they brought a level of quality to the early films that weren’t always earned; on the other, they were often intrusive and could be out of place in certain scenes. However, in Reinl’s entries, the music has less of a leading role, except for the catchy theme tune, of course. It’s also worth mentioning that in the English dub, the song performed by Bohlen’s character is absolutely dreadful. Hard to believe she’s a popular club singer on that evidence!

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect is that the greater use of locations means considerably less embarrassing green-screen and shoddy process shots to try and convey an American setting. There are also several instances of our apparent protagonists in long shots that were obviously filmed in the Big Apple! Although, it’s back to green-screen when we close in on the actor’s faces, of course. Whether the production had the budget for pick-up shots in New York or stock footage was acquired and costumes matched is unclear, but it’s more effort than made in the previous films.

Jerry Cotton was a character who first surfaced in 1954 as part of a series of German novellas called ‘Bastei Kriminalroman.’ His popularity led to a succession of similar works and magazine stories based exclusively around the character, delivered by a stable of more than 100 writers. The 2500 edition appeared in 2005, and total global sales are estimated at around 850 million over the years. A Finnish version of the character appeared in Scandanavia, and a new film appeared in 2007 starring Christian Tramitz, who also provides the voice of Sideshow Bob for the German dub of ‘The Simpsons.’

The Jerry Cotton bows out on a high, although that’s not much of a recommendation.

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.

An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite (1965)

’20 sharks each day are going to Hamburg zoo…’

A top secret agent is assigned to supervise the retrieval of 20 million dollars worth of gold from the wreck of an old French galleon. However, when the operation is complete, armed skin divers storm the ship and steal the treasure…

The second appearance of Roger Hanin as special agent Louis Rapière, codename Le Tigre. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is tangling with mysterious criminal mastermind The Orchid, again under the supervision of director Claude Chabrol.

The French military submarine service has come up with a surprising find whilst on manoeuvres; an ancient galleon loaded with gold. Hanin gets the job of overseeing its retrieval by a navy ship and its subsequent transportation back to Paris. The recovery part of the mission goes well, but the shipment is hijacked, the entire crew machine-gunned, and the ship blown up. Hanin and his sidekick Duvet (Roger Dumas) barely escape with their lives.

Following the gold takes them to the isolated republic of Cayenne, where revolution is brewing. Incompetent local contact Col. Pontarlier (José María Caffarel) welcomes the uprising as a chance for him to get out of the ‘boring’ country. Hanin, however, is more interested in the presence of international spies from all over the world. It seems that all the espionage agents of the world are concerned about The Orchid, who is providing the necessary military hardware in exchange for the gold. The arms deal was brokered by zoo owner Jacques Vermorel (Michel Bouquet) and wealthy businessman Ricardo Sanchez (Carlos Casaravilla). The Orchid plans to install the latter as leader of the country post insurrection, but his principal agent in the region is the sexy but ruthless Pamela Mitchum (Margaret Lee).

This French, Spanish and Italian co-production from director Chabrol begins in much the same way as many a Eurospy feature of the period, including ‘The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood/Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche’ (1964), the first film in the short-lived series. It’s somewhat light in tone, thanks to returning stars Hanin and Dumas, but it still looks like the audience is in for the usual mix of fisticuffs, car chases and occasional gunplay. However, this turns out to be something a little different.

The setup is cheerfully vague, with Jean Curtelin’s script quite happy to put two secret agents in charge of what you’d reasonably assume should be a naval operation. Still, it places our heroes in the centre of the action, and the attack on the ship is well-staged and quite violent. Hanin and Dumas wash up on the island shores of Cayenne in just time to eavesdrop on the meeting between Bouquet, Casaravilla and the revolutionaries. When our heroes reach civilisation, they link up with lazy and rather stupid local man Caffarel and find that the place is crawling with the spy world’s best and brightest, who like nothing better than to hang out together at a friendly cocktail party.

