Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On How Crime Does Not Pay - Even in the Movies

Team Bartilucci's hubby half, Vinnie Bartilucci, is in the spotlight this time, with one of our favorite genres, Heist movies!  Take it away, Vinnie!
Heist movies have been around as long as movies.  The Great Train Robbery was one of the first films, made in 1903, a staggering twelve minutes long.  And for almost all of that time, until the Seventies at least, the rule was that the criminals could not get away with their gains. They'd be caught, shot, betrayed, done under by their own greed, or some combination of the above. The idea was all based around what we now call "Imitable Action," what they analyze children's TV shows for. The idea is if something looks cool, people will try to do it. We claim that's a lot of flummery, but about 47% of YouTube videos put the lie to that.

Even Alfred Hitchcock, on his classic TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, was forced to add codas to his stories that revealed that no matter how perfect the murders or crimes were, the miscreants were found out after the cameras stopped rolling.   Sometimes they were witty epilogues, like the one in the classic Lamb to the Slaughter, but more often than not they were almost throwaway, half mumbled, "Of course they were eventually found out and convicted for their crimes" that almost ended with a wink. That rule about The Guilty Must Suffer was all but inviolate.

Heck, even in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, they couldn't get the money, and they didn't even STEAL it. All they did is get greedy, and it was only ONE of them. One almost gets the impression that the message trying to be hammered home wasn't "Don't steal," but "Don't try to better yourself, stay in your place."  But of course, that would be excessively paranoid, wouldn't it?

Come the Sixties, we started to see a subtle shift to the Caper Movie; the planning was much grander, and the payoffs larger than ever. Instead of a mere carefully-planned bank robbery or some such, we'd see a meticulously organized break-in, or perhaps a complicated con job. Plans so outlandish and daring that you want them to get away with it out of sheer respect.   But still that rule had to go and piss on the fish. They came up with a new twist, though; the caper-planners might be able to avoid incarceration, but they could still never get away with the money. So in the original Ocean's Eleven, the money gets burned up as carcinogenic co-conspirator Tony Bergdorf  (Richard Conte) gets unexpectedly cremated. Michael Caine and the gang from The Italian Job get placed in a deadly balancing act with the escape bus teetering on the brink, with the lovely lolly at the far end over the cliff. Every time they try to creep forward to grab it, the bus CREEEEKS precariously forward. I always thought this ending was what was being tributed at the end of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Even my beloved Fitzwilly couldn't get away with the money, no matter how benevolent his reasons.

The Wife analyzed Topkapi a few months back, another example of a cast that you really want to see get away with it, but simply can't. We admire and  appreciate the work of the mastermind of a fine caper, and enjoy watching the exploits of such films come together, as much as we hate watching them fall apart at the end.

The more outlandish the capers got, the more you wanted them to get away with it. They tried everything - they made the miscreants likable, even noble. Two films with somewhat similar capers were also forced to slap on the ironic punishment.  1967's Who's Minding the Mint? (available from the Warner Archive) put Jim Hutton (TV's Ellery Queen) in a position where he's forced to break into the mint to print off legal tender to make up for an accidental destruction of fifty thousand dollars to avoid incarceration.   Long story short, it balloons into printing millions of dollars, and results in a goddamn brilliant madcap comedy. But again, they can't possibly be allowed to get away with the money, so it accidentally gets picked up as trash, leading to a mad chase across town to catch up with the garbage truck before the money is dumped on a barge and lost. This being one of the cases where the crime was for a good reason, enough is salvaged to save Jim's bacon, but no more. At least in this case, they added a coda to suggest they might yet succeed, as over the closing credits, the cast is in scuba gear, heading down to try to retrieve their surreptitious spondulix.  Another house favorite, Gambit, has a similar "Maybe it's not too sad an ending," where while Michael Caine won't benefit from his crime, another cast member might.

Ocean's 11 (1960)
A year later, Seven Times Seven was released in Italy with the same crime - break into the Mint and print a bunch of cash. This one was a bit more complex - the plotters were in prison, so they would have to break OUT of prison, INTO the Mint, then back INTO prison, wait out their sentences, and pick up the cash when they're released. The big soccer final gives them a perfect opportunity, as the guards' eyes will all be glued to the TV, and only occasionally to the security monitors. So a film loop of the convicts milling around the common area will suffice for their cover. It goes pretty smoothly, even with a last-minute reprieve at the end, and they make it back in time.   But of course, The Guilty Must Suffer, so when they go for the money after they're all released, it turns out they used the wrong ink in the printing, and it's faded, rendering the bills worthless. Now one could ask why they had fading ink in the Mint, but that would just confuse things, wouldn't it? It also had a damn fine theme tune.

