Thursday, January 15, 2009


Sidney Lumet and Sean Connery had last worked together on The Hill, a fiercely visualized portrait of a British military prison. Six years later, Connery plays "Duke" Anderson, an unreformed con who's just finished his full sentence in stir and thus doesn't have to deal with parole officers. He reunites with his girlfriend and gets the idea of robbing the entire building she lives in: six swanky flats in all, filled with valuables and collectibles. He gathers a gang: an effete antiques dealer, a driver, a young safecracker released at the same time he was, and, in return for a syndicate subsidy, a goon named Socks whom Anderson is ordered to kill during the job. The mob's reluctant to invest at first, warning Anderson that his scheme is hopeless in this modern age of perpetual surveillance. And, indeed, Anderson is being taped nearly everywhere he goes, though only because he crosses paths with people under surveillance: mobsters, Black Panthers, his own girlfriend, etc. But this is a "September 10th" world, and with each monitor concentrating on his original target, there's no sharing of information to warn anyone of Anderson's audacious scheme, and he seems to have the tenants at his mercy....

The Anderson Tapes is a caper film but also an anti-caper film. It demonstrates that luck (or fate) still has a lot to do with crime. Anderson skips blithely and luckily from surveillance to surveillance, but there are other factors that he fails to anticipate that complicate things toward the end of the film. It's an anti-caper film in the way it suggests that the caper formula doesn't work as well in a real-world setting like an apartment building as it does when master crooks are pitted against super security systems (as in Grand Slam and other films) that seem to exist only to challenge their skills. But it doesn't announce itself as a satire or refutation of the caper genre. Lumet presents the story in matter-of-fact fashion that might leave some viewers thinking that what they've watched is all pretty meaningless -- and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong, either.

This is one of the last appearances, I believe, of the "old" Sean Connery, the one from the Bond movies. He still has hair on top of his head, albeit much less than Bond does in Diamonds Are Forever, and he hasn't grown his moustache for good yet. Unfortunately, Anderson is a realistically dull character. He has a nice cynical tirade as he leaves jail, but Connery doesn't really infuse him with the charisma a caper leader needs to keep our interest going.
Meanwhile, the movie boasts that it's "Introducing Christopher Walken," while IMDB indicates that the young man had already made at least one film as an adult, in addition to TV work and some child performances in the 1950s. Walken is the young safecracker, "the Kid," and you'd be excused for thinking that his star persona has arrived fully formed when he enthuses over living free in America by saying, "I wanna eat it!" But there are few similar moments later; Walken doesn't have that much to do, though he has a dramatic final getaway try toward the end. Also noteworthy in the film are Martin Balsam in an uncharacteristically flaming turn, a slurring Ralph Meeker as a police captain who has to deal with the robbers, a pre-Saturday Night Live Garrett Morris as the cop who has to implement Meeker's plans, and Alan King in an early attempt at a gangster part, something he'd do much better in Night and the City and Casino.

The Anderson Tapes has been released on DVD as part of an odd collection of "Martini Movies." I assume it was chosen largely on the strength of Quincy Jones's electro-lounge score, but who knows why films like Nickelodeon are part of the series? The "martini" aspect of the package consists of two "special features" that look for all the world like commercials, combining promos for the series as a whole with mixed drink recipes. This is really one of the lamest gimmicks I've seen in some time. Isn't it about a decade behind the times, or did all that tiki folderol get trendy again? Considering that this comes from Sony, which has given us such incredible DVD concepts as the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott box set and the Hammer "Icons" collections, this concept leaves me scratching my head.

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