By the time someone attempts to kill Hanin with a lasso as he drives by in an open car, one ridiculous development has led to another, and the film has revealed its true colours; it is supposed to be silly. Starting out straight and allowing the comedy in a little at a time is an unusual approach, but it pays dividends here. The cast was obviously in on the joke and never acknowledge just how idiotic things become, with Lee dressed in an animal skin for the climax, which sees Hanin indulge in some unusual cage fighting at the zoo. Brilliantly, the idiotic white supremacist villains hang around to watch and are still sitting there when the authorities arrive to round them up.

This mixture of action and laughter is not easy to pull off successfully, and things may get too farcical for some tastes. After all, most spy spoofs lay their cards on the table face up from the start and are usually not very subtle about it. Instead, Chabrol’s film confounds early expectations by lightening the tone as it develops, although he’s wise enough to keep the action coming at such a pace that the change isn’t jarring or too obvious. The fights are also surprisingly brutal and convincing, thanks to some razor-sharp editing.

Hanin originated both the story and the ‘Le Tigre’ character after a disagreement over rights issues brought his brief cinematic tenure as secret agent ‘Le Gorille’ to an end. Lee was an English actress who came to the Italian film industry via marriage and was a fixture in the Eurospy arena in the 1960s. The couple demonstrates good screen chemistry, and she’s pretty obviously having a ball as the black-hearted femme fatale. In a much later interview, she named this film one of her two favourites.

Chabrol went on to become a celebrated director of French’ New Wave’ cinema, but, at this point, he was making commercial films after a string of more artistic projects had flopped at the box office. ‘Les Biches’ (1968) was another commercial dud but enjoyed critical acclaim and was the first in the string of films that made his reputation. In later years, he described the two ‘Le Tigre’ films as follows: ‘They were drivel, so OK, let’s get into it up to our necks.’ An auteur filmmaker would probably choose to distance himself from earlier commercial work, however, if it was distaste for the material that prompted his approach here, then that can be viewed as a happy accident. Perhaps understandably, no official films followed in the ‘Le Tigre’ series, although two later films with Hanin were retitled with the character’s name, most notably ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse/Le tigre sort sans sa mère (1967)’ which also starred Lee.

Enjoyable, silly Eurospy spoof that makes for an entertaining experience.

Death In A Red Jaguar/Der Tod im roten Jaguar (1968)

‘Each of the cities indicated here has been the site of at least one murder recently.’

Several seemingly unconnected murders in the San Francisco Bay area are committed using a weapon fitted with a unique silencer. The FBI believe that a shadowy organisation is offering ‘murder for hire’ and assign their top agent to crack the case…

The sixth movie appearance for George Nader as FBI man Jerry Cotton finds the actor reunited with director Harald Reinl, who was behind the previous entry, ‘Death and Diamonds/Dynamit in grüner Seide’ (1966). That film was a step up in quality from what had gone before, and here Reinl delivers arguably the best in the eight-film series.

When assassin for hire, Kit Davis (Gert Haucke) knocks at the door of his latest target, Ann Gordon (Karin Schröder), he’s shocked to find it answered by her pre-teen daughter, Jane (Manuela Schmitz). Retreating to a local bar for further instructions, he’s told to go ahead and returns to finish the job. When the agents join the police at the scene, we even see part of the child’s body wrapped lumped through the bannisters on the stairs. Nader immediately focuses on the murdered woman’s estranged husband, Francis Gordon (Giuliano Raffaelli). However, he has already called in local private eye Sam Parker (Herbert Stass) and his can-do secretary, Ria Payne (Daniela Surina), to investigate.

Meanwhile, Haucke has chalked up a second victim, Henry Jackson (Hans Epskamp). The unfortunate accountant was about to testify against his slippery boss, Peter Carp (Kurt Jaggberg), so Nader s him an official visit. Jaggberg is smug and cocky, but his wife Linda (Grit Boettcher) wants out, fearing that she is next on her husband’s hit list. Jaggberg is happy to order her a taxi, but when it arrives, Haucke is in the driver’s seat, and Nader has to intervene to save her life. Stashing the frightened Boettcher safely with Surina, Nader goes after Jaggberg and the mysterious syndicate boss behind the killings.

