3-2-1 Countdown For Manhattan (1966)

AKA: The Trap Snaps Shut At Midnight
Director: Harald Philipp
Starring: George Nader, Horst Frank, Heinz Weiss, Dominique Wilms, Monika Grimm, Richard Münch
Music: Peter Thomas

3-2-1 Countdown for Manhattan is the third film in the series of Jerry Cotton films starring George Nader. The series was made in West Germany, but set in the U.S.A., so there is plenty of stock footage and rear projection. But this entry in the series is good fun, but plays more like a detective story than a spy film.

The movie opens with scenes very reminiscent of Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear, where an explosive dump at the Hartland Dam site has gone up in flames. Lumbering towards the inferno is a regular delivery of 20 drums of nitro-glycerine. Unlike The Wages Of Fear, they don’t need the nitro to extinguish the blaze and the truck is turned away. The drivers make their return trip with a fully laden truck. As is their routine, they stop at a diner for something to eat and to harass the attractive waitress who is working there.

Whilst carousing with the waitress the explosive truck is stolen by two men, Lou Hutton (Gert Günther Hoffman) and Krotsky (Friedrich G. Beckhaus), but the hi-jackers don’t realise the truck is full of nitro. They simply needed a truck. Once they realise their mistake, Krotsky scarpers, and Hutton soldiers on alone.

When we next see the explosives truck being driven by Hutton, it is on a crowded New York street, and Hutton ploughs the front end through the window of Cartier and then flees. During the commotion, a svelte blonde named Maureen (Dominique Wilms) helps herself to a selection of diamonds from the store. Arriving late on the scene, the police are worried that the truck will explode any minute. But they are unjustified in their panic as Hutton had unloaded the nitro. But that raises another problem – there are 20 drums of nitro-glycerine hidden in the city somewhere and the refrigerated containers they are in will only keep them stable for another 48 hours. And to make matters worse, New York is in the grip of a heatwave. That’s where the F.B.I. come in.

The clock is ticking. Enter Jerry Cotton and his partner Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss). While Jerry and Phil receive their briefing from their boss, Mr High (what a great name for the head of F.B.I. – played by Richard Münch), Maureen places the stolen diamonds in a locker at the train station and mails the key to Ruth Warren (Monika Grimm), who happens to be Hutton’s girlfriend.

Like any city where organised crime is rife, the Mob are not pleased when a caper is pulled and they don’t get their cut. Larry Link (Horst Frank), New York’s number one mobster, wants to know who pulled the Cartier job, and obviously wants his share. He sends his goons out to find the culprits.

Meanwhile, Jerry starts his investigation at the diner where the truck had been stolen from. By tracing the dialed phone numbers from the pay phone at the diner, Jerry is lead to Hutton’s girlfriend, Ruth Warren. Simultaneously Link’s men capture Krotsky, the second man in the truck hi-jacking. After some friendly torture, Krotsky reveals that he didn’t take part in the robbery; that he had fled the scene once he realised the truck was full of nitro-glycerine. No longer interested in the diamonds, Link’s thoughts turn to getting his hands on the drums of nitro. With that much explosive he could hold the city to ransom. Link sends his goons out to track Hutton, starting at Ruth Warren’s apartment.

Link’s men turn up first at Warren’s apartment, which is at the top of multi-storey apartment complex, and decide to wait till Hutton arrives. Because of the heat, whilst waiting, the mobsters order a case of beer to keep them cool. Jerry and Phil arrive as the case is being taken up in the elevator by a delivery boy. Thinking it strange that a woman would need so much beer, Jerry deduces that she isn’t alone and instead of going direct to her apartment, goes to the roof and commandeers a window washing rig. He lowers himself down outside Warren’s apartment and then crawls out on a ledge. Link’s men notice Jerry and suggest he moves on, but Jerry forces open a window (which is more like a door – but there is no balcony?) and leaps into the apartment. But a quick thinking mobster slams the window back closed on Jerry. The window shatters, and Jerry falls back outside, surely to his death!

One of the hallmarks of the Jerry Cotton series, is the way Jerry miraculously escapes from ‘certain death’ situations. This film is no exception and at the last second, Jerry grabs a rope that it is dangling from the window washing rig. Hanging precariously, he starts to crawl back up. Now, your probably wondering what Phil, Jerry’s partner, has been doing all this time? Well, he was waiting outside the door to Warren’s apartment. Hearing the glass shatter and Jerry fall, Phil burst through the door and holds the mobsters at gunpoint. But Phil isn’t too observant and one of Link’s men sneaks up behind him and clocks him over the head with a piece of broken glass. Phil goes down.

But Phil’s actions have given Jerry time to climb back up and he bounds through the window and a fist fight erupts. Once the fists start flying, the mobsters flee. The good news is Ruth Warren is okay, and apart from having their egos dented Jerry and Phil are too. Warren tells Jerry where Hutton is waiting for her, and she gives him the key to the locker where the diamonds are hidden.

Jerry meets Hutton at Warren’s designated meeting spot. Hutton doesn’t put up a fight and agrees to take Jerry to the nitro which is hidden in an old subway depot. Unfortunately Larry Link has worked out where the nitro is being kept too, so his goons are waiting when Jerry and Hutton arrive. Poor old Jerry gets beaten up once again and Hutton is killed. And Link now has possession of the nitro-glycerine.

Why was Jerry left alive? He was tied up and left to convey a message to the F.B.I., that Link now possesses the explosive and wants one million dollars for it’s return. Naturally, Jerry escape from his bonds by burning through the rope with a discarded cigarette butt.

Next, Link calls a major newspaper and tells them that there are 20 drums of nitro hidden in the city and the F.B.I. refuses to pay the ransom. To prove that he is serious, Link intends to explode one of the drums in a very public place in New York. Now that the press have hold of the story, panic breaks out. All the highways are blocked as the citizens attempt to flee.

By tracing the detonating device required to set off a canister of nitro, Jerry and the team track the drum to the Manhattan Bridge where it dangles precariously from the girders underneath. In front of some dubious rear-projection, Jerry struggles with one of Link’s henchmen balanced on the metal beams. The henchman falls to his death and Jerry stops the canister from exploding with seconds to spare. A close call.

But Link still has the upper hand. He still has 19 drums, so reluctantly, the F.B.I. agrees to pay Link. But as with all payoffs of this kind, it is a trap and a transmitting device is placed in the case with the money. The transmitter leads Jerry to a refrigerated rail car stalled on the tracks with the Southern Pacific Express bearing down. The rear projection footage in these scenes reach new highs for sloppiness. As the trains whizz past in the background, it looks like Jerry is standing in a ditch because the wheels are so high in the shot. And size? If the train was in proportion to the wheels displayed it would be 15 metres tall. BIG train.

Does Jerry save the day? Of course he does as there are another five films to follow in the series, but you don’t really want me to give the ending away. As I mentioned at the outset, this film is great fun and moves so quickly, the technical deficiencies barely have time to register. The Jerry Cotton films may not be the best Eurospy series to come out of the sixties, but it certainly have to be one of the most enjoyable.

This review is based on the JSV / Giantox Entertainment Holland DVD

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