Heist movies don’t come much better than this, a lost classic from the late 60’s that while obviously influenced by Jules Dassin’s Rififi (is there a heist movie that doesn’t borrow from this French masterpiece) has enough twists, gadgets, and ingenious planning to keep the most demanding of crime movie fans satisfied. Giulano Montaldo’s gripping thriller, a European/American co-production, filmed mostly on location in Brazil has gone unnoticed for far too long and deserves to find a place along side other great works of the genre such as the afore mentioned Rififi.
Edward G Robinson plays mild-mannered teacher, Professor James Anders, an American working in Rio De Janeiro. Anders, bored with years of teaching, decides to put together a team to pull off a diamond heist during the Rio Carnival. In classic crime movie style, a team of four international experts are brought together to carry out the robbery: a safe cracking expert, a master thief, a mechanical genius, and a playboy (to seduce the only women with a key to the building holding the diamond’s, the lovely Janet Leigh).
Of the crooks, Klaus Kinski steals the show as a borderline psychotic (how did you guess) explosive expert who continually appears to be on the brink of cracking up and betraying the rest of the gang. Nobody can do the wide-eyed stare of a madman quite as well as Kinksi (probably down to the fact of him being a psychotic lunatic in real life) and he ploughs through the film with his usual intensity. It’s also great to see a Hollywood legend like Robinson chewing the scenery as the “man with the plan”, and although he appears to only have been available for a few days filming (all exterior shots of him walking through streets are obvious studio shot back-projection) he makes his presence felt like only an actor of his magnitude can.
The climactic robbery is a simply awesome piece of nerve-shredding cinema, taking Rififi’s twenty minute silent heist sequence and setting it within a post-James Bond, gadget filled environment with invisible laser beams, fold out climbing frames, and the super sensitive microphones of the “Grand Slam” device. It’s genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff, which hands down, beats anything Hollywood has had to offer since in lame attempts such as Sneakers, or Entrapment.
The always reliable Ennio Morricone keeps things interesting with a groovy score that makes heavy use of traditional brazilian samba beats, and Antonio Macasoli’s beautifully composed scope photography is well served by Blue Undergrounds new dvd release which has a super-sharp anamorphic transfer. A word of warning however, try not to look at the Chapter card on the inside of the dvd case, as the image on the card clearly gives away the film’s surprise ending. Hip, cool, and stylishly sixties, Grand Slam comes unreservedly recommended to anyone looking for a fun, exciting piece of crime drama, but is willing to look further a field than Ocean’s Eleven or The Score.