Thomas Crown Affair

tcaSteve McQueen is one of the kings of sixties cool, but despite his successes in films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Cincinnati Kid, many people weren’t sure how he’d go dropped into a business suit. They needn’t have worried – it didn’t matter if McQueen wore a cowboy hat, jeans and a leather jacket, or a three piece tailored suit, he was still the epitome of ‘cool’.

The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the most famous sixties caper films, although ‘the heist’ isn’t the most important part of the film. It is a character study. Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a bored rich playboy, who plans the perfect robbery just to convey his frustration at the ‘system’. It’s never about the money, as he is already loaded. Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is the insurance investigator assigned to crack the case that the police are having no luck with. But she has an advantage that the police don’t – she is willing to almost ‘sell’ her feminine assets to get to her man.

Apart from being a caper film, and a character piece, The Thomas Crown Affair is also a lesson in style. It famously makes use of split screens and often blurs the images in certain panels to draw your eye to a certain section on the screen. Some images are repeated for emphasis, and in other instances, multiple story threads are being played out at once. Adding to the visual trickery is the music score by Michel Legrand. The score is very good, including the Oscar winning song, The Windmills Of Your Mind. The music is freewheeling swinging sixties jazz. It doesn’t always reflect what’s happening storywise, but it certainly captures the mood and the style of the film.

The film opens with Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston) walking up a hallway in a swank hotel in Boston. He knocks on a door – no answer. So he walks into the darkened room. Before he has time to react (like flicking on a light switch), he is suddenly blinded by two spotlights. Behind the lights, in silhouette, a man offers him a job as a driver. Weaver agrees, and is thrown an envelope full of cash to buy a car.

The film then employs the split screen effect, and we witness five men, from five different parts of the country traveling to Boston. Next we meet Thomas Crown. He is a successful business man with loads of cash. As he sits in his expansive office, he starts to receive phone calls from the five men who have arrived in town. Crown gives the word, and then the men go to work.

Their work is a down to the minute, perfectly planned robbery at a Boston Bank. The five men grab the bags of filthy lucre and place it in the back of the car, which Erwin Weaver is driving. Then the five men go back to where they came from. They will receive their cuts of the take later, in installments.

Weaver drives off with the money and travels to a cemetery. He takes the money bags out of the car and places them in a rubbish bin. Then he drives off. Crown then arrives at the cemetery in his Rolls Royce and collects the loot.

Despite their being thirty two witnesses to the crime, the police have no leads as to who pulled the robbery. The insurance company has to pay out for the $2,660,000 that was stolen. The head of the insurance company, Jamie McDonald (Gordon Pinsent) is not happy about the pay out, and calls in his own insurance investigator to look into the robbery. The investigator is Vicki Anderson. She always gets her man, but she has some very unusual methods in doing so.

It’s fair to say that The Thomas Crown Affair is a classic. But it is a flawed movie. Some of the scenes don’t quite ring true, but they are also the pieces that give this film it’s flavour. It is about ‘style’. It’s about getting your ‘kicks’. It’s about ‘beating the system’. While not being a ‘flower power’ film, it certainly encompasses some of the themes that we have come to identify with that era, and as such is an interesting time capsule.

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Thomas Crown Affair

Le Doulos

Film GenericLike any film fanatic I have a huge mountain of films that I need to watch. I have a stack of Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t even gotten close to, along with piles of Eurocrime, Eurospy and Eurosleaze films that are all crying out to be reviewed. I try, but a man can only squeeze so much into a day – and I have to squeeze a full days work into my hectic schedule too. Day after day, it’s only natural that I should feel jaded – a tad worn out.

But then along comes a film like Le Doulos. It is the perfect tonic for the jaded film goer. It has revitalised me. It has made me enjoy cinema again – not that I was hating it – but sometimes it’s easy to forget the joy of a great film particularly if you aren’t expecting it.

