GRAND SLAM (1967) is a jolly heist movie, a multi-national co-production, and a pretty good time. The casting rather lets it down, I feel, even though on paper it’s magnificent — Edward G. Robinson, Adolfo Celli, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski getting together to rob a safe full of diamonds during the Rio Carnival seems pretty irresistible.
In fact, the first two actors only appear briefly at the beginning and end, as the brains and the moneyman. Robinson, old and ill, carries so much emotional resonance that you simply can’t flash him up onscreen then remove him and expect us to be OK with that. We want a whole movie about this old guy.
Janet Leigh is around more, but slightly wasted in a “You’re beautiful without your glasses” cliche of a role. She’s the bank employee who must be seduced in order to obtain a crucial magnetic key.
So the team actually boosting the gems is Argentinian George Rigaud as an English butler with a sideline in safecracking, Austrian Robert Hoffmann as the French playboy who must seduce Leigh, and Italian Riccardo Cucciolla as, amazingly, an Italian toymaker with a talent for electronics. And Kinski as Kinski.
KK is at his peak, physically and maniacally, and is pretty hot stuff to watch. The others are a disappointment, and Hoffman’s blandness makes him a completely incredible loverboy. Plus his seductive technique seems to consist solely of buying flowers. There’s a point where that gets creepy, as even Travis Bickle discovered.
But what we get is some good eleventh-hour twisting, a beautiful vault with some nifty suspense, the spectacle of the carnival (which I was mainly indifferent to), and a bizarre scene where Robinson looks through Celli’s catalogue of super-thieves, in order to pick his team. Here’s what he finds (and I’m not making any of this up) ~
Aristocrats, Atomic scientists, Card cheaters, Charities, Clergy, Doctors, Drugs, Electro-technicians (Edward says YES to this one), Espionage, Gold, Homosexuals (Edward raises an eyebrow, but really, you never know when you might need one), Industries, Judges, Military, Movies, Newspapers, Oilmen, Pentagon, Playboys (again, Edward says YES), Plutonium, Police, Politicians, Poisons, Safecrackers (YES again), Steel, Syndacate Killers (sic), Television, Theatre (European rather than US spelling), Tipsters, Unions, Uranium, Vatican (Edward: “Vatican?” Celli, shrugging, “Why not?”), War criminals.
Eddie G can’t decide between military and “syndacate” killers, so Celli chooses for him — military it is, and Corporal Kinski is duly hired.
I personally would like to see the sequel where Robinson returns to rob the bank again using an alternative team consisting of a nuclear physicist, a viscount, an archbishop, Truman Capote, J.R. Ewing, Alfred Lunt and a dyslexic hitman.