‘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.