Over the years everyone has told me that I must watch the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. I was told that Tarantino said ‘Melville did for the Crime film what Leone did for the Western’. So I watched some Melville. Le Cercle Rouge – hey it’s a good film, but there’s nothing in it that I hadn’t seen in Riffifi. Next Le Samurai – again a good film, but a bit detached. While both these films are good, I was starting to think that Melville was over-rated. At times I think some people see a French movie and ‘have to’ like it, because it’s art.

So with a belief that Melville is over-rated, I tentatively started Le Doulos. I’ll admit that I was enjoying it from the beginning, but by the 25 minute mark, I was hooked. Sure it’s a noir style crime story, that I have seen one hundred times before, but this one grabs you by the scruff of the neck, gives you a good shake, and then throws you down onto the rug. And just as you’re getting settled on the rug, it rips that right out from under you, with one of the best endings to a movie that I have ever seen.

You may notice, I am not writing any of my usual plot description. I do not want to spoil any of the surprises this film has in store. They say writing a review for a good film, is a lot harder than writing one for a bad film. In that case, this may well be one of my shortest reviews.

I’ll briefly mention that Serge Reggiani plays Maurice Faugel, a career criminal who has just been released from jail after a four year stint. His best friend is Silien, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Silien is a two-bit gangster and police informer.

Now if you love crime films and you’re fond of French cinema, then I beseech you to track down a copy of this film and watch it. I want to ‘infect’ as many people as I can with this film’s brilliance. Watch it, enjoy it, then drop me a line with your thoughts.

Le Doulos

Kriminal

Film GenericThe character Kriminal has a rich history, which is a bit out of my depth to discuss at length. Put simply, Kriminal began in a series of adult comic books (called Fumetti) in Italy. The success of the comics lead to two Kriminal movies, made in the mid sixties and starring Glenn Saxon as the titular hero. For a more in depth look at Kriminal’s history, and an alternate view of this film, skip over to Keith at Teleport City’s in depth review.

The film opens in London. A man is being lead to the gallows. The man is ‘Kriminal’ – an evil genius. He is to be executed for the theft of the Crown of England. Kriminal mounts the scaffold, and the noose is slipped around his neck. At the last second, before Kriminal swings, the lights go out and the rope breaks. In the confusion Kriminal escapes.

The escape had been carefully planned down to the last detail. But not by Kriminal though. It was the police that allowed Kriminal to escape. Why? Because the Crown has not been recovered. If Kriminal had died, the secret location would have died with him. Instead, the police have secretly positioned officers in cars and on foot to follow the fiend, hopefully to the regal headpiece. But as I mentioned at the top, Kriminal is an evil genius, and it does not take him long to slip through the cordon of officers, leaving Scotland Yard with egg on their face and a lot of explaining to do.

Taunting the police further, Kriminal returns the crown, letting everybody know that it is a goodwill gesture on his behalf, rather than the tactics or investigation skills of the police that have returned this priceless artifact.

Now free from the shackles of imprisonment, Kriminal can return to his old ways, and when committing a crime, this involves wearing a full body skeleton suit. It’s a pretty threatening ensemble, but you could only get away with wearing it in the sixties. No modern evil mastermind would be seen dead wearing it. When we next see Kriminal he’s in his suit and breaking into a ladies bedroom. When he flicks on the light the lady awakens, and then confronted by Kriminal, she screams. As she does, he takes off his mask. She recognises his face and stops screaming. Her name is Margie Swan and she used to be married to the man standing in front of her. And all that time she never knew she was married to an uber fiend. But that is all in the past. Margie is all set to remarry a rich man. She now works for the Tradex Diamond Company and her new love, is her bosses son. But Kriminal isn’t interested in Margie’s love life. He’s interested in Tradex’s next big shipment of diamonds from London to Istanbul.