Constantin Film and Allianz Filmproduktion’s Jerry Cotton series rarely rose above the distinctly mediocre. Despite Nader’s likeable presence, budgets were low, plots were mundane, and a lack of production value restricted the action. However, when veteran director Reinl took over the series for the last three entries, he managed to instil a sense of dynamism and pace that had been sorely lacking in the previous entries. The scripts and stuntwork showed a little more ambition, too, with denser plots and more invention in the action sequences. At one point, Nader engineers a genuinely great escape when he’s tied up in the face of an oncoming railway tanker.

But the standout here is Haucke and his unusual, soft-spoken killer. His performance provides a complexity not found anywhere else in the series. Temporarily deterred by the idea of executing a young child, he works up to it by playing a loud record in a neighbourhood bar. Later, he enjoys polite chit-chat with his landlady, Mrs Cunnings (Ilse Steppat), before taking a phone call and blanking her daughter, Eve (Britt Lindberg), who is cavorting right in front of him near naked. It’s a grave mistake to take him out of the picture so early on; a film wholly based around Nader’s hunt for him would undoubtedly have been a better picture.

Reinl keeps the action coming, however, and shows an excellent eye for a location, something even more pronounced in the last film in the series ‘Deadly Shots On Broadway/Dead Body On Broadway/Todesschüsse am Broadway (1969). There’s also a little more effort to involve Nader’s partner, Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss), who, despite consistent second-billing, often felt like little more than an incidental character. It’s also good to see a more proactive female character in the form of Surina. Although the English dub saddles her with a hideous deep southern drawl, she does get involved in the action and is present for the climax. Women in the Cotton series were almost always damsels in distress and, on rare occasions, Femme Fatales, so it’s refreshing to see one who is more than just a generic plot device to get Nader from one punch up to the next.

It also contains what appears to be the first American footage shot for the series, although it may have been library footage that was matched later on. We see Haucke’s character walking about on a stateside street, but, of course, we only see him from behind. When we cut to the actor’s face, we’re back to tatty green screen, although to be fair to director Reinl, he does try to keep this to a minimum throughout his three-film tenure on the series. The jazzy score of Pete Thomas also takes a little bit of a back seat. Although it was usually the most creative and interesting aspect of the earlier films, it was often a distraction. The audience must have wondered on occasion if Thomas was shown the visuals before composing his score.

Haucke was almost exclusively a television actor whose 44-year career encompassed all areas of drama. He was usually a guest actor but had supporting roles in several prestigious mini-series in the 1980s, including ‘Die Geschwister Oppermann’ (1983), the saga of a Jewish family in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power, generational drama ‘Die Bertinis’ (1988) and ‘Der Schatz des Kaisers’ (1987), a thriller set in Vienna’s art world. Later on, he had a regular slot on light-hearted crime drama ‘Ein Bayer auf Rügen’ (1993-5), and his final credits were as a recurring character in the popular series’ The Country Doctor’ on which he appeared on and off for 17 years. Surina appeared in unusual Giallo ‘The Dead Are Alive!/L’etrusco uccide ancora’ (1972) but mainly appeared on the small screen by then. Her final credits date from 1982.

Apart from appearing as Jerry Cotton, Nader is primarily remembered for his debut turn as the hero in Phil Tucker’s bad movie classic ‘Robot Monster’ (1953). Signed by Universal as a possible stand-in for Rock Hudson, the contract resulted in only a few minor roles. However, this did include fourth billing in Hedy Lemarr’s final picture ‘The Female Animal’ (1958). By then, he was working more in television anyway, although another film role took him to England for cheap noir ‘Nowhere To Go’ (1958), where his co-star was a 24-year-old Maggie Smith! During his tenure as Cotton, he also starred in two projects for European producer Harry Alan Towers: ‘House of a Thousand Dolls’ (1967) with Vincent Price and ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967) with Frankie Avalon, Klaus Kinski and golden Bond Girl Shirley Eaton. His career before the camera came to an end in the mid-1970s when he sustained a severe eye injury in a car accident. He reinvented himself as an author and published the first gay-themed science-fiction novel ‘Chrome’ in 1978.

