By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Robbery done inside safe.
Inspired by the British hit Perfect Friday this inventive and original bank heist film holds up well and has a great mix of action and comedy as well as oozing with cynical sensibilities and jaded characters. It is one of the very few films ever made that has a symbol for its title and no words. Although most reference books do list the word ‘dollars’ in parenthesis, technically it is the dollar sign that is the official title. It also has the distinction of not displaying its title on screen in any type of print format. Instead a brief scene with a large steel structure made into a dollar sign is shown at the beginning being hauled in the air by a crane.
The story evolves around a crafty bank robbery devised by Joe Collins (Warren Beatty) who is also the bank’s security expert. He comes to realize that various criminals have stolen money stored in the safety deposit boxes inside the bank’s safe. He figures that he could steal the money from them and they would be unable to go to the police. He gets a ditzy call-girl named Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn), who has been a prostitute to most of the criminals whose money is in the safe, to call in a bomb threat to the bank. As the bank is evacuated, Joe enters the safe and closes it. He then methodically transfers the money from the bad guy’s boxes and into Dawn’s, who also rents a box there, as the bomb squad searches for the explosive. Then the next day Dawn takes the money from her box and stuffs it into her bag without anyone suspecting a thing.
Of course this is only the first-part. The second half deals with the crooks slowly figuring out what happened and chasing down Joe, who they think has the money. This begins one of the longest and most elaborate chase sequences ever put on film. It takes up almost the whole second hour and it is amazing. Joe ends up being chased through city streets, tunnels, subways, trains, and even on a frozen lake with thin ice. Beatty did most of his own stunts here, which is impressive especially during the lake sequence, which was done on location in Sweden. When he goes through the ice he is really going into icy water and seems to be genuinely struggling to get out. Veteran character actor Scott Brady is memorable as one of the antagonists named Sarge. He was much older than Beatty, but this contrast is fun, especially with the very relentless way he stays on Joe’s tail despite being out-of-shape.
Goldie is great as always, somehow her ditzy blonde routine never seems to get old and it is played to perfection here. I did have a few issues with the character though. She has sex with these slimy middle-aged men and even plays out their kinky fantasies, but ends up only taking $100 dollars from them for her ‘services’. I know this takes place in 1971, but even if you factor in inflation it still seemed low when these guys were loaded. I also thought her attitude was a little too carefree. She invited these men into her apartment, but seemed to have no back-up plan in case things got out of control, which seemed risky. It is also never explained how Joe came to know her, or devise the plan that he did, but it would have been helpful. There also the fact that despite being a very crucial link in the plan she shows little confidence and describes how she always breaks down under pressure. It is nice that Joe stays supportive and sticks with her, but I felt it was unrealistic. Just about anyone else would have second thoughts about going through with it when they have a partner who is so shaky, or at the very least considered someone who is more self-assured.
Beatty is a terrific. He displays a cool demeanor and nicely underplays everything. His mop-top Beatles like haircut shows in a subtle, visual way his non-conformity from the more staid and conventionally dressed bank mangers.
Gert Frobe, best known as the villainous Auric Goldfinger from the classic James Bond film Goldfinger, is a hoot as the bumbling, clueless bank manager Mr. Kessel. The only actor I didn’t like was Arthur Brauss as ‘the candy man’. He certainly had the steely cold eyes of a killer, but his excessively raspy voice was a distraction and did not sound natural. There was no reason given why he sounded that way, but I would have liked one.
Even after 40 years the film still seems fresh. There are certain things here that I have never seen anywhere else. The prolonged chase is one, but there is also the scene where, to get Joe out of the safe, they have a torch burn a hole through the metal. They use an actual blowtorch and the sounds of it burning into the metal as well as the smoke and flying sparks is vivid and exciting.
I know my brother, who once watched the film with me, as well as other reviewers on IMDB, have complained that the first part of the film is too disjointed, slow and confusing. It does have a certain fragmented, cinema-vertite style to it where the viewer is forced to make their own connections, but I have watched this movie several times and it has never bothered me. The robbery and chase are so creative that I feel it more than makes up for any other limitations. This early segment also effectively show how nasty the villainous men are and there is a part where, at a strip club, a stripper has a giant image of a dollar bill projected on her nude body, which I found to be evocative and artsy.
Critic Leonard Maltin has called this film ‘awfully similar to Perfect Friday’, but I have to disagree. I have seen both movies, which are excellent in their own right, but quite different in a lot of aspects. If you are looking for light entertainment that is exciting and still intelligently done, than this is a good flick to check-out.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: December 17, 1971
Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute
Director: Richard Brooks
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video