Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Anderson Tapes

The Anderson Tapes (Sidney Lumet, 1971) The second of five films Sean Connery made with Sidney Lumet, an unlikely pairing of the Scots actor and the New York director, but the two obviously enjoyed working together, as Connery's next project with him (The Offencewas one of the "vanity" projects he was allowed to make for returning to the role of James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, and Lumet was Connery-picked to direct, no doubt in loyalty to the director, as their first project, The Hill, allowed the world to see that the star of the "007" films had a range that extended outside the spy field.

The Anderson Tapes, however, was a different creature, entirely.  An extended heist film, in which Connery, Martin Balsam, and (introducing) Christopher Walken participate in what must be the slowest caper in history, the casing of a luxury apartment building in New York City.  Connery plays Duke Anderson, a con just released from a ten year stretch in prison, who can't wait to do another score. The inspiration is his girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon), a high-end call-girl, who has been set up in a luxury apartment by another man.

But, things have changed in the ten years since Anderson was free.  Unbeknownst to him, he is under constant surveillance by three different agencies: Ingrid's apartment is bugged by a private detective hired by her "keeper;" the FBI is tracking Black activists, whose headquarters is at a flop where the thieves meet; the IRS is phone-tapping the Mafia Boss (Alan King), who is funding the heist; and the Bureau of Narcotics is keeping tabs on one of the group's members.  All of these groups are keeping a running record of the planning of the break-in...but none of them are coordinated or sharing information,  and the surveillance work is so concentrated on their individual subjects, that nothing is put together to prevent it from happening.  It's hard to determine exactly what is being decried here—that our privacies are being invaded to such an extent, or that this intelligence isn't being cross-referenced to prevent actual crimes and is...dumb.  One gets the impression that there is no stance being taken, rather it's to present A Big Irony, that undercuts how events play out, eventually.  But, that was Lumet's specialty—he frequently spaced his flat-out movie drama assignmnents with "Ironies," (as opposed to "Comedies") that, their point having been made half-way through the movie, wear out their welcome by the often dissatisfying end of the tale.  Everybody looks a little stupid here: the agencies, for their tunnel-vision, the crooks for their own utter lack of surveillance as the crime goes about, and the NYPD, whose very elaborate storming of the apartment complex is literally over-the-top.

Lumet was not the best director for comedy as he had a tendency to sledge-hammer things—like Martin Balsam's mincing interior decorator/antiques smuggler (yeah, yeah, "it was the times," I suppose), but there are some joys to be had, besides Connery doing something different and Walken's debut: appearances by Max Showalter, Margaret Hamilton (her last role), and "crazy old lady" Judith Lowry, as well as Ralph Meeker and SNL pioneer Garrett Morris as Gotham police.  

Lumet would hit his stride later in the decade (with the sure editorial hand of Dede Allen), but this one is only moderately successful.

No comments: