Monday, March 18, 2013

$ a/k/a Dollars (1971)

          Obnoxiously titled with a typographical symbol instead of proper language, writer-director Richard Brooks’ $ is among the least memorable heist movies ever made, despite the presence of two highly charismatic stars, Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.
          Brooks’ story is a paper-thin lark about a security expert who uses his inside knowledge to steal money that criminals have deposited in a German bank—ostensibly the “perfect crime” because the victims cannot seek redress through proper authorities. Hawn figures into the storyline as a prostitute who employs her wiles to pump criminals for information, and of course her characters is in love with Beatty’s. Theoretically, this should be a formula for frothy fun, but two major factors put a damper on the proceedings. First and most damagingly, Brooks lacks the lightness of touch that someone like, say, Blake Edwards brings to the heist genre. Brooks gets so preoccupied with the machinations of plot that watching $ is a bit like doing tedious math homework—things get zippier once the movie shifts into an extended chase scene that chews up the entire third act, but up to that point, tracking the picture’s interchangeable supporting characters is tiresome. (That said, it’s a hoot that Brooks cast Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe, as a bank manager tasked wit protecting, among other things, a giant bar of gold.)
          The movie’s second big impediment is its leading man. Beatty gives an indifferent performance, presumably because he was at a strange juncture in his career. After piddling away the early ’60s in a string of overwrought melodramas, he reinvented himself not only as an actor of substance but also as a formidable producer with Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Then he disappeared from the screen for three years, resurfaced in yet another overwrought melodrama (1970’s The Only Game in Town), and subsequently issued mixed messages: The same year Beatty starred in $, the epitome of vapid nonsense, he starred in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the epitome of challenging New Hollywood cinema. Therefore, $ raised a troubling question: Will the real Warren Beatty please stand up? Anyway, Hawn, as always, does her best to enliven the proceedings with her comeliness and ebullience, but $ fits with the paradigm of other early Hawn films—she’s simultaneously offered to the audience as a childlike flibbertigibbet and as a dimwitted sex object. Creepy.
          Nonetheless, it’s impossible to call $ a complete wash, because the film’s production values are top-notch, the jazzy score by Quincy Jones has a good bounce to it, and one presumes that dedicated fans of the stars will find much to enjoy. For those who crave more than empty spectacle and marquee-name eye candy, however, $ is far from compelling.

$ a/k/a Dollars: FUNKY

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought the chase sequence that takes up about the entire second half of the film was impressive and fun. Especially the part done on a frozen lake that has Beatty going through the ice. He did his own stunt work.