Monday, August 10, 2015

FILM REVIEW OF "$" (1971)

Oscar-winner writer and director director Richard Brooks of "Elmer Gantry" was a consummate professional at making movies during his 35 year career in Hollywood. "$" (**** OUT OF ****) exemplifies his accomplished skills as both a writer and director. This nimble, adrenalin-laced, R-rated, heist thriller set in German came out during the free-wheeling 1970s when Hollywood could get away with a little gratuitous nudity and a lot of grit. Nobody in this amoral actioneer is entirely honest. Like the characters in Italian westerns, everyone wears shades of gray in various intensity with our heroic couple, played by Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn, being a more sympathetic than the utterly ruthless villains who display few qualms once they figure out that they've been duped. Mind you, some people may never get past the first fifty minutes as Brooks cross-cuts between
characters and settings like an insane samurai warrior hacking up his adversaries. Reportedly, when Goldie Hawn finally took a look at "$," she could make neither head nor tale out of it. After those first fifty minutes, the action settles down and then takes off like a fireball.

Handsome bank security expert named Joe Collins (Warren Beatty of "Shampoo") and his accomplice, goofy call girl Dawn Devine (Goldie Hawn of "Cactus Flower"), conspire to steal a fortune from three sleazy criminals. Las Vegas attorney Mr. North (Robert Webber) and his bodyguard keep their skim money in the bank. Sarge (Scott Brady of
"Marooned") and the Major (Robert Stiles of "Doctor's Wives") keep the profits from their kickbacks and bribes from black market activities in the same bank. A murderous drug smuggler, the Candy Man (Arthur Brauss of "Victory"), keeps loot likewise in the same establishment. Since the local authorities cannot legally obtain access to these safety deposit boxes, the criminals can keep their stuff safely stashed without fear of confiscation. Joe knows the bank and its vault as well as it personnel from top to bottom, and the head of the bank, Mr. Kessel (Gert Frobe of "Goldfinger") likes Joe. Joe has spent about a yearinstalling a state-of-the-art, 24 hour, seven days a week, security system in the bank. Joe has clocked the police response time to the
bank alarms at three minutes through heavy downt0wn traffic.

During the first half of this fast-paced, two-hour thriller, Brooks establishes the characters of our heroes, villains, the setting of the action, and the plot. Joe and Dawn are going to hit the villains and take their loot because the villains cannot resort to the police. During the second half, Joe locks himself into the vault and transfers the ill-gotten gains from the safe deposit boxes of the bad guys to Dawn's box. In the third part, Joe and Dawn hit the streets on the run from the evil drug dealer and the tenacious military guys who have figured out that Joe robbed them. Brooks generates considerable suspense during the vault robbery as the authorities seek to open the time lock on the vault. While he is trapped in the vault, Joe times himself so that every minute that the camera isn't aimed at him, he is emptying or filling the safe deposit boxes. The tension and suspense is incredible during
these moments. The pursuit that takes up the third part is pretty incredible. Quincy Jones' Grammy nominated music with Little Richard screaming maniacally on the soundtrack accentuates these larcenous shenanigans, and Brooks snaps up the pace with rapid-fire cutting so you are poised on the edge of your seat throughout the movie. "$" was lensed on location in Germany and the exotic setting adds to the
atmosphere. Goldie Hawn is hilarious as a former Las Vegas showgirl that worries about holding up her end of the crime. Beatty is a self-assured man who can get out of any predicament no matter how challenging it is. As the villains, Scott Brady and Arthur Brauss never let our hero get very far ahead of them.

This is a top-notch, heist thriller with in the words of one villain a lot of "God, guts, and get-up-and-go!"

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