When it kicks off, The Squeeze—variously known by titles including Diamond Thieves and The Heist and The Rip-Off, and released sporadically through various international territories from 1978 to 1981—seems as if it might offer some kicky thrills. Craggy old Lee Van Cleef, whose occasional appearances in quality films such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) can only be seen as aberrations during a career dominated by low-budget international crap, shows up wearing a pimp-worthy white trench coat and a weird hairstyle including a bald dome, a halo of long gray hair, and a nattily trimmed beard. He looks ready to get down to some sort of nasty business, so when he’s approached by an ambitious young crook (Edward Albert) for help pulling a diamond heist, one hopes nefarious activities are in the offing. Things get even more promising when Our Lee decamps to New York City and hooks up with his favorite fence, played by the gravel-voiced bear Lionel Stander. And then it all goes to hell. The story gets lost in nonsensical double-crosses, to the point where it’s difficult to track what’s happening, and Our Lee gets sidelined with a gunshot wound, inexplicably shacking up in the apartment of a loudmouthed New Yorker (Karen Black). The movie quickly becomes an interminable death march of scenes in which nothing happens, punctuated by reiterations of the same awful jazz/funk music cue that repeats on the soundtrack, as if the producers were too cheap to commission an entire score (probably true). Van Cleef, who could thrive with good material, as seen by his bad-ass performance in Escape from New York (1981), delivers the worst kind of cash-the-paycheck acting here, reading every line with exactly the same menacing growl. As for the other actors, they barely register thanks to the story’s numbing incoherence. So, even though the ending has the tiniest amount of satisfactory zip, getting there isn’t worth the trouble.
The Squeeze: SQUARE