by Bill Hawk



Paramount, 1969, Color, 99 minutes- Paramount DVD

Michael Caine: "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"

Don't worry, Michael- the lads will get it right eventually. After all, nobody wants to mess up when millions worth of gold bullion is involved, the lot of it to be heisted from the home turf of the Mafia- who have issued some less-than-subtle threats regarding the caper. Sure, there are some tricky angles to the scheme, like the computer-sabotaging bit, and the escape through an ensuing traffic jam- but with such a talented and dedicated criminal crew, the chances are it'll work. Maybe.

This picture is a touchstone of good old Swinging Sixties England, and is imbued with that era's style and cheekiness- the latter embodied by Caine, who is fresh out of prison and eager for a big score. After making up for lost time with some groovy females, Caine looks for backing from incarcerated crime boss Noel Coward, who lives more like a country lord than a prison inmate. There are some bumps along the way, but the big heist does go down- and then it's time for the film's famous getaway, with three tiny, gold-bearing Mini Coopers going all sorts of places that they aren't supposed to. With Quincy Jones' funky musical score playing along, this iconic sequence is Fun with a capital "F". And it climaxes with a real cliffhanger of an ending- a setup for a sequel which sadly never materialized. But at least we have this one- a G-rated(!) caper flick that will put a smile on your face and a tire-squealing song in your heart, mate. Disc extras include audio commentary and a documentary.

Salsipuedes Productions, 1980, Color, 104 mins.- MGM DVD

Bruce MacDonald: "Well, that must be it- everybody we know is hard to live with."

Maybe in the long term, but for one weekend they all get along well enough- a bunch of old friends just hanging out in a rural New Hampshire town, chatting, playing games, getting stoned, fooling around, and generally acting like real people instead of characters in a movie. This is a bad thing if you're looking for a plot arc, and a good thing if you're interested in seeing a snapshot of some folks who are a decade away from their "Student radical" days but who haven't compromised their old principles. Over the course of a couple of days, characters are illuminated, relationships shift, a couple of life-changing decisions are made.......and then everybody goes their own way again. Sorta like real life.

Sometimes referred to as "The Little Chill," in reference to a later Hollywood picture that had a rather similar setup, this was the freshman effort of noted independent filmmaker John Sayles, who got his start toiling for B-movie great Roger Corman. Sayles made use of his live theatre group for this rather low-budget film, and it does come off like a stage play, focusing on character and dialogue. But the characters are believably drawn and the dialogue rings true, and there is an enjoyable vein of humor running through the picture. It will be appreciated by those who like small, intimate dramas and by students of film, who will find the audio commentary by Sayles to be of particular interest.

Warner Bros., 1947, B&W, 126 mins.- Warners Spec. Ed. DVD

Walter Huston: "I know what gold does to men's souls. "

Veteran prospector Huston has indeed witnessed the corrosive effects of greed, but when the opportunity comes for another quest in search of the yellow stuff, he jumps at the chance. Not that he and his compatriots, Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt, have much to lose- they've been living like bums, stuck in a 1920s Mexican town where they can't even get a job shining shoes in the street. But a little dough comes their way, and they're off- on an expedition which proves to be a lot harder than the two younger men anticipated. Their persistence pays off, however, and before long they have their own private- and illegal- mining operation going. As it progresses, they face threats from a competitor and from some of the local bandits, but the real threat comes from within......for as the gold dust piles up, so do their baser instincts......

This lean, mean masterpiece from famed screenwriter/director John Huston packed a considerable punch for its time, and while it shines less brightly in our more cynical age, it's still an absorbing piece of filmmaking. It's anti-materialistic, anti-heroic, politically incorrect, and has an ending that positively drips with acid-etched irony. It shows men at their worst- particularly Bogart, whose downward slide is both fascinating and horrible. That negative portrayal is balanced-out by Huston's fast-talking old codger, who is no saint but who sails on a more even keel. As it turned out, the elder Huston was the recipient of one of this film's three Oscars- the other two going to his son John. All three statuettes were richly deserved. Extras on this terrific two-disc set include audio commentary, documentaries, and vintage short subjects.


For more "DVD Movie Reviews" click here to view back issues.


© Melt Magazine 2003