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.

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.