Probably the best of the West German series based around the exploits of agent Jerry Cotton. It’s nothing remarkable, but it’s an efficient 90 minutes of fast-paced entertainment if you’re in the mood.

The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood/Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche (1964)

‘Go pick up all the dwarves in Paris.’

A terrorist organisation is determined to prevent the Turkish government from obtaining new fighter jets from France. They target the ambassador who has come to Paris to sign the deal, conducting an assassination attempt at the airport. France’s top secret agent is assigned to protection duties but is powerless to prevent the kidnapping of the diplomat’s daughter…

Black and white French-Italian Eurospy starring Roger Hanin as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’. Surprisingly, the director was Claude Chabrol, who later in the decade became celebrated for his place on the front line of French’ New Wave’ cinema.

Sinister forces aren’t happy with the idea of Turkey’s airforce being supplemented by acquiring a shipment of new Mirage IV fighters from France. A consultant working on the deal is murdered during a private screening of a film showcasing the new jet, and the assassin follows shortly afterwards at the hands of his own people. These events bring in top DST agent Louis Rapière, known in the business as ‘le Tigre’. His mission is to protect visiting Turkish ambassador Martin Baskine (Sauveur Sasporte) and his family until he signs the necessary paperwork and the deal goes through.

Unfortunately, for action man Hanin this means babysitting Sasporte’s wife and daughter, showing them the sights of Paris and avoiding oily diplomatic flunkey Coubassi (Antonio Passalia). The bad news is that Madame Baskine (Maria Mauban) is an overbearing, flirtatious chatterbox; the good is that daughter Mehlica (Daniela Bianchi) is the kind of woman wannabee Bonds like for breakfast. Meanwhile, all is not sunshine and roses in the villains’ camp, either, with party man Benita (Roger Rudel) clashing with local fixer Dobronsky (Mario David). The former is a patriot, but the latter has far more mercenary intentions.

This is a crisp, efficient spy game from director Chabrol, who injects the relatively standard plot mechanics with some inventive touches and a swift pace. Hanin may not have the charisma of Sean Connery but displays more than enough personality and skill to anchor the drama. Blonde villain David also helps to convey the importance of the stakes involved, which might be a little lacking without their joint presence. Bianchi’s casting was an obvious nod to her appearance opposite Connery in ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963), which likely would have appeared in French theatres early in 1964.

Chabrol also includes a fair slice of humour into proceedings. The DST’s ‘Q’ division is headed by the grinning Duvet (Roger Dumas), who likes nothing better than promoting his somewhat threadbare selection of gadgets. These include a gun that shoots backwards and a black powder explosive that leaves him looking like a refugee from a Roadrunner cartoon. There’s also a sly comic performance from Christa Lang, who plays David’s wide-eyed mistress. Wandering around in an alcoholic stupor throughout, she’s almost entirely oblivious to events developing around her. It’s probably the film’s highlight when she finds Hanin standing on her kitchen worktop, gun in hand, eavesdropping on her boyfriend as he outlines his evil plans in the next room. Instead of raising the alarm at finding an armed stranger in her apartment, she simply collects a fresh supply of booze, gives him a little wave, goes back to David next door and never says a word about it.

The fight scenes are a little hit and miss at times (literally!), but the final confrontation between Hanin and David is well-staged and quite brutal for its time. The two actors really sell the violence of the combat, heightened by some authentic touches, such as the sweat soaking through the back of David’s shirt. Although it’s nothing more than a one-on-one bout of fisticuffs, it would have probably worked better as the finale than the film’s actual climax, which is a little underwhelming. The finish takes place in the kind of car-wrecking yard much beloved by fictional crimelords in the 1970s, although kudos to Passalia for apparently doing his own stunt work. He may have been doubled in certain shots, but if so, it’s very cleverly done. Official sequel ‘An Orchid for the Tiger/Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite’ (1965) followed, but two of Hanin’s other spy adventures were also tagged with the ‘Le Tigre’ brand. However, ‘Operation Diplomatic Passport/Passeport diplomatique agent K 8/Agente Tigre sfida infernale’ (1965) and ‘Spy Pit/Le Tigre Sort Sans Sa Mere’ (1967) found the actor playing different secret agents.

