Tag Archives: heist

A mildly entertaining gangster exiled to Rhodes movie

A fish-out-of-water story from 1960 is “Surprise Package.” The fish is American gang-leader Nico March (Yul Brynner, between “The King and I” and “The Magnificent Seven”), who is deported to a Greek island. (though not named in the movie, it was filmed on Rhodes) He conspires to steal the bejeweled crown of the King of Anatolia(!) played by Nöel Coward, who was much better than he would later be as the Witch of Endor. The surprise to me is that the stripper bimbo moll as played by Mitzie Gaynor is charming and also the wisest character in the movie. I was underwhelmed by her in “South Pacific” and “Les Girls,” but she was funny trying to bring sense to her boyfriend. Brynner was dressed as if he wandered over from a production of “Guys and Dolls.” Apparently, some viewers couldn’t understand his fast talk, though it presented no problem to me.

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George Coulouris provided the menace as an agent from the People’s Republic of Anatolia, determined to recover the ancient régime’s crown jewels. And the most comic character is the Hungarian spy (Guy Deghy) who responds to Brynner unmasking him: “”Of course, I am spying on you. That’s my profession. I’m a spy!”

A silly heist comedy and a silly rom-com, yet, but pleasant mindless entertainment from Art Buchwald and Staneley Donen. (Singin’ in the Rain, Charade) Coward and Gaynor perform the title song together btw. Donen made a far more interesting road picture in “Two for the Road” with Audredy Hepburn and Albert Finney in 1967.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

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Pirandellian black comedy set in 1959 Romania

Set in Bucharest A.D. 1959, “Closer to the Moon” (2013, written and directed by Nae Caranfil; released in the US in the spring of 2015,) is a Romanian, Polish, Italian, French, US co-production in English with handsome Brit Harry Lloyd (The Theory of Everything, Wolf Hall, Game of Thrones) as the innocent busboy, Virgil, who observes what is supposed to be a movie of a holdup of an armored car being shot. Except that it’s a real hold-up, and after its perpetrators, old-line (pre-WWII, wartime resisters of the Nazis) Jews, have been condemned to be executed, they are forced to appear in a propaganda film about the holdup they perpetrated. Yes, a movie about a robbery disguised as a movie. There are scenes from the 1960 Romanian black-and-white movie shown during the closing credits.

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Before that, however, Virgil becomes a movie camera operator, and has a last-night fling with the woman of the group of disillusioned communists, Alice Berkovich (Vera Farmiga [Up in the Air, Goata]). The State Security official in charge of making the movie, who continues to investigate the crime even after five death sentences have been passed (Anton Lesser) has ordered Virgil to find out where Alice’s son is hidden and to find out why the robbers did it. The short answer to the second question is that they wanted to show that the state’s claim that crime had been eliminated in the worker’s paradise was false. Virgil goes with Alice when she escapes chaos on the movie set and visits her son, Mirel (very blond Marcin Walewski) but before Virgil can be pressed to provide answers to either questions, Holban is sacked by the minister (Darrell D’Silva).

The organizer of the heist, who becomes de facto director of the movie re-enactment, Max Rosenthal (Mark Strong, who reminds me of Jon Hamm; Strong played Jim Prideaux in the 2011 movie version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) was married to the minister’s daughter, which led to an appointment as chief inspector of the Bucharest police. (The other conspirators to ridicule the Romanian state are history professor Yorgu (Christian McKay), newsman Razvan (Joe Armstrong), and astrophysicist Dumi (Tim Plester) who had been liaison to the Soviet space program in the Sputnik era, but had been replaced due to Russian/Soviet anti-Semitism. And Max is the father of Alice’s son.)

There is Pirandellian black comedy throughout the movie, especially in the re-enactment of the heist. The nominal director (Allan Corduner) is passed out drunk every day of the shoot (and, presumably, every day not of the shoot, too). Or, perhaps, it is Jewish gallows humor within a Pirandellian black comedy or is is Mittleuropa comedy?… The whole project is remarkably light-hearted a prelude to real execution, following a kangaroo court in which the defense attorney is barely allowed to complete a single statement or to question witnesses. The satiric comedy of the 2013 movie is definitely set within the tragedy of the Jewish communists disillusioned by the regime they were deeply involved in putting in power (tragedy both for them and for the people of the Socialist Republic of Romania, even before the predominance of Nicolae Ceausecu from 1965-89).

Noting that the Soviets had been able to launch a dog into orbit, but not bring him safely down, Max requested to be sent into space, rather than being shot by a firing squad, but his request is angrily rejected. (So none of the conspirators gets any closer to the moon than Dumi observing Sputnik launches in the Soviet Union.)

An effective soundtrack was composed by Laurent Couson, and Marius Panduru’s cinematography was top-notch, as was the acting, with Anton Lesser especially standing out as an oddly tragic functionary of the Romanian communist government.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Cruel Gun Story

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Though I’d categorize “Cruel Gun Story” (Kenjû zankoku monogatari, 1964, directed by  Furukawa Takumi, available as part of the Criterion Eclipse set Nikkatsu Noir) as a heist film or a gangster film, it is nocturnal enough to count as a noir, and is more nihilistic than the American noirs. Joe Shishido’s character Togawa, is not a patsy, but tough as he is here, multiple others try to play him.

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A disbarred lawyer, Ito, has arranged to get an early release from prison for Togawa, and set him up for ye olde one last job: a heist of the take from the Japan derby. The plan is to shoot the two motorcycle policemen who escort it, then the driver and guard when they get out of the armored car. They are not so stupid, and are loaded up (did this inspire the original “Italian Job”).

Togawa leaves his trusted confederate Shirai (Odaka Yûji) and goes off with his newfound would-be girlfriend to contact Ito. It makes no sense that Togwa would leave the money and his wounded friend with two other men he trusts not at all (and has disarmed). He and the girl escape the trap Ito set, but lead an army of yakuza, Ito, and the Big Boss to where the loot is.

After a major shoot-out, there is a kidnapping, another major shoot-out and some one-on-one shootouts, which leave all the characters except Togwa’s paralyzed sister Rie (Matsubara Chieko [Tokyo Drifter]) —for whose treatment he decided to take on the heist against his better judgment in the first place. I don’t understand why the bad guys did not seize her, though they kill everyone else Togawa cares for.

Things hurtle along through the 87 minutes. The US presence (naval base) in Yokohma is not coincidental, since the truck is hidden in a warehouse that the Americans had used, and Takizawa (Suzuki regular/Nikkatsu contract player Kawachi Tamio),who was engaged to run a jazz bar frequented by African American sailors. Plus jets scream overhead periodically, but Togawa has no dealings with Americans, and I don’t see the US Occupation blamed for the greed and duplicity of the yakuzas.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray