By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: A bank on wheels.
Donald E. Westlake was a prolific author that excelled in writing elaborate and ingenious crime capers that were later turned into movies including: The Split, The Hot Rock, and Cops and Robbers. However, this one may not only be his most ingenious and funniest, but it may actually be the most ingenious and hilarious bank robbery movie made of all time. The concept is outrageously offbeat and consists of a bunch of drop-outs who decided to rob a mobile home that has been turned into a bank, but instead of stealing money out of the bank they decided to steal the entire building.
One of the great things about this movie and one that makes it so delightful to watch over and over is the fact that it doesn’t just sit on its one-joke premise and squeeze it until there is nothing left, but instead uses it as a springboard for all sorts of wild and offbeat tangents. This film is simply one wild comedic gag and set-up after another and all at a zany fast-pace. The scenes are original and work in perfect balance to the characters and rest of the story.
Some of the best ones are when the main character of Walter Upjohn Ballentine (George C. Scott) tries to break out of his prison grounds by using a bulldozer that he has stolen while the prison warden tries to somehow chase him down while driving a little bitty golf cart. There is also the scene where the motley crew crawl underneath the bank building and quietly install wheels on it and then cart the place away with the bank guards still inside. The scene where they hide out in a crowded trailer park and the police and F.B.I. surround the wrong home is also hilarious and is their many futile attempts to break open the bank’s safe, which is supposedly burglar proof. Another gem is when the bank goes careening down a steep hill and they go chasing after it.
All the characters are wonderfully kooky. Ballentine and his group are truly social outcasts and losers. Too many films portray the supposed outsider as still being cool and hip when in reality they are anything but. Here they are dopey looking and inept. None of them could fit in if they wanted too and yet they all show a nice camaraderie to one another as well as an amazing resiliency and a ‘never say die’ philosophy even as they come upon one unexpected obstacle after another. The film nicely brings out the vivid anti-establishment, anti-authority feeling during that era that in today’s films seems diluted. The idiosyncrasies of the characters is also fun including Frank McRae as Herman X a black man who wants to use his share of the stolen proceeds to run for mayor of Anaheim where he hopes to then instill ‘some law and order’. Joanna Barnes as a carefree hippie is engaging as is her infectious laugh.
Clifton James as ‘Bulldog’ Strieger the police warden who makes it his mission to track down Ballentine and is gang is perfect. For one thing he really does look like a bulldog and his hamminess is fun without going overboard. He has become famous for his redneck sheriff character and it has been used in many other, more famous films including two James Bond movies: Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. As well as Superman II and Silver Streak, but here I think he is at his funniest.
About the only thing that I did have a problem with was with George C. Scott himself. Normally he is a fine actor who usually gives brilliant, flawless performances, but here he added traits to his character that make him annoying. For one thing he speaks with a lisp. I have no idea why he decided to do this, but it doesn’t work. He also wears big bushy eyebrows, which look dumb and distracting.
The film is also too short. It runs at only 80 minutes, but I would have loved to see it keep going. The ending is also a bit of a dud. It seems like the writers wrote themselves into a hole that they had no idea how to get themselves out of, so they just abruptly ended it.
Otherwise this is a creative, highly original comedy that improves with each viewing. It’s great non-think entertainment for a slow evening that can also be enjoyed by the whole family.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: July 31, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes
Director: Gower Champion
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix Streaming