The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Country: Japan
Director: Teruo Ishii
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Gô, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shihomi, Kanjûrô Arashi, Ryô Ikebe, Tetsurô Tanba, Makoto Satô
Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno is a broad comedic caper film, with a pinch of extreme violence added at the end (which may be somewhat jarring to Western audiences). As for the ‘Karate Inferno’ promised in the title, it is more of a ‘Karate Camp Fire’. There is very little fistic mayhem in this film compared to many other Chiba films. However, if you ignore the title, and enjoy caper movies, then you’ll find this film is very entertaining.

As the film opens, Lady Sabine, a rich heiress, is preparing to exhibit her jewel collection in Tokyo. The price piece is a necklace called The Star of the Pharaoh, which is valued at one million yen. However, before the exhibition, the necklace is stolen, and Sabine’s young daughter is kidnapped. The criminals want one million yen for the necklace, and the girl.

The insurance company – through a shady intermediary named The Commissioner (Ryo Ikebe) – recruit three super crooks to steal the money back from the criminals once the exchange has been made. The super crooks are Ryuichi Koga (Sonny Chiba), Takeshi Hayabusa (Makoto Sato), and Ichiro Sakura (Eiji Go).

The exchange goes wrong. Sabine’s daughter is rescued, however, the money and necklace remain in the hands of the criminals. As a result, the super crooks don’t get paid. Further more, Sabine deals directly with the criminals, paying an extra million yen to have the necklace returned.

Koga is not happy about being stiffed his fee, and decides to steal the necklace from Sabine. He scales the side of high-rise building, cuts through the window and steals the necklace, but only to find it is a fake. The real necklace is in a vault on the nineteenth floor, of a high-security building. The super crook team re-assembles to break into the vault – with the usual, caper film tropes in place.

As I mentioned at the top, the film, which is so light in tone for most of its running time has an extremely violent ending – with eyeballs popping from their sockets, and a liver being torn from a body.

The sexual content is playful, but puerile (in an Animal House kind of way). There are upskirt shots and leering in high-rise windows scenes. It would also appear only half of Japanese women wear panties. It should be noted that Japanese movies and television have a different concept of what is offensive and/or adult. I remember when I was a teenager, visiting Japan in the mid 1980s, and flicking on late afternoon children’s television – and discovering a delightful little animated show, where a cheeky little bird would swoop down on young ladies, and rip the girls top off with its beak – thereby exposing the lady’s breasts.

I found The Executioner II: Karate Inferno to be a great deal of fun – if somewhat uneven. Now having said all that, I must point out that I have not watched the previous film, The Executioner – which is said to be almost the reverse of this feature. It is full of violence and nudity – and light on for comedy capers. So, if you were to come to this film from The Executioner, and were expecting more of the same, I could see how this film may disappoint. After all, Chiba does have a reputation for in-your-face actioners, and Karate Inferno never really delivers on that score.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

The Balearic Caper (1966)

The Balearic CaperOriginal Title: Baleari operazione Oro
Starring: Mireille Darc, Venantino Venantini, Daniela Bianchi, Jacques Sernas, Marilu Tolo, Harold Sakata, Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez
Writer: Jaime de Arminan, Jose Maria Forque, Giovanni Simonelli, Duccio Tessari
Director: Jose Maria Forque
Cinematographer: Cecilio Paniagua
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Music: Benedetto Ghiglia
Producer: Jose Gutierrez Maesso
Alternate Titles: Operation Gold / Zarabanda Bing Bing

In the 1960s, if you were making a Bond-knockoff Eurospy film, the thing that would give your film a modicum of credibility was a liberal sprinkling of actors who had already appeared in an official James Bond movie. I guess the king of clones, was Operation Kid Brother (AKA: Double 07, or O.K. Connery), which managed to rope in Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Adolpho Celi and Daniella Bianchi.

This film, The Balearic Caper managed to draw into its web Daniela Bianchi and Harold Sakata. Bianchi is no stranger to spy fans. After her stint in From Russia With Love her career was dominated by spy films; appearing in titles such as Requiem For a Secret Agent, Operation Kid Brother, Code Name: Tiger and Special Mission Lady Chaplin – and a couple more. Unfortunately she retired from acting in 1968. Harold Sakata played the imposing henchman Oddjob in Goldfinger, and basically played the same character for the rest of his acting career. So much so, that ‘Oddjob’ practically became his middle name – in the film The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington he was credited as Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata. His post Bond career too was littered with spy films, such as Dimension 5 and The Poppy is also a Flower. But that’s enough of that – Let’s look at The Balearic Caper, which is an Italian comedy spy caper film.

