Sunday, November 30, 2008

GRAND SLAM (Ad ogni costo, 1967)

Edward G. Robinson is Professor James Anders, a schoolteacher retiring after 30 years of humble service in Rio de Janiero. The children serenade him at the airport in tribute to his work. This can't be right. His plane takes him to New York City, where after strolling through Times Square (The Bible is playing at Loew's State) and Rockefeller Center, he calls at a mansion that doubles as a swanky strip club. He has a business proposal for the proprietor, who's played by Adolfo Celi of Thunderball fame. Twice a year, Robinson explains, there's a major diamond delivery at the building across the street from his old school. In his spare time, he's figured out how four men could rob the place. This year is the best opportunity because the diamonds will be kept there longer than usual due to the coincidence of Carnival. All Celi has to do is recommend four men for the job.

Ad Ogni Costo is a caper film; it portrays the detailed planning and hopeful execution of a crime. It's virtues are usually superficial, but in Giuliano Montaldo's international caper those virtues are plentiful. The main visual selling point is the location work in Rio with documentary Carnival footage. Blue Underground's DVD (which I got in a 2-for-1 package with Sergio Sollima's Revolver) is a snazzy widescreen edition that emphasizes the picturesque qualities, including the scantily-clad revelers. Another virtue is Klaus Kinski as former military parachutist Erich Weiss (holy Houdini!), the toughest and surliest of Robinson's recruits. He mostly glares at people early on, but comes to life past the halfway mark as his enmity for pretty-boy Jean-Paul (Robert Hoffman) comes to the surface. Hoffman gets more screen time since it's his job to seduce Janet Leigh, the keeper of the key to the diamond vault. This is the major subplot of the film and has a cool twisty payoff. Yet another virtue is the score by Ennio Morricone. I wasn't impressed initially, since it starts as a very dated imitation of Herb Alpert, but the maestro comes into his own over time. If I were giving star ratings, I'd have to give the film an extra fraction of one because the burglars have to defeat the super-sensitive "Grand Slam 70" alarm system.

I can't go into as much detail here as I have for other films since caper films depend on details for their suspense value. I may give things away by saying it has a relatively downbeat "nobody wins" ending, but I don't think the Euro-cinema fan will mind finding out more for themselves. The trailer will give you some large hints, but not too many. I found it at DailyMotion, a worthy rival to YouTube for the movie trailer fan.

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