The thing about masked fumetti characters like Kriminal or Diabolik, is while they are criminals themselves, their actions tend to take down people and crime syndicate’s that are worse. The regular criminals have no code of honour, or worse still, pretend to be upright citizens. Kriminal’s skeleton suit says to the world, ‘look out’, I am a bad person, ‘stay out of my way’. But criminals who do not wear are costume are hypocrites who want things both ways. They want there ill gotten gain, but they also want to be accepted and fit into society. That’s exactly what happens in this film. Kriminal attempts to steal some diamonds, but finds that they have already been stolen. But of course, he gets the blame for the theft, while the perpetrators get off scott free. But Kriminal is an evil doer of the highest order, so naturally he seeks retribution.

Kriminal is an interesting film. It’s fun in a glossy sixties jet-setting fashion, but there are a few ‘evil’ moments. Generally, the nasty things happen to people who deserve the atrocities, but a couple of innocents get caught along the way. It’s this subversive or slightly malevolent tone that may put a few people off this movie. But mostly it’s cartoon mayhem, with a dash of sixties glamour.

Kriminal

Il Marchio Di Kriminal

Film GenericIl Marchio Di Kriminal is much lighter in tone than it’s predecessor, and the plot is a little more straight forward. But, it is still fine, good old fashioned entertainment.

Kriminal (Glenn Saxon) is back and operating in London, but Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic) of Scotland Yard believes the fiend is still locked up in a prison in Istanbul. In fact, Kriminal is now working as the director of Villa Serena, which is a nursing home for old widows. The film starts with Kriminal, dressed in full skeleton kit entering through the outside window, into one of the rooms of one of the ladies in his care, Ethel Smith. Ethel awakens, sees Kriminal standing above her, and then has a heart attack and dies.

As Ethel had no kin, the life insurance is paid out to Villa Serena (and Kriminal). After the funeral Kriminal goes through Ethel’s belongings. One item is a little blue Buddha statuette. Kriminal’s gorgeous accomplice, Janet (Evi Rigano) clumsily drops the statue and it breaks open. Inside is a quarter of a map, showing the location to two stolen paintings (by Goya and Rembrandt). Kriminal estimates the paintings to be valued in the millions of dollars, and as such it seems like a worthy project and worth his attention. But the catch is, that the other three portions of the map are hidden in three identical blue Buddha statues.

Kriminal tracks one of the statues down to an auction house, but he is too late. The hammer had just fallen and the statuette has been bought. Adding insult to injury, the winning bidder is the fiancée of Inspector Milton, and she intends to turn it over to him as a wedding gift.

Another Buddha belongs to a German art collector named Von Beck (Ugo Sasso/Hugo Arden). Kriminal dons the skeleton suit and heads to Von Beck’s home, only to find that someone has beaten him to the punch. Von Beck is lying on the floor with a knife in his belly and the Statue is gone. Naturally enough, Kriminal gets the blame for the murder – but that’s what happens when you wander around dressed as a skeleton – people just believe you’re up to no good.

After his failure to retrieve Von Beck’s Buddha, Kriminal goes after Milton’s. Disguised, Kriminal poses as a guest at Milton’s wedding and swipes the statuette from the gift table. In it’s place though, Kriminal leaves a ‘special’ gift for Milton. The gift happens to be a spring loaded gun, that fires when the gift box is opened. The shot misses, but the gift alerts Milton to the fact that Kriminal may be at large. He runs out of his wedding and after a little investigating, makes his way to Istanbul to check if the authorities really have their man.

Now that Kriminal has two pieces of the map, Janet tries a little bit of treachery. Kriminal is wise to the event, and runs Janet a nice hot bath – unfortunately, the water has an electrical charge running through it. Alone, Kriminal next follows his next clue to Madrid, and to a Flamenco dancer named Mara Gitan (Helga Liné). You probably remember, Liné was in the first Kriminal film, but here she is playing a different character.

Kriminal and Gitan agree to team up and find the forth missing piece of the map. She believes it is in Lebanon, and they both agree to take a boat trip there. Naturally, Gitan double crosses Kriminal, but he was ready for that. And as she has never actually seen Krimal’s face, her attempt isn’t too successful. It’s hard to double cross someone when you don’t know what they look like!

