In the break between seasons one and two of his TV series Harry O, David Janssen travelled to Europe to star in Warner Brothers’ action crime thriller The Swiss Conspiracy. The film is an obscure title from 1976, which dropped into obscurity only to resurface in dodgy home video releases having lapsed into the public domain. Well, now a new restoration from a 4K scan has been made for an intended physical media release in February 2024 by Film Masters, who declare themselves to be “a consortium of historians and enthusiasts who seek to celebrate the preservation and restoration of classic film,” have restored the film for Blu-ray and DVD release. A sample of their work can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-CVa89gO40&list=PLbAWPX5mABcoyW1BED528zMUL8oThMSYu.
The Blu-ray release from Film Masters, to be released on 20 February 2024 will include:
- New 4k Restoration of the Film from original 35mm elements
- New Featurette by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures
- Full length commentary by Robert Kelly and Daniel Budnik
- Visual essay, ‘A Three-Dimensional Filmmaker,’ by Will Dodson and Ryan Verrill of @somefaveprod
- Original Restored Trailer from 35mm archival elements
- Liner notes, in full colour booklet, done by Lee Pfeiffer of Cinema Retro
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
In 1975, American producer Raymond R. Homer’s Durham Productions teamed up with Lutz Hengst’s Bavaria Atelier GmbH to make it a US-West Germany co-production. The film was the first as a producer for Maurice Silverstein, who had been a successful international distribution executive.
The screenplay, provisionally titled The Ultimate Victim, was written by 51-year-old Canadian writer Norman Klenman along with Philp Saltzman and Michael Stanley from a story by Klenman, Horward Merrill and Norman Sedawie. Klenman had worked primarily in TV, including scripting the recent TV movie pilot for a series based on the 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint.
The Film Master synopsis says: “A Swiss Bank president hires an American investigator to ferret out a group of blackmailers that have been terrorizing his clients. Meanwhile, American gangsters hit the streets of Zurich with the intention of killing a Chicago mob figure, who happens to be one of the blackmail victims. Other blackmail victims include a beautiful Zurish resident, a Texas businessman, and a wealthy Dutchman. The investigator (David Janssen) identifies four potential suspects, including the bank vice-president’s mistress (Elke Sommer). Adding to the intrigue is that the Swiss Federal Police are suspicious of the American and are soon making his job more difficult. Ultimately, the investigation leads to the bank paying the chief blackmailer in uncut diamonds, which results in a dramatic showdown in the snow-covered Alps and a surprise revelation.”
A novelisation written by Stanley would be published by Avon in the US in February 1976 and Futura in the UK, prior to the film’s release, and became an instant bestseller, which Stanley followed up with a sequel novel titled The Boomerang Conspiracy.
Veteran B-movie director Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Tarantula) took the helm, his best work in the film being a well-choreographed car chase scene through the Swiss Alps. David Janssen was cast as investigator David Christopher, hired by Ray Milland’s Swiss banker Johann Hurtil. A strong supporting cast was assembled, including John Saxon (as Chicago mobster Robert Hayes), Senta Berger (as Denise Abbott), Elke Sommer, Anton Diffring and John Ireland was assembled. Brooklyn-born Saxon had known Janssen since they were learning their trade at Universal Studios in the mid-1950s. He recalled, ‘The big studios all had talent stock companies 20 years ago. In my group at universal were Clint Eastwood, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, David Janssen, and David’s current love, Dani Greco, then known as Dani Crayne. David is one of the stars of The Swiss Conspiracy and while shooting the picture in the Swiss Alps, we had a lot of bull sessions about the old days when we were wondering if we’d get the breaks that were beginning to fall to Eastwood and Hudson.’
Principal photography began on 5 May 1975 in Zurich, Switzerland and later moved to Bavaria studios in Munich. The US press reported that during filming in Zurich, Elke Sommer received a birthday “cake” made of Swiss cheese in the shape of a huge wheel decorated with candles. Sommer’s birthday was actually in November, so the accuracy of this story is up for debate.
The film’s prologue reads:
“Switzerland – a country internationally famous for its fine watches, its great skiing and its luxurious resorts . . . but Switzerland’s biggest industry is banking. Because Swiss banks are unique in all the world. They have secret numbered accounts and the owner’s name always held in strictest confidence. This secrecy is protected by the Swiss government. No individual, no corporation, not even the power of a government can discover the name of a depositor. For this reason, anyone with a great deal of money to hide knows that Switzerland is the safest sanctuary. Criminals, tax evaders and political agents all find Swiss banks the perfect place to conceal their dirty money and their dirty secrets. The system is considered foolproof. Or at least it was . . . ”
The film opened in London, under Warner Brothers distribution, on 20 May 1976 at the Warner West End 1 in Leicester Square, London. In many areas it was issued on a double bill supporting the John Mills comedy adventure vehicle Trial by Combat (1976) and later in the summer supporting Charles Bronson’s light mystery thriller St. Ives (1976). In early 1977, it did the rounds once again supported both The Gumball Rally (1976) and Victory at Entebbe (1976).
