Jean Paul Belmondo heads up a gang of burglars who travel to Greece to steal a fortune in gems from a private home. It all goes as planned except that their getaway is thwarted, and they must spend a week in Athens before the next opportunity. What could spoil a week on the Aegean coast? Crooked cop Omar Sharif who wants his share of the gems.
I saw this in our neighborhood theater when it was released, and it was my first Belmondo film. I enjoyed it so much it sent me on a hunt through the art houses to find more.
A terrific Euro-crime thriller with all the hallmarks, venal cops, car chases, punch-ups, gun battles and the cleverest slapping-a-woman scene in cinema history. (It’s not a true Euro-crime film until a woman is slapped or harmed in some way). As always, JP does his own stunts and makes sure you know it’s him every time. And some of the gags are spectacularly dangerous. It also features what might be Remy Julienne’s longest, and best, extended car chase over and under the streets of Athens.
COPS AND ROBBERS (1973)
Tom and Joe are New York City cops who plan a daring daylight heist of a Wall Street firm during a ticker-tape parade for returning astronauts. Now they’re not only wanted robbers, they’re wondering how to sell the goods on without being murdered by the mob.
Written by Donald E. Westlake from his own novel and, perhaps, the closest we’ll get to true Westlake on film. It’s a seamless mix of comedy and thriller and perfectly captures the crushing ennui of urban life in the 1970s. Cliff Gorman and Joe Bologna inhabit the roles of Tom and Joe as though they were born to play them. The apocalyptic vibe of Fear City is portrayed vividly and provides a kind of bleak undertone that allows us to root for these two lawmen breaking the law to get their own. It also serves to ground the film and make the moments of humor work by contrasting them with the horrors of the street.
I saw this upon release on a double bill with CHARLIE VARRICK. Now THAT was a night at the movies!
Glenn Ford arrives in a cattle town and makes an enemy of everyone he meets when he unloads a trainload of sheep and sets out for the open range. He’s not a man to be denied and uses charm, guile and a lightning-fast gun hand to keep his herd intact.
Part of a string of successful westerns made by Ford through the 50’s and into the 60’s. This one relies on comedy more than most of them and Ford was an adept comic actor who looked to be having the time of his life in this role. While there’s a lot of humor here, it’s also very much an action western with all the fights and shoot-outs an armchair buckaroo could want. Shirley MacLaine is the love interest, playing her tomboy character with an equal mix of credulity and coyness. And Leslie Neilson plays the oily badguy and his scenes with Ford are a lot of fun as the two circle one another in a pissing contest that we know will end poorly for one of them. And Edgar Buchanan chimes in with one of his signature character performances.
THE SPOILERS (1942)
Marlene Dietrich runs the largest saloon in Nome, Alaska and also has her manicured fingers into gold claims that are now threatened by the arrival of Randolph Scott, a new gold commissioner intent on bring law to the Yukon. But is Scott all he seems, or will Dietrich need on again/off again boyfriend John Wayne to look out for her interests?
Richly realized action adventure stuffed with Hollywood gold. Humor, action, suspense and one hell of an extended fistfight between the Duke and Scott at the film’s climax. Dietrich gives a spirited performance (in her own idiosyncratic way) and there’s real heat between her and Wayne that they, rumor has it, shared off screen as well. It’s a gorgeous production all around with some big action scenes with shoot-outs, punch-ups and a pretty spectacular train crash. And it’s fun to watch Wayne share scenes with his mentor Harry Carey who steals each scene he’s in and the Duke lets him.
THE DESPERATE HOURS (1955)
Humphrey Bogart and two other hardened cons break out of the pen and lay low in the suburban home of Frederic March, holding his family hostage until they can make their getaway.
A taut thriller with Bogart turning in another indelible performance as a scheming, amoral and ruthless career criminal. March is a stolid husband and father trapped in a balance between his personal honor and the safety of his family. This one wrings every ounce out of the situation with twists, turns, reversals and multiple chess moves between the two principals. A fine supporting cast with Martha Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Ray Teal, Gig Young, Dewey Martin and ubiquitous child actor Richard Eyer (INVISIBLE BOY, 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD).
On a personal note, I saw this multiple times as a kid on TV and I credit this movie with teaching me the value of low angle shots. Director William Wyler would drop his camera to ground level to mark each dramatic change in the cast’s fortunes and that made a real impression on me.
RUSSIAN RAID (2021)
A corporate oligarch plans a hostile takeover of a rival company. REALLY hostile as he hires a gang of mercenaries to break into the target company’s HQ and beat the daylights out of everyone.
There’s certainly plenty of action. In fact, too much action and too little substance. The fights are well choreographed and brutal, but it all becomes ludicrous as it is revealed that the entire cast is made up of brawling badasses. After a while it grows tiresome and confusing like looking over someone’s shoulder as they play a videogame. I did perk up when they switched from fists to guns and grenades. There are some truly impressive shoot-em-up scenes that are far more realistic than the Popeye and Bluto fights that make up the bulk of the movie’s first acts. If you get a chance, skip to an hour in and enjoy some wild, and believable, gun action.
THE REIVERS (1969)
In 1901 Mississippi, Mitch Vogel is entrusted to look after the family home while the adults travel to a funeral. That includes keeping the family automobile locked away. Only farmhand and car fancier Steve McQueen convinces the boy to take off for Memphis in grandfather’s flivver for a few days of adventure and debauchery.
Though mostly lighthearted fun, the lead character encounters issues that are deeper even than most rite of passage stories deal with. The trip outside of his bucolic small-town existence exposes him to a wider, dangerous and tawdry world than he ever knew existed. All of that grounds the film unapologetically in the reality of the period. There’s high comedy and real drama and it all makes for a well-crafted adaptation of the autobiographical work of William Faulkner.
But what really sets this movie apart and makes it especially relevant in these days of vapid, empty, corporate cookie-cutter entertainment is its inclusion of real stakes for the lead characters. Stealing grandpa’s car was risk enough, but when they lose the car and the only way to get it back by winning a horse race the stakes get cranked higher. That might have bene enough to get us intrigued and keep us interested. Only this story torques it all up higher and higher until the emotional and material consequences seem insurmountable. And the wonderful thing about it all is that, despite our heroes coming out okay in the end, they have left something important behind and the story ends with them left to work ever harder to regain what was lost.
Steve McQueen’s last purely comic role and proof (as if we needed another example) that the King of Cool was also a gifted clown. It also, sadly, has Rupert Crosse’s last performance in a feature. Crosse was a charismatic character who got very few chances to show off his skills before dying at age 45. Here he is the perfectly cast as McQueen’s friend and sometimes foil.
RED SUN (1971)
A ceremonial sword meant as a gift from the emperor of Japan for the president of the United States is stolen by outlaw gang leader Alain Delon but not before Delon leaves partner Charles Bronson behind, mistakenly believing the Bronson is dead. Now Chuck is forced to team with samurai Toshiro Mifune to hunt down Delon’s gang and retrieve the sacred sword.
The casting of three huge international actors is enough to carry this picture on star power alone. The sheer macho of Mifune and Bronson is enough to form an almost visible field of testosterone-fueled energy. There’s lots of bravado and action and all the one upmanship you’d expect but there’s just not a whole lot of story. This really called for an approach more akin to THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Some more complication and grist rather than a “from here to there” kind of story. Still, the gunplay is good, the scenery terrific and Ursula Andress and Capucine are along for the ride.