The film is set on the island of Ibiza, and as the film opens, we see two guys in SCUBA gear, riding out in a dingy with an outboard to a rocky outcrop sprouting from the ocean. Armed with spearguns, our duo dive down to the wreck of an old airplane that looks like it has been down there for many a year. One of the divers retrieves a gleaming long thin silver trunk. He hands the trunk to his partner and begins to swim away. Rather than surfacing however, he turns and takes aim with his speargun and shoots. His partner is killed. He swims back, pries the trunk from the dead man’s hands and then swims to the surface. He then motors back to shore, only to be gunned down as he reaches the beach by a third party. This new guy then grabs the trunk and gets into a truck and speeds off.

Before he has driven too far, his path is blocked by a red truck which is angled across the road. As the driver gets out to complain, he is of course, gunned down. I think you should be getting the idea now. Everyone who touches this trunk is killed. It is done for laughs, as this is a wild Italian comedy farce, and contains all the mugging that you’d expect from a film made in that style. And while the film is very definitely an espionage movie, the title, The Balearic Caper should let you know it is equally a caper film fashioned after Topkapi – although stylistically more akin to On A Vole La Joconde (AKA: The Mona Lisa is Missing).

Next a bunch of girls turn up in a bus. They rush out to see what the commotion is about, and open the trunk. Inside is a jewel encrusted sceptre. Later the sceptre is authenticated as the ‘Lyttleton Barry’ by the director of the museum on Ibiza. The director is played by Harold Sakata who, as I mentioned earlier, was famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger. Initially it is quite strange seeing him play an educated man, rather than a physical goon. But don’t worry folks, as the film moves along, his character degenerates into something more familiar.

Once news filters out that the sceptre has been found, every thief in Europe make their way to Ibiza and plot to steal the precious artifact. First to arrive is Guiliano Foucet (Venantino Venantini) and his floozy Sophia (Marilu Tolo). Foucet has a very elaborate scheme to steal the sceptre, with magnetic boots that allow him to walk up drain pipes. It is all very silly.

Next we have wealthy playgirl, Mercedes (Daniela Bianchi) sunbathing on her yacht in Monte Carlo. Once she hears about the Lyttleton Barry, she decides she must have it. She collects jewelery, and she considers that she must have it for her collection. She doesn’t intend to steal the sceptre, simply buy it – but at the end of the day, she use any means available to her to get it. With her vast fortune, she can buy anybody and anything.

The Secret Service is quite aware that an attempt will be made to steal the sceptre, so they assign an agent, Fernando Lentoni (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) to prevent the theft. Lentoni is quite a buffoon, in the Peter Sellers, Inspector Clouseau mold, but nowhere near as interesting to watch. In fact his moments on the screen, are when the film really nosedives into nothingness.

Then finally we have Polly (Mireille Darc), who upon arrival on the island, forms a partnership with Pierre (Jacques Sernas), who is a eccentric local artist – who also dabbles as an inventor. He creates automated, voice activated toys for his children, and even has a car that thinks for itself and responds to voice commands (but I’ll talk more about that later).

So with the cast all assembled, the shenanigans begins, and to further complicate matters, every thief has brought along their own replica of the Lyttleton Barry, which they plan to substitute for the original. Of course, as the story progresses, and the sceptre is stolen, each additional attempt to steal it, means that they only retrieve a forgery, but they don’t know they have stolen a forgery.

There’s very little point outlining any more of the plot, as you can no doubt picture the various scenarios of mistaken identity, double and triple cross as the various thieves try to acquire the correct sceptre and escape with it.

Of course, any review or discussion about a spy film would not be complete without looking at the gadgets that populate the movie. Gadgets, love ‘em or hate ‘em gadgets and devices from the ‘Department Of Dirty Tricks’ are often featured heavily in spy films. Some would say, the more outrageous, the better!

Spies in films, have always had small secret devices like cameras and guns that have helped them carry out their various assignments, but once Goldfinger hit the silver screen, featuring a tricked out Aston Martin DB5, it opened the floodgates for a whole swag of outrageous gadgets.