Ocean's 11 (2001)

It wasn't for some time that the film industry decided there were some cases where it was okay to see the caperists get away with it. Maybe they're really doing it as part of a larger benevolent action like The In-Laws, or they're stealing from a bad guy like in The Sting, or in the case of the remake of Ocean's 11, someone whom we've been educated is just Not Nice. The rise of the antihero helped this along, where we're supposed to like the bad guy, so theoretically that helped. One could argue that the desire to see the bad guy win had been there for years - John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde were folk-heroes at the time they were in action, on and off the screen. But on the whole, people just like to see people get away with it, especially if, as mentioned, they're stealing from a person or organization that is deemed "bad". Brett Ratner's recent Tower Heist was better than the attention it got, and is worth a look on cable. And while I didn't get a chance to see Robot and Frank, everything I've heard suggests I should.

I've mentioned before how much I look forward to the return of the Gentleman Bandit genre. George Clooney's version of Danny Ocean is very close to that; I've often said I think Will Smith could do a great Raffles. Combined with an outlandish Caper Plot, a new Raffles film could burn up the box office.

29 comments:

  1. Good post. Saw "Who's Minding the Mint" a while back and enjoyed - great cast!

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  2. Vinnie and I are glad to hear you're a fan of WHO'S MINDING THE MINT, too! Thanks for your enthusiastic comments, and Happy New Year!

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  3. For years my dad would always comment about Joey Bishop: - "Now I got a sewer guy!"

    Victor Buono is outstanding in "Mint". Throw in my first movie star crush (Jim Hutton) and Dorothy Provine for the hubby and you've got yourself one grand night at the movies!

    Very much enjoyed this look at heists and the opening up of the 60s.

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    1. Caftan Woman, Vinnie and I just knew you guys must be fans of WHO'S MINDING THE MINT, too! What a great cast of character actors! I'll admit it's been a while since I've seen it again uninterrupted, but I'll fix that ASAP! Thanks for your comments, CW, and Happy New Year to you and your family from all of us at Team Bartilucci HQ, including Prince Edward Island native Vinnie! :-)

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  4. Watched RAFFLES just the other day! David Niven can do no wrong onscreen, which makes him a successful thief. I would not mind a remake of that film.

    Speaking of remakes, did you know that Ben Stiller is remaking The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? It due out this year.

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    1. I posted some pics of the filming of the new Mitty some time back. The cast looks very promising, but they don't say who's playing who yet, save for Stiller.

      My greatest hope is the release of the new film will bring us a nice new release of the original.


      http://vbartilucci.tumblr.com/search/danny+kaye

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    2. Java, Vinnie and I are pleased to hear you're a fan of RAFFLES, too! Is David Niven ridiculously suave and likable, or what? And yes, as an avid fan of Danny Kaye in general and Danny's version of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY in particular, I'm hoping Ben Stiller and Company will make a terrific remake. But if it isn't, I'll just have to hope that THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY will come out on DVD/Blu-Ray to coincide with his 100th birthday! :-) Glad you dropped by to talk caper movie with us; drop by any time!

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  5. If we're going to talk about remakes and updates dealing with gentlemen bandits then how about new versions of The Lone Wolf, or Boston Blackie?

    (Although, concerning the latter, Chester Morris left behind some pretty big shoes to sneak around in. The closest anyone ever came to him, in my opinion, would've been Daffy Duck in "Boston Quackie".)

    Vincent! All this talk of heist movies and not ONE MENTION of TOPKAPI. For that you deserve to have "les flics" set on you (French police are always more appropriate for this sort of thing), but Ege Ernart must be in charge.

    But certainly the secret of a "personable" heist film is in finding thieves that at least arouse sympathy in the audience (if not outright empathy). As an example: certainly no one was cheering for Gian Maria Volonte' in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. But, by comparison, by the time Soderbergh's OCEAN'S 13 came out, you were no longer interested in the heist. Rather, you wanted to find out what was new with Danny and Rusty and Reuben and the rest of the gang. You come to like the "gentleman bandit" as a definite character and not simply as the means to blow a vault.

    (Besides, in regards to RAFFLES, who can't help but like a thief that gets Olivia de Havilland as a girlfriend?)

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    1. Michael, Dorian here: we love us some affable Gentlemen Thieves, including Boston Blackie and The Lone Wolf (both available on DVD now, I believe!). My only complaint about Boston Blackie was that the women in those films always ended up being bad gals! I'd love to see a Boston Blackie film in which the bad gal squares off against the good yet smart and tough gal, with our heroine emerging victorious and the wicked woman in the slammer, perhaps being thrown in mud or the like, and they'd make beautiful music together ever after! Yeah, I know, I'm a sucker for romance, within reason! :-)

      Vinnie and I both love TOPKAPI - in fact, I wrote about TOPKAPI here at TotED back in April 2012, and you responded with a delightful reply! It's OK, even Vinnie and I don't always remember all of our blog posts! :-) But this would be a swell time to reintroduce our TOPKAPI post to new readers, especially since TOPKAPI will be showing it on TCM as part of 31 DAYS OF OSCAR on Tuesday, January 22 (which would have been my dear Mom's 87th birthday) at 10:15 p.m! Here's the link:

      In fact, we'd love to have you read that post; we hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it! Feel free to put in your two cents! Here's the link:

      http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2012/04/topkapi-go-schmo.html

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    2. Actually I seem to recall Rochelle Hudson in MEET BOSTON BLACKIE being a good girl (part of that select sorority of women . . . all the way up through Gail Russell's Penelope Worth, Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia, Elizabeth Shue's Dr. Emma Russell and Julia Roberts' Tess Ocean . . . who fall for bad boys). But your wish for a Boston Blackie movie made me think of the relationship between Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones in OCEAN'S 12. Maybe an updated version of the character could play along similar lines.

