American lawyer William Mathison (Barry Newman) is vacationing in Switzerland when he is asked by an American publishing firm to go to Salzburg, Austria, to contact a photographer who has written a book about Austrian lakes. Mathison immediately realises that something is amiss when he reaches the photographer's small Salzburg shop and finds the photographer missing, and his anxious wife Anna Bryant (Anna Karina) being protected with near-claustrophobic zeal by her brother Johann (Klaus Maria Brandeur). Johann initially suspects that Mathison is a secret agent and refuses to give him any information. Gradually, though, Mathison realises that Anna's husband has been murdered, having found a chest in an Austrian lake containing a list of Nazi collaborators from WWII. Agents from all over the world, including Russia, Israel, Germany, Austria and America, want to get hold of the chest. Mathison finds himself playing a delicate game of cat-and-mouse, in which he can trust virtually no-one, such as KGB sex-pot Elisa Lang (Karen Jensen) who attempts to seduce him by posing as a free-wheeling American tourist, and elderly Austrian Felix Zauner (Wolfgang Preiss), whose name is on the list because he collaborated with the Nazis during the war in order to save the life of his wife.
The film could've been pretty good, but it misses rather too many opportunities. Newman and Karina, as I've already said, are quite good, and Jensen as the KGB lady-spy also registers well. Furthermore, the locations are pleasing to the eye. But other than these scant positives, the film is a somewhat poor affair. Lee H. Katzin directs sloppily, far too frequently punctuating his movie with gimmicky editing techniques such as meaningless freeze-frames and unnecessary slow motion sequences. Katzin also ruins several key scenes by failing to make it clear quite what's going on (e.g. the finale, in which Newman and Preiss approach an abandoned gunnery post on a mountainside, is terribly rushed and seems to make little sense). At a mere 93 minutes, the film tries to cram in a heck of a lot of plotting and counter-plotting, yet too many of the characters are so hurriedly introduced that it's hard to remember who they are or what agency they work for. One scene that I DID like, however, involved Karina being kidnapped by spies and whisked away in their car. Newman - a veteran of earlier car chase movies - takes a shortcut in his own car and manages to get in front of the baddies. In a clever twist on the traditional concept of a car chase, he slows down their getaway by driving so SLOWLY that the police eventually turn up to find out who's holding up the traffic! A rare ingenious moment in an otherwise dull potboiler.