The famous moment in Goldfinger is where Sean Connery as James Bond flicks a button in the Aston Martin he is driving at gunpoint. The button fires an ejector seat, and Bond’s captor is fired up out of the roof of the car allowing Bond to escape. From this moment on spy films have been inundated with gadgets. Some are simple and practical, others are rather fantastic, verging on silly.

Once again it appears that James Bond is the progenitor of another common place spy trope. Therefore is Bond responsible for all the wild crazy gadgets in all spy films? Let’s step back for a second, and head back to the source – that being author Ian Fleming. What is Fleming’s most crazy gadget? I am cheating here, because Fleming’s most crazy gadget is not from a spy story at all – it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the magical (fantasmagorical) vintage car from the story of the same name. The book itself was a success, I remember having it read to me as a tot, during a library session. However the film, which was released in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes was a turkey. It was the filmic equivalent to bad prog rock. To quote the sage of the airwaves, Dave Rabbit – ‘this motherf*cker goes on forever!’ Even as a child I couldn’t get through the whole film. The Fleming connection, and though a twisted osmosis, the Bond connection, means that to the Bond film imitators and spooferers, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was ripe for pilfering too. So in The Balearic Caper, we have a vintage car named Eusebia (yeah it has a name – Eusebia was a Roman Empress) that may not be quite magical, in that it can’t fly or skoot across the water, but it thinks and drives itself. It is certainly tricked out enough to nudge the boundaries of copyright infringement.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang versus the old clunker, Eusebia.

Let me clarify that I am not necessarily suggesting that The Balearic Caper plagiarized the film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as Balearic beat Chitty to the punch. However, if you were a film-maker, and had an inkling that a film was about to be made of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then the plot wouldn’t be too much of a secret – after all the book was published three years earlier. It would be pretty easy to take a few of the story elements and incorporate them into a Bond loving (as witnessed by the hiring of Bianchi and Sakata) spy caper spoof. But hey, that’s merely speculation on my behalf borne out by the automobilic similarities.

As I intimated earlier, Pierre is an inventor, and the owner/master of Eusebia, and as the addle-brained story rushes towards its climax, and Pierre and Polly become endangered, it is only right that the car – or gadget if you will – is going to drive into the action and save their lives. In fact it takes on ‘a flying wooden crate’, which houses the villain. Yes, you read that right – ‘a flying wooden crate’, as in a packing crate. I dunno what the film-makers were thinking there! As I said earlier, it’s a pretty silly film, borrowing from all sorts of sources.

I wanted to like The Balearic Caper, after all, on the surface it appears to be the type of film I should readily enjoy – a spy caper hybrid, with a great cast, with not only the aforementioned Bond stars, but also Mireille Darc, who looks good in any film. Oh, and Marilu Tolo too, who starred in a swag of European genre films. But I must admit I struggle with broad Italian comedy, and while The Balearic Caper doesn’t dive to the excessive and ponderous depths of a Franco and Ciccio film, it still grates instead of amuses.

Poster images used in this post are from the fabulous Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Shop which has prints from the entire poster range available for purchase.
The Balearic Caper - Photobusta

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, December 2010.

The Balearic Caper (1966)

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

Director: Brian G. Hutton
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod, Stuart Margolin, Jeff Morris, Harry Dean Stanton, Gene Collins, Perry Lopez, Hal Buckley, Karl-Otto Alberty
Music: Lalo Schifrin

After Where Eagles Dare, Clint Eastwood had starred in two flop movies. First there was Paint Your Wagon, which was one of the failures that nearly forced Paramount pictures into bankruptcy. Then he followed it up with Two Mules For Sister Sara, which again, wasn’t quite the success that he had hoped. Naturally, he looked at making another Where Eagles Dare to get punters bums back on seats. The result was Kelly’s Heroes. But Kelly’s Heroes is a bit different – it isn’t another blood and guts, shoot ‘em up, – it’s a caper film.

The film opens during the middle of a battle. Mortar shells are raining down and buildings are exploding. Behind enemy lines, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood) has captured himself a German Intelligence Officer. He brings him back for interrogation. Inside the German’s attaché case, Kelly finds two lead bars. When questioned, the German says if he was captured he was to throw the case in a river. The lead weights were to weigh it down. Then Kelly notices that a bit of lead has been scraped away at the bottom of one of the bars. It looks like the lead coating is to disguise the gold bar underneath. Kelly starts plying the Officer with brandy to find out more.