Despite early success with his debut ‘Le Beau Serge’ (1958), it seems that Chabrol had to sacrifice artistic endeavour to commercial necessity and embrace the mainstream at this point in his career. Hanin had starred in two features as secret agent ‘Le Gorille’, but the series ended when the producers lost the rights to use the character. In the wake of the international success of Bond, the actor created secret agent ‘le Tigre’ and receives an ‘original scenario’ credit here, script duties devolving to Jean Halain. The film even has an overt reference to Bond when a villain spins the wire book stand in the airport to reveal a paperback copy of ‘From Russia with Love’, complete with Connery on the cover.

Bianchi’s international prospects were curtailed by her thick Italian accent and lack of English. Typically, she spoke her lines phonetically and was later dubbed. After Bond, her American career consisted solely of appearing in a handful of episodes of ‘Dr Kildare’ with Richard Chamberlain. She returned to mainland Europe but never escaped the shadow of 007 in her brief subsequent career. She starred in the title role of the underwhelming ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin/Missione speciale Lady Chaplin’ (1966) and then opposite one-time Hollywood heartthrob Stewart Granger in ‘Requiem for a Secret Agent/Requiem per un agente segreto’ (1966). There was also a top-billed role with Sean’s bother, Neil, in the Bond spoof ‘Ok Connery/Operation Kid Brother’ (1966). She retired from the screen in 1968.

Nothing truly remarkable, but still an efficient slice of espionage.

Our Man Flint: Dead On Target (1976)

‘I don’t like this a bit; call security at once.’

The head of an oil company is kidnapped by third-world terrorists who demand their leader is set free from prison in exchange for his safe return. Special agent Derek Flint is called in to investigate, and he soon discovers that the terrorists have powerful American allies who are pursuing their own agenda…

Largely forgotten small screen reboot of super-spy Derek Flint, who had wisecracked, brawled and womanised his way through two 20th Century Fox films a decade earlier in the charismatic form of James Coburn. Here, the secret agent is revived by Ray Danton, who had spent time of his own in the 1960s running around Europe as ‘Bond On A Budget’, although a considerably smaller budget than Coburn.

It’s not just another day at the office for oil tycoon Wendell Runsler (Lawrence Dane) when he is snatched by faceless goons, led by his new personal assistant, Sandra Carter (Sharon Acker). Dane has walked into the crosshairs of a terrorist group because his engineers have discovered a major oil field off the shores of their island home. Hired to bring back Dane on the quiet is secret agent Derek Flint (Danton). It’s not long before he discovers that there is more going on than a simple case of kidnapping. The terrorists have hired organised American muscle to do the heavy lifting, and Mrs Runsler (Linda Sorenson) is involved with the theft of secret papers from her husband’s office.

It’s unrecorded which network television executive thought it was a good idea to try and resurrect 1960s cinema super spies for the small screen when they were a decade past their sell-by date. Likely, inspiration was provided by the deluge of successful cop and private investigator shows that were choking up the American broadcast schedules at the time. ABC recast Dean Martin’s ‘Matt Helm’ in that mould, with Tony Franciosa as the ex-secret agent opening a detective agency. The pilot movie went to series, but it lasted only half a season. However, it may have prompted 20th Century Fox Television to look toward Coburn’s Derek Flint. They had the rights to the character, after all.

Unfortunately, what the resulting film doesn’t seem to have had was any appreciable budget. Filmed in British Columbia, events take place on a scale even smaller than the average network TV episode of the period. There are no action set pieces beyond some minimal fist fighting and occasional bloodless gunplay unless you count a ridiculously out-of-place sequence at an archery range. The plot quickly disintegrates into a series of conversations in small rooms where the tired exposition routinely dumped just leads to more exposition later on. The apparent mystery elements wouldn’t trouble an eight-year-old, and the supposed final twist is as transparent as a sheet of glass.

