The deputy manager of a London bank has worked out a way to rob the branch of £200,000. When he becomes involved with the attractive Lady Dorset he decides to go ahead with his plan. He need... Read allThe deputy manager of a London bank has worked out a way to rob the branch of £200,000. When he becomes involved with the attractive Lady Dorset he decides to go ahead with his plan. He needs her help and that of her philandering spendthrift husband. It all comes down to a matter... Read allThe deputy manager of a London bank has worked out a way to rob the branch of £200,000. When he becomes involved with the attractive Lady Dorset he decides to go ahead with his plan. He needs her help and that of her philandering spendthrift husband. It all comes down to a matter of trust.
Peter Hall and Stanley Baker, director and star respectively, are in pot-boiler mode for this unassuming little British crime thriller. Made in the year that the swinging sixties ended and The Beatles split, the project retains a distinct whiff of 'groovy' hangover, but lacks the charm of (say) 'The Italian Job'.
Hall directs with trendy panache, crash-cutting between locations and playfully chopping the time sequence. The protracted 'wooing' of the two accomplices is told as two discrete stories spliced together by jump-cuts, with almost stream-of-consciousness linkage (Graham's tie is commented upon, so we move without explanation to the circumstances in whih he acquired it). Similarly, Graham meets Britt for a date in broad daylight on the lawn of the Wellington Monument, then the action jumps to Britt in a flamboyant orange negligee. Again, Britt 'unfreezes' from a still frame, frantically pulling off her clothes in the lobby of the new flat, and it is several minutes before this is explained, in a sequence which shows Britt's activities leading up to the freeze-frame.
Ursula Andress plays Britt, the frivolous babe, with a certain feline grace and a penchant for gentle comedy, but one cannot help suspecting that the part was written with Britt Ekland in mind. David Warner as Nick is suitably by turns languid and unruly, and dominates the vault inspection scene impressively, but ultimately fails to endear himself to the viewer. Baker's "Mr. Graham" somehow doesn't come off. He is too overtly macho to be convincing as a meek bank employee, and too sullen to engage our sympathy.
However, this is not a film which relies on overblown acting performances. The precise, almost mechanical directing reflects the immaculate planning of Graham's bank robbery. Just as the meticulous scheme is more important than the three pieces of human flotsam who execute it, so the artifice of film-making takes precedence over the performances.
The stifling routine of life in the National Metropolitan Bank is cleverly conveyed, with the managers partitioned like so many rabbits in their glass hutches. Into Graham's arid, stifled existence comes Britt, Lady Dorset, an exotic bird of paradise who dangles temptation before his jaded eyes. Graham's meeting with Nick is a chiaroscuro tour de force, the sombre patterns of bars and grilles ominously signalling the riskiness of the venture. When the three plotters finally meet face to face on the Thames pleasure cruiser, the psychological impact of the moment is cleverly underlined by the group's sudden emergence from the shadow of Westminster Bridge.
There has to be tension in bank job movies, and it is skilfully handled in this one. Graham hooks up a secret telephone handset in his office as Nick and Britt await the call which will activate the robbery. There is no incidental music, just the ticking of the couple's stopwatch and some background noises of office routine, and yet the sequence is totally gripping. The nervousness of Graham in the public call box is 'carried' to his accomplices in the nearby flat by means of a passing police siren, heard first by Graham and then by the others. The silence is electrifying as Graham helplessly awaits the outcome of the vault inspection.
Not all of the directorial tricks come off. Whether the bank manager's bowler hat and brolly are 'hommage' towards Alec Guinness in "The Lavender Hill Mob" or the clumsy, ritualistic anti-Establishment jibe so typical of the era, it just doesn't work. The reality is, bank managers did not dress like this, even in 1970, and whereas Guinness was a 'natural' in a bowler, Baker looks extremely uncomfortable.
Some of the camera techniques are questionable. The distracting zoom-in on each manager's namecard is obtrusive and unnecessary. The odd angles for the first dialogue between Graham and Britt are an echo of the 'fab' style current five years earlier, and they look wrong here. In fairness, though, the strange angles during the paper-and bank-notes switch may have some merit as a satirical comment on the worth of money. Cutting away from Graham's picnic to a passing jumbo jet (a sexy innovation in 1970) is supposed to encapsulate Graham's fantasies of escape, but it merely looks clumsy.
This film has its merits, and is intelligently executed on the whole, but ultimately it feels rather shallow and unsatisfying, an impression that is symbolised by the unconvincing 'surprise' ending.
- Nov 20, 1999