Trailer uploaded to Youtube by: Weduc79

The liquor eventually loosens the Officer’s tongue, and he reveals that 14,000 gold bars have been placed in a bank in the town of Claremont. Claremont is 20 miles behind enemy lines, and the town (and bank) are guarded by three Tiger Tanks.

But Kelly thinks that he has been getting shot at, mortared and bombed on for virtually no reward at all. Why not make a little extra out of it? He decides to go after the gold. Luckily, his platoon, which is under the leadership of Big Joe (Telly Savalas) has just been relieved of duties on the front line, and has three days rest. Kelly convinces them all, that they should risk their lives, behind enemy lines to rob the bank.

But Kelly needs a little bit of help from a few outsiders. The first is Crapgame (Don Rickles). Crapgame is the supply officer. Through him, Kelly arranges all the weapons, ammunition and supplies he needs for the incursion. To go up against the three Tiger tanks in Claremont, Kelly enlists the aid of a misfit named Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who is in command of three Sherman tanks. With the motley crew assembled, the men head off into the warzone, each expecting a share in a $16,000,000 payday. Of course, it isn’t all beer and skittles, and the platoon has to face quite a few hardships before reaching their objective.

The film has a great ending too. When our squad of men have reached the bank in Claremont, and overcome nearly all obstacles, there is one last little hiccup. Parked in front of the bank is a Tiger tank that steadfastly refuses to move.

Kelly’s Heroes features a top-notch ensemble cast. Of course there’s Eastwood – he plays his role fairly straight. Kelly is resourceful and brave, but he has been busted back from lieutenant to private for a mistake that was not his fault. Basically, he is now at war with the system. Eastwood didn’t carry, Where Eagles Dare (Burton was the star) but here, the film falls solely on his shoulders. Thankfully he is helped out by Savalas, who also plays it straight and tough. But you need straight guys to play opposite Donald Sutherland. Sutherland plays one of the weirdest characters to populate a World War II drama. Oddball is a sixties style hippy…and sure he maybe out of place in 1944, but his scenes are hilarious. Then you’ve got Don Rickles (for the youngsters reading this – Mr. Potato Head). Rickles is Rickles. He doesn’t really change. And Harry Dean Stanton has a small early role (cos a repo-man spends his life getting into tense situations).

The music by Lalo Schifrin is good (did you expect anything else?) but it doesn’t have the rhythmic hooks that some of his other scores do. It often falls back on staccato military drum beats, which I ‘think’ are intended to evoke Ron Goodwin’s score from Where Eagles Dare. For the showdown at the end of the movie, the score even veers into mock Morricone territory, harking back to Eastwood’s Dollars trilogy. The title song, ‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation is pleasant enough piece of early 70’s bubblegum pop, but it is not particularly memorable outside this film.

‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation uploaded by 5tealthh

Although Kelly’s Heroes is directed by Brian G. Hutton, the man behind Where Eagles Dare, the two films are very different. Where Eagles Dare is a rip-roaring adventure film, but Kelly’s Heores combines two genres – the War film and the Caper film. The idea almost works, but it does result in a little un-eveness. Sometimes the film is a very serious war drama, and shows the consequences of death in a war zone. This is amplified by the fact that Kelly’s platoon choose to go after the gold at their own personal risk. Then right beside these poignant scenes, they’ll insert Carroll O’Connor’s ham fisted cartoon antics. It doesn’t always gel. But overall, I believe that Kelly’s Heroes is a fine, and extremely entertaining film.

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

Kelly's Heroes (1970)

Director: Brian G. Hutton
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod, Stuart Margolin, Jeff Morris, Harry Dean Stanton, Gene Collins, Perry Lopez, Hal Buckley, Karl-Otto Alberty
Music: Lalo Schifrin

After Where Eagles Dare, Clint Eastwood had starred in two flop movies. First there was Paint Your Wagon, which was one of the failures that nearly forced Paramount pictures into bankruptcy. Then he followed it up with Two Mules For Sister Sara, which again, wasn’t quite the success that he had hoped. Naturally, he looked at making another Where Eagles Dare to get punters bums back on seats. The result was Kelly’s Heroes. But Kelly’s Heroes is a bit different – it isn’t another blood and guts, shoot ‘em up, – it’s a caper film.