Saxon is great as Kriminal. He has the looks to convey the sophisticated gentleman traveller, but he also has an evil glint in his eye, maybe even a furrowed brow, which indicate that there is more to this character than we are seeing. Andrea Bosic doesn’t have quite as much to do as Milton this time around, and Helga Liné is just plain gorgeous. As with the first film, the globe trotting locations and scenery are excellent, especially in Baalbeck amongst the ancient ruins. Manuel Parada’s music is light and swingin’ and really suits the film. As I mentioned at the top, this is a lighter Kriminal, but that doesn’t mean this film should be dismissed as being inferior to it’s predecessor. If you enjoyed the first, then I am sure you will enjoy this second outing for our skeleton suited anti hero.

Il Marchio Di Kriminal

Do Aur Do Paanch

Film GenericIf like me, you’re taking your first tentative steps into an understanding and appreciation of Bollywood film then I guess looking at the films of superstar Amitabh Bachchan is a good place to start.  The film opens with a colourful animated title sequence, very much in The Pink Panther style – that is, cartoon characters with bombs. In fact the film starts off very much like a comedy. Two men, Sunil (Sashi Kapoor) and Vijay (Armibabh Bachchan) are in prison (a classic comedy setting). Whenever they see each other, they threaten each other with all forms of physical violence. As they are separated by bars, of course, they cannot enact upon their threats. A young boy, also serving hard time, asks an old man, ‘Why do they go at it like dogs?’ The old man explains that destiny has a hand in it – whenever either of the two go thieving (or whatever nefarious activity they are up to), the other inadvertently turns up. We then ‘flash-back’ to the event that lead to their incarceration.

Both Sunil and Vijay have planned to rob a safe on the same night. As they enter the room from different entrances, each is dismayed to see the other enter the room. But time is of the essence, so they both chip in to break open the safe. It’s only when it comes time to split the loot, that problems arise. Neither wants to share, and instead they slug it out on a roof top. As they fight, they tear open the money bag, and a shower of bank notes rain down upon the police officers who are looking for them. Naturally they are captured, and each blames the other for their arrest.

The film skips ahead to it’s next plot point. It concerns a young boy named Bitoo (Master Bittoo) who is neglected by his father (Shreeram Lagoo). That’s not to say the boy doesn’t have everything he needs. Bitu has everything, including nannies and a team of security guards to watch him around the clock. The neglect stems from his millionaire father’s hectic work schedule. He never has time for little Bitoo.

But criminal minds are scheming. If Bitoo were to be kidnapped, they could extort an exorbitant ransom demand from his father. One gangster, known only as Uncle (Kader Khan) plans to do exactly this. He arranges for a squad of cars to kidnap the boy. Despite being professional gangsters, there kidnap attempt is foiled by a passer by, Miss Shalu (Hema Malini). Single handed, and in a quite ridiculous fashion, she manages to destroy all the cars that were sent after Bitoo.

Miss Shalu is a school teacher at an exclusive boarding school. She suggests to Bitoo’s father that the boy come and stay there. The school has excellent security and she guarantees that Bitoo will be safe.

By this time both Sunil and Vijay have been released from prison, and have gone their separate ways…but not for long. Destiny once again steps in so they attempt to work on the same scheme at the same time. Both men conspire to kidnap Bitto. This, of course means infiltrating the private school. Vijay’s plan involves impersonating the son of a friend of the headmaster…and ultimately becoming the Phys. Ed. Teacher. Sunil’s scheme is to replace the music teacher, who is off on leave after encountering some of Uncle’s henchmen.

Naturally, at the school, Sunil and Vijay are not enamoured to see each other and spend a considerable amount of time trying to outwit each other, and ultimately get their hands on Bitoo.

Do Aur Do Paanch starts off in an amusing enough fashion, but to be honest, the child kidnapping plot is a bit creepy when you think about it. In the second half, this film moves away from comedy and becomes slightly darker in tone. Well, you certainly can’t call the film boring. It has a bit of everything in it. But for me, I don’t think this is the best introduction to the work of Amitabh Bachchan. I think I’ll have to look elsewhere.

