Saturday, March 12, 2011


This entertaining 'crime-does-not-pay' European heist caper pits mastermind safe-cracker Kirk Douglas against his trapeze artist sidekick Giuliano Gemma as well as his former Teutonic criminal underworld boss Wolfgang Preiss. "Goliath and the Sins of Babylon" director Michele Lupo's suspenseful yarn boasts intrigue, betrayal, and a demolition-derby car chase in Hamburg, Germany, as our hero sets out to pull another one of those formulaic fool-proof last jobs. "Un uomo da rispettare" benefits from the terrific widescreen cinematography of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" lenser Tonino Delli Colli and his use of 'Dutch' tilt angles. Composer Ennio Morricone contributes a muted orchestral score and Lupo relies on a lively classical Mozart tune in two scenes. The twist here is that our anti-heroic protagonist stages one robbery but plans to be caught for another robbery so as throw the German police and the villains off the scent. Naturally, nothing goes quite as it is planned in this ingenious but familiar caper. Like director Richard Brooks' crime caper "Dollars" (1971), Lupo's film focuses on banks that contain ultra-sophisticated security systems to safeguard their assets.

"Un uomo da rispettare" (**1/2 out of ****) opens with marked police cars rampaging around the city while Detective Hoffman (Reinhard Kolldehoff of "Shout at the Devil") transports convicted career criminal Steve Wallace (Kirk Douglas of "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral") home to his wife Anna (Florinda Bolkan of "The Last Valley") after having served three years in prison. No sooner does the police car leave Wallace in front of his house than a carload of thugs cruise up. One of the ruffians informs Wallace that their boss, Miller (Wolfgang Preiss of "Raid on Rommel"), wants to talk to him. Reluctantly, Wallace accompanies them to see the well-heeled Miller in his huge office above a casino. Miller surrounds himself with an array of electronic gadgets to present his proposition for a heist with a million dollar payday. "I've got a job only you can do," he explains. "Now, listen carefully, you must knock out this alarm system. It's called 'Big Ben.' If it goes off, the whole city can hear it." Miller shows Wallace the vault on the top floor where the International Insurance Company has stored a cool million. "Now I know you can handle this safe, Steve, but Big Ben is the problem. The buzzing of a fly, a footstep, a deep breath is enough to trip the alarm." Miller pauses and then observes in an effort to entice Wallace. "Nobody has ever thought of it before." Wallace refuses flatly to pull the job for Miller. Before he worked for Miller, Wallace never encountered trouble. He wound up serving three years in prison when he did his first job for Miller. Nevertheless, Wallace tours the building and finds the edifice decked out with surveillance galore. He heads up to the top floor to snoop around but the disembodied voice of a woman interrupts him. He tells her that he has an appointment with Mr. Schmitt. The woman at a central control desk tells him that Schmitt's office is located on the second floor. Miller's rough-hewn henchman (Romano Puppo of "Death Rides A Horse") spots him leaving the building. He tries to persuade Wallace to see Miller again. Wallace refuses. While they are talking, a young man in an old jalopy, Marco (Giuliano Gemma), pulls up behind the henchman and honks at him. The two tangle in a rough and tumble fight with Marco demonstrating his agility. Miller's man brandishes a pistol. Wallace intervenes and knocks the gun out of the thug's fist.

This chance encounter serves as an opportunity for Wallace and Marco to become friends. Sadly, Wallace doesn't pay enough attention either to his unhappy wife or his new friend. Wallace convinces Anna that he can steal millions without being held accountable if he stages one robbery but takes the fall for another lesser robbery. If everything goes according to plan, Wallace calculates that--under German law--he will only land in prison for 18 months from robbing a pawn shop. Unfortunately, Marco relies too heavily on his switchblade knife. Earlier, Wallace warns Marco sternly about this predilection. Director Lupo does a good job of staging the International Insurance safe-cracking job. Wallace decides to pull the job in the afternoon rather than at night. He slips into the building just after it has closed and looks like just another businessman with a bag that contains his instruments. Meantime, Anna makes appropriate phone calls at the precise moments to distract the uniformed guards while our hero sets up an array of gadgets to warn him when the guards are making their rounds. He uses Mozart music to skillfully distract the 'Big Ben' alarm system. Furthermore, after he gains access to the vault room, Wallace sprinkles powder on the push-buttons that must be punched according to a sequence to raise the circular vault out of the floor. He uses the powder to determine which buttons have fingerprints on them. Pretty savvy!!! Unfortunately, the best laid plans go awry when poor Marco kills the guard. You'd think after his knock down, drag-out brawl with Miller's henchman that Marco could have beaten the guard and left him unconscious. That isn't the point. The guard must be found down and at the last moment so that it comes as a complete surprise to Wallace.

"Un uomo da rispettare" is one of those crime caper films made after the abolition of the Production Code. Earlier, Hollywood films and European films would never allow the criminals to escape with their ill-gotten gains. This would been a prescription for anarchy. Filmmakers could not make such a radical, anti-status-quo statement. The idea that 'crime could pay' would have been considered unethical! Cleverly, however, Lupo and scenarists Roberto Leoni, Franco Bucceri, Mino Roli, and Nico Ducci create suspense by letting Wallace get away with one robbery only to be nabbed for another one! After all, this is a testament to Wallace's brilliance as a safe-cracker. A handsome, well-tailored Kirk Douglas is shrewd throughout until he realizes that he has been sold out. As his immature pal, Giuliano Gemma looks like a European version of Paul Newman. He appears to be performing his own stunts in the circus scenes. The slam-bang car chase between Marco and Miller's lieutenant as a part of their feud is amusing. This isn't the kind of car chase that was usually found in Hollywood epics at the time. Surprisingly, this chase seems to have been filmed in chronological order since neither vehicle looks like it changes during the demolition.

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