Friday, October 15, 2021

Recent discovery: Die Rechnung — Eiskalt serviert

Whether by personal choice or director Helmuth Ashley’s insistence, Peter Thomas’ approach to this fourth Jerry Cotton adventure differs from the way he scored its predecessors. Most of the music cues in 1966’s Die Rechnung: eiskalt serviert — known in English-speaking territories as Tip Not Included (a title that makes absolutely no sense) — are short, staccato bursts of action jazz, often little more than stingers, that never develop into melodies. Ashley often shuns music when events scream for it, as with a terrific early fight sequence in a parklift, which takes place in near silence. And while it’s nice that this film relies less on the stock footage ubiquitous in earlier Cotton adventures, the absence of such montages also represents lost opportunities for lengthier cues. Finally, we hear very few of the familiar cues that have defined these films until now, with the exception of the ubiquitous “Jerry Cotton March,” which Ashley employs to excess, particularly during the story’s climax.


The tone also has shifted, becoming a bit larkish, with George Nader’s Jerry Cotton behaving less like an FBI agent, and more like James Bond. And while George Hurdalek’s script includes a genuinely intriguing mystery, it also resorts to eye-rolling nonsense: particularly with its sex-toy treatment of gangster’s moll Birke Bruck, who exists solely to hang around in skimpy outfits. She even endures a gratuitous shower scene that pointlessly interrupts third-act revelations (and features more nudity than one would expect, given when this film was made).


Thomas does get to stretch during a title credits sequence that clearly evokes Maurice Binder’s already iconic Bond credits. Thomas’ title theme, powered by screaming horns and a wall of backing brass, plays as the credits unfold over a montage of late-night Manhattan. Thomas shifts to a sultry combo cue as Jerry zooms through traffic in his bright red Jaguar E, finally stopping at a nightclub. He’s just in time to hear chanteuse Phyllis (Yvonne Monlaur) perform “Love Is Swinging in the Air,” which she later reprises as the film progresses (cementing its status as another signature Cotton theme). The song concluded, the club combo takes over; Jerry notices that Phyllis has an unusually tense conversation with her boyfriend, Tommy (Christian Doermer). Jerry’s curiosity is piqued further when Tommy is “escorted” across the street by two thugs, who begin to beat the lad to death. Jerry intervenes with panache, the subsequent fight cleverly staged in the aforementioned parklift (which betrays this film’s German origins, because no such structure ever existed in New York).


Tommy survives. Unknown to Phyllis, he’s part of a gang supervised by Charles Anderson (Horst Tappert), who is planning an impressively elaborate heist that involves the young man’s handling of “the smoke.” The target: a shipment from the U.S. Mint.


Meanwhile — as the “Jerry Cotton March” is heard for the first time — Jerry is assigned to investigate the mugging of Mint controller George Davis (Ullrich Haupt), a haughty little man who regards the work of “mere policemen” with disdain. The mugging has taken place on the day a large shipment of cash and gemstones is schedule to depart the Mint: a coincidence that Jerry finds troubling. He orders the shipment postponed, which prompts anxiety from Mint president John Clark (Walter Rilla), who dislikes having to keep so much in the vault. He nonetheless complies with Jerry’s request … for the moment.


Out on a distant freeway, Charles and his gang members — many sporting droll names such as Pittsburgh, Caruso and Happy — await the Mint truck; Thomas supplies a brief bit of tasty “traveling jazz.” Alerted that the truck is empty, Charles calls off the heist, and they retreat to their lair: the back office of a wrestling arena, which — as the film continues — allows Ashley to insert numerous boring sequences of German wrestlers knocking each other about.


Ah, but the gang’s activities have been observed from afar by a sinister-looking fellow. Who is he … and what’s his interest?


Tommy reunites with Phyllis at the nightclub that evening, after she once again croons “Love Is Swinging in the Air.” Soft piano jazz backs their cozy chat, but then the mood abruptly shatters; Charles has learned that Tommy has been “turned” by the FBI. Thomas supplies an action jazz vamp during the subsequent furious car chase, which concludes when Tommy crashes … and dies.


The following day, Clark —  unable to stand it any longer — orders the shipment to proceed. Charles and his gang are ready; several brief jazz cues help build tension as the truck approaches a key overcrossing, with Charles following in a car. The heist itself involves crazy, split-second timing, with a small, saucer-shaped bomb dropped from the overpass just in time for the truck to drive over it, at which point the device magnetically attaches itself to the undercarriage. Charles hits a switch, violently blowing the truck to bits (but, rather improbably, failing to damage any of its valuable contents). Thomas shifts to a moody jazz cue as the scene is blanketed by a poisonous fog — the “smoke” — which allows the gang, wearing gas masks, to raid the truck unseen. The loot is stashed in an arriving ambulance commandeered by other gang members, and they depart.


Back at the Mint, Clark — after learning of the heist, and realizing it’s his fault — suffers a heart attack and dies. Wanting to protect the man’s reputation, Jerry rashly tells the assembling reporters that he okayed the shipment (!). Shortly thereafter, Jerry’s boss (Richard Münich, reprising his role as Mr. High) has no choice but to suspend our favorite agent: a melancholy moment backed by a slow, sad arrangement of the “Jerry Cotton March.”


His suspension notwithstanding, Jerry realizes that Phyllis likely is in danger; he races across the city, as Thomas supplies a unison horn fanfare against a tense percussive vamp. A subsequent gunfight — again, maddeningly, with no backing music — concludes when Jerry cleverly arranges for he and Phyllis to be arrested by police. Soon thereafter, Jerry views Tommy’s body in the morgue; a tone-deaf Ashley inserts an inappropriately upbeat cue during this melancholy scene.


Phyllis subsequently is tricked (quite foolishly) into being captured by Charles and his gang. Jerry follows, and the third act is laden with brief action cues as he’s cornered at the wrestling arena, then skirmishes with thugs in a boiler room, is tossed into a locked room, and escapes via air ducts. Numerous versions of the “Jerry Cotton March” back his escape from the ducts, followed by a climactic battle with the ultimate Big Bad; this kicks off when Jerry hurls himself off a high roof, barely catches one strut of a departing helicopter, and hangs on for dear life as the pilot tries to shake him off. Ah, but Jerry prevails, cripples the copter, and forces it to land safely in a nearby field (instead of dropping to the ground like a stone, which one would expect of a crippled copter). Jerry’s partner Phil (Heinz Weiss) and other FBI agents magically arrive at the same moment; they arrest the villains, and Mr. High magnanimously lifts Jerry’s suspension. Fade to black.

As before, Die Rechnung: eiskalt serviert failed to produce a soundtrack album, although five cues can be found on the 1997 two-disc compilation, 100% Cotton (The Complete Jerry Cotton Edition). Jerry — and Peter Thomas — would return in the early spring of 1967, in Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn. About which, more to come.