The Daily Mirror noted, ‘Lots of nice Alpine scenery … but no dramatic peaks are scaled in this tale of financial fiddling.’ The Observer said the film was ‘As full of holes as a string vest, it is grotesquely overacted (Ray Milland, John Saxon, John Ireland), though David Janssen is pleasantly relaxed as the private eye who ambles through it.’
The Swiss Conspiracy did not open in the USA until 31 August 1977, when, distributed by Salah Jammal’s S. J. International Pictures, it debuted in five Denver cinemas before a more general market release followed on 21 September. The film was not released in Los Angeles until 3 January 1979, and it failed to be released in New York at all.
Jeanne Miller noted in the San Francisco Examiner, ‘There are a great many red herrings and some surprises in the ingeniously plotted script. But unfortunately, director Jack Arnold veers away from the fascinating atmosphere of the besieged bank into the all too yawningly predictable genre of the chase- chases by car, chases on foot and even a climactic chase aboard an Alpine ski lift.’ However Desmond Ryan of the Philadelphia Inquirer was less positive noting, ‘The first impression imparted by The Swiss Conspiracy, a comatose thriller dealing with low figures in high finance, is that there is little to distinguish it from the most journeyman television movie. The second is simply there is very little to distinguish it.’ Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune called it, ‘a one trick film … a thriller without thrills.’
THE SWISS CONSPIRACY
A Durham Productions Inc. and Bavaria Atelier GmbH production; Distributed by Warner Brothers (UK) and S. J. International Pictures (USA); Produced by Maurice Silverstein; Executive Producer: Raymond R. Homer; Directed by Jack Arnold; Screenplay by Norman Klenman, Philip Saltzman and Michael Stanley; Story by Norman Klenman, Howard Merrill, Norman Sedawie; Director of Photography: W. P. Hassenstein; Production Designer: Rolf Zehetbauer; Art Director: Werner Achmann; Film Editor: Murray Jordan; Costume Designer: Ursula Sensburg; Music: Klaus Doldinger; Sound: Jim Willis (engineer), Jerry Stanford (editor), Milan Bor (mixer); Special Effects: Richard Richtsfeld; Makeup: Hans-Peter Knöpfle, Elke Müller; Production Supervisor: Dixie Sensburg; Assistant Directors: Peter Fratzscher, Rolf M. Degener; Unit Managers: Peter Weissenborn, Stefan Zürcher; Camera Assistant: Michael Haertel; Wardrobe: Siegfried Haubold, Marianne Schulz; Music Editor: Petra v. Oelffen; Still Photographer: Karl Reiter; Gaffer: Eddi Saller; Key Grip: Michael Assinger; Prop Manager: Richard Eglseder, Hans Stangl; Stunt Director: Fred Unger. Premiere: 20 May 1976 (London); Running Time: 88 mins; BBFC Cert: 15/MPAA Rating: PG.
David Janssen (David Christopher), Senta Berger (Denise Abbott), John Ireland (Dwight McGowan), John Saxon (Robert Hayes), Ray Milland (Johann Hurtil), Elke Sommer (Rita Jensen), Anton Diffring (Franz Benninger), Arthur Brauss (Korsak), Inigo Gallo (Captain Frey), Curt Lowens (Kosta), David Hess (Sando), Hansjörg Bahl (Sgt. Schwand), Sheila Ruskin (Corinne), Irmgard Först (Florelle).
 Dorothy Manners, “Success suits Saxon star of ‘The Swiss Conspiracy.’” Anderson Daily Bulletin (KFS), 23 August 1975.
 Arthur Thirkell, “Films.” Daily Mirror, 21 May 1976.
 Tom Milne, “Cinema.” The Observer, 23 May 1976.
 Jeanne Miller, “A thriller you can bank on.” San Francisco Examiner, 24 September 1977.
 Desmond Ryan, “’Conspiracy’ lacks intrigue.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 September 1977
 Gene Siskel, “Films reflect fall attitude: Don’t compete with the tube.” Chicago Tribune, 27 September 1977.