Do Aur Do Paanch

Circus Of Fear (1966)

Film GenericWhat we have in Circus Of Fear is a British Edgar Wallace Krimi, albeit with a rather ‘International’ cast so it can travel over borders quite effectively. Also quite effective is the story line which I never guessed where it was heading. Sure there are plenty of hints, and you can guess where each story thread may be leading, but how do they all tie up together?

The film opens in London, and on a nice big widescreen closeup of Klaus Kinski’s head. Klaus is standing on a dock overlooking the Thames. But he isn’t the only suspicious character loitering around. There are quite a few suspicious characters – there’s two on a boat, there’s a few in a car, and another two men standing by a bridge with stockings over their heads. I realise this is swingin’ sixties London, baby, but I don’t think these guys are dressed like this because they’re swingers! It looks like some kind of heist is going down.

It doesn’t take long for the object of everyone’s attention to appear on the screen. It’s a small armoured van carrying a shit load of cash (er, for those confused by my terminology, a ‘shit load’ is an Australian collective noun… It can be used for almost anything, but most often to describe a large amount of money and when purchasing dim sims – but I digress). As the van and escort vehicle pull up at the bridge, the two gents in stockings make short work of the guards. This is because one of the guards, Mason, is in on the gig. However, unlike the other crooks, Mason isn’t a professional and he panics. He draws a pistol and shoots one of the other guards. The heist has now gone from being a simple robbery to now, MURDER!

Meanwhile Klaus has gone from loitering with intent, to completing a bit of nasty work himself. He sneaks up on the fellow in charge of raising and lowering The London Bridge and clocks him over the head. Now in charge, Klaus raises the bridge. The other cohorts are now on the bridge and are tying a rope to the railing and attaching the other end to a boat waiting on the river below. Attaching rings to the sacks of cash, they slide their ill gotten gain down to the boat. Then the criminals follow suit, crawling down to the boat. As the police flood into the area, the perpetrators make their getaway slowly cruising down the Thames.

Once in the clear they all assemble at a warehouse. Mason, after his indiscretion is given his share of the loot, and the unseen boss man’s loot too. Mason has to meet the boss outside the city in a place called ‘The Old Farm’ at Inglemere. The other cohorts load a van up with the remaining cash an drive off. Unfortunately for them, the police receive an anonymous tip off revealing the route they’ll be taking and the vehicle licence plate. This results in a car chase, with the perpetrators eventually being run off the road.

This leaves Mason as the only man with any of the cash, and he arrives at his destination – The Old Farm. For his trouble, he ends up with a knife in his back. Now this is where the films changes tone. Inglemere also happens to be the winter location for Barbarini’s Circus. Immediately we are introduced to a new set of disparate characters. Firstly there is Barbarini (Anthony Newlands) who runs the circus. Then there’s Gregor (Christopher Lee). Gregor, some years back had a horrible accident and now always wears a black hooded mask. He is also the custodian of his neice, Natasha (Suzy Kendall) Then we have Gina (Margaret Lee) who performs a knife act with her insanely jealous boyfriend Mario, who, as you’ve guessed is a knife thrower. Next you’ve got Karl (Heinz Drache), who is the ringmaster. There’s also a malicious midget called Mr. Big, who specialises at listening outside windows.

Now it’s pretty obvious that someone associated with the circus has had a part in the robbery, but of course that isn’t revealed. But it’s not before long and some of the stolen money starts to surface. All the banks in the area have been notified of the serial numbers of the stolen money, and when some turns up, passed by Barbarini, Police Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) is called in to investigate.

It’s not the purpose of this website to act as a shill for any particular video or DVD company, but if you are going to watch Circus Of Fear (or any of the other names this film has travelled under), then do yourself the favour and obtain the Blue Underground version. Previous versions have been severely truncated – in America the film was originally released at 61 minutes long and in black and white – needless to say, this will not do the film justice. Get the full version and enjoy the film for what it is – and that’s a hugely entertaining thriller with a great cast.

Circus Of Fear (1966)