Vaulting Ambition

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.

6 Responses to “Vaulting Ambition”

  1. Jenny Eardley Says:

    You want a ponce who pinches pencils from post offices? You know where to look.

  2. I just watched the four minute trailer and got exhausted. The only thing I can think is that the bank manager was very anxious that thieves might not respect him if he didn’t spend an extra five hours buffing the safe before they leave for the evening. It feels like Beat the Devil, only poor Mr. Robinson is only a passing cameo.

  3. The ending is quite Hustonian, actually — the absurd futiility of human endeavour… It largely lacks the enjoyable eccentricity though.

    Wyler to Huston on Beat the Devil: “It’s the kind of film that, when you make it, you ought to make another film as soon as possible.”

    The movie itself is far from exhausting — quite a slow pace, with some nice samba in the background…

  4. D.B. McWeeberton Says:

    Just looked at the DVD cover on Amazon…it depresses me that it says “Before Ocean’s Eleven, there was…GRAND SLAM.” And it’s from Blue Underground, who should know better. I’d already seen a news story this morning claiming the Beach Boys were most well-known for the song “Kokomo”…

  5. Re: Beach Boys – you sure they didn’t mean “most notorious for”?

  6. “Before the remake of Ocean’s Eleven…” I guess there’s no such thing as “knowing better” when it comes to publicity, you just say any old thing that sounds vaguely appealing to the demographic you think you’re aiming at…

    Tonally, this is probably closer to The Asphalt Jungle than Beat the Devil, since despite the colourful setting it’s pretty much procedural in its structure.

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