Jolly German crime boss Otto Westermann (Herbert Fleischmann) runs all the rackets in Hamburg, West Germany. Sharing beers and sing-a-longs with friends at the bar, he upholds an affable image while elsewhere his thugs rough up debtors, pushers and hookers alike, making sure they know who rules this town. Life is good for Boss Westermann as he plots older son Karl's rise as a professional boxer, dotes on long-maned hipster younger son Eric (Horst Janson) and enjoys frequent nookie with Tilly (Sonja Jeannine), his much younger ditzy blonde mistress. Everything changes when a plane brings ambitious mafia kingpin Luca Messina (Henry Silva) to Hamburg. Accompanied by conflicted teenage daughter Sylvia (Patrizia Gori), sexy girlfriend Kate (Véronique Vendell), whiny mother (Ermalinda De Felice) and small army of ruthless killers, Messina muscles in on Boss Westermann's turf. Anyone that does not recognize him as the new boss in town is instantly eliminated. Naturally this does not sit well with Westermann who plots his revenge. Unbeknownst to him however, Eric falls in love with Sylvia. Any hope their romance might spark a truce between warring godfathers quickly goes out the window once both men escalate their feud to a new level.
Like several American character actors from the Fifties and Sixties Henry Silva forged a new lease of life in the Seventies in Euro-crime thrillers - where his granite visage remains arguably as iconic as those of Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli. Mostly in Italian films although Zinksärge für die Goldjungen a.k.a. Battle of the Godfathers was a West German production. Bankrolled by Wolf C. Hartwig, the infamous exploitation mogul who gave the world Horrors of Spider Island (1960), Agent 505: Death Trap in Beirut (1966), the Schoolgirl Report series and later Sam Peckinpah's WWII movie Cross of Iron (1977) along with its sequel Breakthrough (1979). Hartwig was likely also responsible for gifting his wife Véronique Vendell with a glamorous supporting role here. Although Fritz Lang undoubtedly pioneered the genre way back in the Thirties, by the Seventies Italy and France dominated Euro-crime. A good few of these were West German co-productions, but few films made and set in Germany made much of an impact outside the country. Bloody Friday (1972) being among the few notable exceptions.
Opinion remains divided as to whether Battle of the Godfathers ranks as a stellar or sub-par example of its type, although everyone seems to agree that the snarling, unhinged Henry Silva is on fine form. Saddled with a truly awkward English dub (in the vein of Seventies German soft porn) and a plot blatantly repackaging motifs from The Godfather (1972), the film wants to be West Germany's answer to The Sicilian Clan (1969), but is a much cheaper and cheesier production. Between its comic book dialogue, weird sitcom like tangents, lurid yet slapdash and strangely inoffensive sex and violence (though your heart goes out to Sonja Jeannine, sharing bed scenes with balding, schlubby fifty-something Fleischmann) and Keystone Cops style climactic car chase, this ranks among the most unintentionally hilarious Euro-crime films of its era. A delightfully brassy score and avuncular all-knowing voice-over from a narrator prone to ironic asides provide the tacky icing on one seriously fruity cake. Impossible to take seriously yet entertaining as camp.
Some interpret the plot as making an allegorical statement about German entrepreneurialism standing up to foreign influence. The film does make a mildly racist point in having Karl outshine Tiger, Messina's black boxing protégé in the ring ("He hasn't got what it takes", remarks a smug white trainer) and the Italian characters are gross caricatures. Messina's mama is especially comical, wincing her way through a nonspecific illness and complaining about everything (the German weather, Kate, Sylvia, but mostly how nobody respects family) between scoffing great gob-fulls of pasta. Nonetheless neither of the boorish, sadistic, misogynistic mob bosses are portrayed as especially sympathetic. Unfortunately the sub-Romeo and Juliet romance between the strangely detached Sylvia and Bjorn Borg look-alike Eric (German superstar Horst Janssen later headlined cult Hammer horror film Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974)) is not all that engaging either. Still, Jürgen Roland, commonly referred to as the father of German crime television, maintains a lightning pace with whiplash editing that admittedly borders on the nonsensical. And just when you are ready to give up on the meandering plot, the film bows out with one of the most spectacular speedboat chases ever filmed.