A big city, big cars, big crime and big criminals demand a big sound. And there's no bigger sound in all of Germany than the Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra. By the mid 1960s, Peter Thomas had become Germany's pre-eminent film composer, having scored the Edgar Wallace "krimi" films, the epitome of German cinema at the time. Thomas went on to score the way-out hit German TV series Space Patrol (1966) and such international films as Jack of Diamonds (1967), Andrew V. McLaglen’s Steiner 2 – Breakthrough (1979) and, most notably, the cult classic, Chariots of the Gods? (1970). When the producers of the first Jerry Cotton film needed to give their American hero his musical identity, there was only one guy for the job. Peter Thomas always had a special way with a tune and, despite his knowledge of classic European structures, he was a huge fan of American jazz. "All my musicians came from jazz then," remembers the maestro, "playing the music with a jazz feeling.”
Music is a major part of what makes the Cotton rollercoaster such a giddy, fun-filled ride. It's wild. It's crazy. It zigs. It zags. It's all over the map and at times over the top - like the hustle and bustle or the good and the bad of New York City life, or probably more accurately, a European's impression of the American way. Jerry Cotton lives, works and fights crime in one of the most stylized versions of New York imaginable. There's the rear-screen projection (sometimes oversized or at odd angles), the occasional West Coast inset and anomalies like American cars fitted with European rear-view mirrors, two-door police cars, European trucks, winding European roads and the crazy mix of pre-Columbus and post-Mies van der Rohe architecture that New York City's never known. But each of the Cotton films get much more right than wrong. Jerry's cherry red Jaguar really cruises through Times Square, American George Nader speaks his own lines in the English dubs and a (mercifully small) picture of (probably) President Lyndon Johnson, and in later films, J. Edgar Hoover, adorn the Mabuse-meets-U.N.C.L.E. office of Jerry's boss, Mr. High.
Peter Thomas re-configured American jazz the way the filmmakers reconfigured New York City, mixing it up with sounds that appropriately call to mind the military, the lounge, the chase (of course) and even the circus. Despite the pervasive influence of James Bond at the time, the musical - and even filmic - precedents of Jerry Cotton can be found in American television from the 1950s, notably Dragnet (Walter Schumann), and most especially, Peter Gunn (Henry Mancini). That's due in no small measure to the films' adaptation of the hugely popular G-Man Jerry Cotton series of German pulp novels that began back in the Fifties. The suits and skinny ties are straight out of the button-down Fifties. Everybody drinks but nobody swears. And friendships are the only relationships that are tested or on display. In Jerry Cotton's world, only the music swings.
Thomas goes for the jazz jugular and spices up the proceedings with his own brand of ephemera: gunshots, screams, scat singing and wild improvisation that must have made participating musicians happy as hell. His Sound Orchestra even gets more sound time in the Jerry Cotton films than George Nader gets screen time. The films are overflowing with music, it's as if there are eight million stories in the naked city and Peter Thomas has a song for each one.
This collection captures the very best of the Jerry Cotton music, plus extras that have never seen the light of day on the too-few records, singles and CDs that have covered Jerry Cotton's musical universe. The main theme, of course, is the "Jerry Cotton March," heard throughout each of the eight films, either 'as is' or as a variant that matches the mood of the heroic crime fighter's exploits. It's a particularly odd theme that has more of a sense of humor than a super-serious hero usually gets. One can also easily detect a slight hint or recollection of Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Great Escape (1963), the John Sturges film which also featured Jerry Cotton's Heinz Weiss (Phil Decker).
But enough for the words. Any jazz guy will tell you that it's all about the music. I'm sure Peter Thomas would agree. He certainly gives you plenty to dig here. Thomas covers more ground in the Jerry Cotton films than many other composers manage throughout an entire career. When one imagines the millions of musical miles that Peter Thomas has traversed throughout his half century in music, it's nothing less than astounding. But the sheer volume of music created for the Jerry Cotton films - which may not be possible to ever document in full - is even more mind boggling. Peter Thomas, like the Jerry Cotton films themselves, delivers more thrills, chills and frills with more swing, zing and bling than anyone else could deliver or imagine.