The film opens during the middle of a battle. Mortar shells are raining down and buildings are exploding. Behind enemy lines, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood) has captured himself a German Intelligence Officer. He brings him back for interrogation. Inside the German’s attaché case, Kelly finds two lead bars. When questioned, the German says if he was captured he was to throw the case in a river. The lead weights were to weigh it down. Then Kelly notices that a bit of lead has been scraped away at the bottom of one of the bars. It looks like the lead coating is to disguise the gold bar underneath. Kelly starts plying the Officer with brandy to find out more.

Trailer uploaded to Youtube by: Weduc79

The liquor eventually loosens the Officer’s tongue, and he reveals that 14,000 gold bars have been placed in a bank in the town of Claremont. Claremont is 20 miles behind enemy lines, and the town (and bank) are guarded by three Tiger Tanks.

But Kelly thinks that he has been getting shot at, mortared and bombed on for virtually no reward at all. Why not make a little extra out of it? He decides to go after the gold. Luckily, his platoon, which is under the leadership of Big Joe (Telly Savalas) has just been relieved of duties on the front line, and has three days rest. Kelly convinces them all, that they should risk their lives, behind enemy lines to rob the bank.

But Kelly needs a little bit of help from a few outsiders. The first is Crapgame (Don Rickles). Crapgame is the supply officer. Through him, Kelly arranges all the weapons, ammunition and supplies he needs for the incursion. To go up against the three Tiger tanks in Claremont, Kelly enlists the aid of a misfit named Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who is in command of three Sherman tanks. With the motley crew assembled, the men head off into the warzone, each expecting a share in a $16,000,000 payday. Of course, it isn’t all beer and skittles, and the platoon has to face quite a few hardships before reaching their objective.

The film has a great ending too. When our squad of men have reached the bank in Claremont, and overcome nearly all obstacles, there is one last little hiccup. Parked in front of the bank is a Tiger tank that steadfastly refuses to move.

Kelly’s Heroes features a top-notch ensemble cast. Of course there’s Eastwood – he plays his role fairly straight. Kelly is resourceful and brave, but he has been busted back from lieutenant to private for a mistake that was not his fault. Basically, he is now at war with the system. Eastwood didn’t carry, Where Eagles Dare (Burton was the star) but here, the film falls solely on his shoulders. Thankfully he is helped out by Savalas, who also plays it straight and tough. But you need straight guys to play opposite Donald Sutherland. Sutherland plays one of the weirdest characters to populate a World War II drama. Oddball is a sixties style hippy…and sure he maybe out of place in 1944, but his scenes are hilarious. Then you’ve got Don Rickles (for the youngsters reading this – Mr. Potato Head). Rickles is Rickles. He doesn’t really change. And Harry Dean Stanton has a small early role (cos a repo-man spends his life getting into tense situations).

The music by Lalo Schifrin is good (did you expect anything else?) but it doesn’t have the rhythmic hooks that some of his other scores do. It often falls back on staccato military drum beats, which I ‘think’ are intended to evoke Ron Goodwin’s score from Where Eagles Dare. For the showdown at the end of the movie, the score even veers into mock Morricone territory, harking back to Eastwood’s Dollars trilogy. The title song, ‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation is pleasant enough piece of early 70’s bubblegum pop, but it is not particularly memorable outside this film.

‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation uploaded by 5tealthh

Although Kelly’s Heroes is directed by Brian G. Hutton, the man behind Where Eagles Dare, the two films are very different. Where Eagles Dare is a rip-roaring adventure film, but Kelly’s Heores combines two genres – the War film and the Caper film. The idea almost works, but it does result in a little un-eveness. Sometimes the film is a very serious war drama, and shows the consequences of death in a war zone. This is amplified by the fact that Kelly’s platoon choose to go after the gold at their own personal risk. Then right beside these poignant scenes, they’ll insert Carroll O’Connor’s ham fisted cartoon antics. It doesn’t always gel. But overall, I believe that Kelly’s Heroes is a fine, and extremely entertaining film.

Kelly's Heroes (1970)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Steve 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.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

The Burglars (1971)

Director: Henri Vernuil
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif, Dyan Cannon, Robert Hossein, Renato Salvatori, Nicole Calfan
Music: Ennio Morricone – conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Based on the novel by David Goodis

This Euro-heist caper, set in Greece and directed by Henri Verneuil, is a bit different to most. Rather than building up to the perfect robbery, the film starts with the heist, then spends the rest of it’s running time, seeing if the criminals can get away with the loot.

