Monday, August 8, 2022

The Violin Case Murders (1965)

The Violin Case Murders (AKA Tread Softly, original German title Schüsse aus dem Geigenkasten) was the first of the eight Jerry Cotton crime thrillers made by Allianz Filmproduktion in West Germany and distributed by Constantin Film. The Jerry Cotton movies were similar in some ways to the hugely popular Rialto Edgar Wallace krimis but with more emphasis on action and with a harder edge. Being ostensibly set in the United States rather than England also gives them a distinctively different flavour.

American actor George Nader played ace FBI agent Jerry Cotton with German actor Heinz Weiss in the sidekick rôle as Phil Decker.

This movie hits the ground running. There’s a brutal murder using a machine-gun hidden in a violin case followed by two more equally brutal murders. The murders take place during the course of two robberies. One robbery takes place in Pasadena in California and one in Chicago but when the FBI gets a phone tip-off indicating that the crimes are linked it becomes a federal case.

The tip-off came from Mary Springfield. She’s found out that her sister Kitty is mixed up with gangsters, and those gangsters are pulling off major robberies with violence.

Jerry Cotton gets just enough information out of Mary to provide a lead. It involves a bowling alley near Grand Central Station and a bomb. It’s a race against time and Jerry has to infiltrate the gang by posing as an alcoholic hoodlum. Why an alcoholic? Well I guess there’s a sort of reason for it and it lets George Nader have some fun.

Jerry discovers the gang’s plan but stopping them won’t be easy and there’s a complication which means Jerry has to go lone wolf. He can’t let his boss at the FBI know what he’s up to. Jerry has reasons for his action but it could put his career in jeopardy if it goes wrong. That’s assuming he survives which is by no means certain. He’s taking big risks.

This is a heist movie. The heist is not overly complicated but the focus is mainly on how it plays out in practice and that’s where this movie shines. Things go wrong for the gang but they go badly wrong for Jerry Cotton as well. It seems like the gangsters are going to slip through his fingers.

This is a pretty violent movie for 1965. There’s no blood or gore but there are some shockingly cold-blooded killings.

The pacing is pleasingly brisk. Jerry Cotton has little time to spare for romance. He’s dedicated to the job and he’s hardboiled all the way through.

George Nader makes a very satisfactory square-jawed action hero. Nader had had moderate success in Hollywood in the 50s but by the 60s he joined the small army of American actors and actresses who found that Europe offered much better opportunities.

Jerry Cotton is a pulp fiction fan’s idea of what an FBI agent would be like. This is not a movie that concerns itself overmuch with realism.

Making a modestly budgeted feature in Germany with an American setting means that considerable use has to be made of rear projection and stock footage but these elements are integrated into the movie with more finesse than is usually the case. Once the story starts to grab you you find yourself not really noticing.

Mention must be made of Peter Thomas’s music. It’s wildly inappropriate but it works and it adds to the crazy 60s euro vibe.

All eight Jerry Cotton films are included in the recent German DVD boxed set, with the English dubbed versions included. The 16:9 enhanced transfer for The Violin Case Murders looks terrific (the movie was shot widescreen in black-and-white although the later movies in the series were in colour).

The Violin Case Murders aims to provide pure high-octane entertainment and it delivers the good. Highly recommended.


  1. I've never seen any of these, but plan on getting the box set some day. Does the German audio have English subtitles?

    1. Sadly no. I was hoping for that as well. The German Edgar Wallace krimi sets include both the German-language versions subtitled in English and the English dubbed versions but the Jerry Cotton and Kommissar X sets just have the English dubbed versions and the German versions without subtitles.

      But I'm thrilled that they have at least included the English-dubbed versions. My impression is that the various German labels releasing these great German 60s cult movie sets are doing their best to make them as English-friendly as they can without incurring crippling expenses. The sad thing is that I suspect that a lot of people in the English-speaking world aren't buying these sets because they don't release that they';re English-friendly.

      Now if somebody would release really good English-friendly versions of the French Lemmy Caution movies I'd be totally in the cult movie promised land.

    2. I've got the Winnetou Blu Ray box set, and 3 of the films don't have English subtitles. Unfortunately, the English dubs for the Winnetou movies weren't preserved properly and sound awful!

      I would recommend watching German films with English subtitles, because, like Russian films, they're often clearly written by people who no speaka da Eengleesh lol. Count all the different ways the krimi subs spell 'Thames'!

    3. The first time I had the chance to watch one of the krimis in German with English subtitles I was astounded by how much more enjoyable it was compared to the English dubbed versions.

    4. Oh, definitely always try to watch foreign-language films in the original language. I could imagine a krimi not working too well if it was dubbed. I'm glad you're enjoying them!