Director Joseph L Scanlon is also forced to pad the running time with lots of footage of downtown Vancouver and the San Francisco skyline, although that does mean that there are an awful lot of tall buildings on the screen and that’s always impressive! Similarly, he achieves an undoubted world record for the most aerial shots of a car in traffic. These are sometimes intercut with Danton sitting in one of the most unconvincing car mock-ups ever put on film, the vehicle swaying gently from side to side against a pale blue background. The frequency of these overhead traffic shots eventually turns from exasperating to semi-hilarious. It would form the basis of a good drinking game if players accept the likelihood of getting up close and personal with a stomach pump afterwards.

Apart from the standard surveillance equipment, gadgets are restricted to Danton’s digital watch. Not only does it tell the time, but it’s also linked to the alarm system back at his house. Less impressive is the suspicion that break-in notifications might be coming courtesy of someone standing just offscreen shining a wobbly red penlight in the watch’s general direction. However, it is funny that this incursion occurs while he’s busy slagging off the oil company’s security arrangements to one of its executives. Pot, kettle, black, Derek?

The housebreaker turns out to be blonde bombshell Bonita Rogers (Gay Rowan). If Danton had been a little younger and it hadn’t been a TV movie, she’d probably have been waiting for him in the shower, but, instead, she’s handcuffed herself to the stairs. What does she want? To be trained as a secret agent, of course! How did she find his address? Perhaps he’s listed in the yellow pages under ‘espionage’.

This was probably intended as a pilot for a series, but it’s hardly a surprise to discover that none followed. The production seems to have made such a tiny impact that biographies of both the Flint character and Danton seem unaware of its existence. There is a ‘before they were famous’ moment, however, as yes, that’s ‘Sex and the City’ actress Kim Cattrall walking through the shot in only her second screen role as a ‘blink, and you’ll miss her’ office secretary.

One pleasing aspect of the production is the casting of Danton in the lead role. Although he is plainly ‘too old for this shit’ and sports what looks like an ill-fitting hairpiece, the producers made an appropriate choice. The actor became a familiar face on the American small screen in guest roles throughout the 1950s before making the leap to theatres with more significant parts in films like ‘The Beat Generation’ (1959), ‘The Big Operator’ (1959) with Mickey Rooney and Alaskan drama ‘Ice Palace’ (1960), which starred Richard Burton and Robert Ryan. A year later, he was cast in the title role of gangster biopic ‘The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond’ (1960). The film was generally well-received (it received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design), but it failed to ignite a big-screen career as a leading man.

For that career progression, he went to Europe and his first outing as ‘Bond On A Budget’ followed shortly after his arrival with ‘Code Name: Jaguar/Corrida pour un espion’ (1965), a French, Spanish and West German co-production. ‘New York Calling Superdragon/New York chiama Superdrago’ (1965), ‘Si muore solo una volta’ (1967) and Jess Franco’s ‘Lucky, the Inscrutable/Lucky, el intrépido’ (1967) closed out his assignments as a European super spy. A guest slot on an episode of the previously mentioned ‘Matt Helm’ TV show may have led to his last secret agent hurrah as Flint.

Aside from the primary filming location, the film has a few other Canadian connections, even though it’s listed as a product of the United States. Director Scanlon and leading lady Rowan likely first crossed paths on another project partially backed by 20th Century Fox Television, 1973 science-fiction TV cult item ‘The Starlost’. This was Canadian in origin and starred Keir Dullea, who found lasting fame as the human lead of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Although the show arguably had an even smaller budget than Danton enjoyed in his outing as Derek Flint, the basic concept would bear revisiting, even if it is arguably not entirely original. Credited to legendary science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, its’ notion of a ‘generational starship’ does bear comparison to Brian Aldiss’ 1956 novel ‘Non-Stop’ and some other subsequent works.

A missed connection forced me to stay overnight in the Pittsburgh Greyhound Terminal in mid-August 2001. This film isn’t as boring as that experience, but it’s a close-run thing.

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.