Three men and a woman; Azad (Belmondo), Ralph (Robert Hossein), Renzi (Renato Salvatori) and Helene (Nicole Calfan), drive up to a stately home in an un-named Greek city. Ralph and Renzi get out of the car and put stockings over their heads. They go to the front door of the caretakers quarters and ring the doorbell. When the caretaker answers, he is knocked to the ground then tied and gagged. They then signal for Azad to go to the main house. He does and makes quick work of the front door. Inside there are priceless works of art adorning the rooms. Azad ignores them and heads straight to the safe. He puts on his gloves and goes to work. Joined by Ralph (Renzi and Helene keep watch out side), a x-ray machine is used to work out the model number on the inside workings of the safe’s door. Azad looks up the details in a safe guide book (must be very handy for all safe crackers). He finds another series of numbers. At this point, Azad, opens a suitcase he has been toting along with him. Inside is like a little computer. He enters these numbers and he is directed to a key shape. He then selects the base key from a series he has pre-prepared. Then this computer, sort of becomes a key-cutting device, and shapes this key into one which will fit this particular make and model of safe. It’s all rather hi-tech and hard to put in words, but it is impressive. So now Azad has a key, but he still doesn’t have the combination to the four tumblers on the door.

Meanwhile, driving by is police detective Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif). He notices Azad’s car parked out the front, and stops to investigate. As he snoops around, the bound and gagged caretaker tries to make as much noise as possible. Rocking his chair, he crashes into a fish bowl that smashes loudly on the floor. By now Zacharia’s suspicions are heightened. But before he can move in to the house, Azad scoots around the back to his car. Zacharia notices and comes across to question him, forgetting about the noise inside. Azad gives Zacharia a cock ’n’ bull story about his car breaking down. Zacharia trusts him for now, and goes about his business.

Azad returns to the safe, and using a listening device attached to his computer / cutter / suitcase, he cracks the tumblers and the safe. Inside there is a large amount of money and bonds, but Azad only takes one million dollars worth of emeralds. The heist is beautifully staged in its intricacy and precision. Azad and crew have made their score, now they have to get out of town. But this has been pre-arranged. They have made a deal with the captain of the ship, the Arax, to take them (and the emeralds) from the country, no questions asked. Unfortunately the ship has suffered hull damage as it came into port. It will be another five days before it leaves.

Azad and crew decide to wait it out and head their separate ways in the meantime. After Azad has dropped Helene off at the train station he notices he is being followed by somebody in a beaten up, dirty little car. In traffic, Azad tries to lose the unseen, gloved driver, but this driver is well up to the task and doggedly stays on Azad’s tail as the cars race around the streets, down steps, through tunnels, and basically on any surface a car can travel. It’s a great sequence.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, Zacharia isn’t quite as he seems. Actually he is, but he’s a little bit more too. He is a cop, but one who is looking to raise his lifestyle and willing to blackmail a few people on the way. Sharif appears to be having a great time, especially when eating, drinking and shooting.

Dyan Cannon’s role is little more than a cameo. She plays a glamorous photographic model that Azad picks up in a bar. Sure, there’s a twist, but there’s no real attempt by the film-makers to conceal it, so you won’t be guessing long.

This film has a series of amazing scenes that on their own are quite okay, but as a cohesive film they don’t link too well. The heist at the beginning is well staged, and carried out virtually without dialogue, but after Jules Dassin’s Riffifi, I guess all good heists have to be carried out that way. This is followed up by the fantastic car chase that I mentioned earlier in the review. When you review a car chase, it inevitably gets compared to the ones in Bullitt or The French Connection. Unlike many others, this is actually worthy of the comparison. It won’t surprise many people that it was put together by French driving legend, Rémy Julienne. Later in the film, there’s an interesting musical interlude at a strip club; some drunken target practice in a toy factory; and finally Belmondo shows us an interesting new technique for catching buses. All these sequences are good. But the film as a whole just doesn’t add up to quality of its disparate parts.

The Burglars isn’t a bad film, but it has dated. In the early seventies, the story may not have mattered so much. It was about style, and this film has early seventies jet-setting style to burn. But now with the world virtually at out fingertips, style isn’t so important. We want a story and characters that are engaging, and this film just falls short of the mark.

Belmondo catches the bus – from The Burglars – uploaded by sheriff85

The Burglars (1971)