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  6. Michael, I'd love to see Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones in an upcated Boston Blackie film, especially if it's playful and the women don't all turn out to be evil - just one or two evil gals, to keep things lively until the good gal clobbers the evil vamp! :-)

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  7. Hey, everyone, our longtime friend Jason Simos put in his two cents about WHO'S MINDING THE MINT? Here's what he had to say:

    "Happy New Year!

    Thx so much for hepping people to WHO’S MINDING THE MINT? I was lucky enough to see it on 16mm in summer camp (?!) after having watched the butchered version on the (still-beloved) THE 4:30 MOVIE.

    I have watched it on video since then and am deeply fond of it. I particularly love when Buono 'goes down with the ship,' and of course, the a cappella musical accompaniment that alternates with the score.

    Best,
    Jason"

    You're most welcome, Jason! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a truly Happy New Year, too!

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  8. Good stuff, Vinnie, good stuff! I saw most of those movies YEARS ago but not since -- I'll have to re-view and see what I think now that a few years (A FEW -- haha!) have gone by. I am always interested in the Hollywood phenomena you describe as The Guilty Must Suffer. One of my very favorite movies is The Letter with Bette Davis. She just HATED the stupid ending they put onto that story. You probably know the actual ending of Maugham's story had Leslie Crosby get away with murder. But in the 40's she had to be punished! Bette tried, but failed, to get the real ending.

    The funny part about The Letter's ending is that: Bette had to be punished, so she saw a knife and deliberately walked out into a dark alley, putting herself in harm's way for some unknown reason, and got stabbed. But that means that the Chinese wife and her fellow stabber had to be punished too. So they are arrested in a 3-second scene where a policeman just happens to pass by. Bette was right -- it was stupid!

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    1. Becky, I can well imagine Bette Davis being peeved by THE LETTER's "The Guilty Must Suffer" ending - but I loved it anyway, because Bette is so darn terrific!

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  9. Great overview of heist movie genre! I've just added "Who's Minding the Mint" to my must-see list.

    Also, I love that the word "flummery" was used.

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    1. It was either that, or codswallop.

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    2. Glad you enjoyed Vin's awesome caper movie post, Ruth, as well as his clever usage of "flummery"! We of Team B. are suckers for witty words that one doesn't hear every day! :-D

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  10. Very nice and detailed overview of the caper genre, Vinnie! I'm glad you threw a nod in the direction of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, one of the better latter day heist flicks. There's also ASSAULT ON A QUEEN which, while not entirely a good movie, also features an elaborate heist gone wrong.

    By the way, Team Bartilucci, I've sent a Blogger of the Year 2012 Award your way. See here -

    http://thestalkingmoon.weebly.com/5/post/2013/01/happy-new-year.html

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    1. Jeff, thanks for your enthusiastic comments! Vinnie and I are so glad you joined the conversation here Team Bartilucci's movie heist post! And thanks ever so much for including TotED among the VERSATILE BLOGGER Award! It's a busy weekend here with our day trip to NYC, but we're looking forward to catching up with everyone. Congrats to all, best of luck to your family, and have a wonderful weekend!

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    2. and Poor Richard Conte ended up playing the sap in both, the guy that made it all fall apart. Did he whistle at on of frank's girls or something, and given this Sisyphusian punishment?
      "Henceforth, he shall be in all my films, but he shall play a boob."

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  11. Hi Vinnie!
    So glad you got to do a review for us. : )

    Who doesn't love a great caper? You mention Bonnie and Clyde which was a classic and with that I think of Butch Cassidy and The Sting in this genre. Great review and it's obviously left us thinking of our favorite roles, films and scenes.

    Now, as far as Raffles. I would love to see the character brought to the big screen again and Will Smith is an interesting choice. I'll have to think on that one as I don't see Smith taking on such an iconic character but then again, I'm perfectly fine with Will Smith retiring from acting all together. You bring up Ocean and Clooney with his modern day version then the two sequels which were pretty damn good. Better than the original Ocean's Eleven? I would say, yes! : )

    Back to Raffles. I would love the see a modern day version of The Sting AND To Catch A Thief.

    I already told Dor, Happy New Year but the same to you Vinnie and keep writing if Dorian is willing to give you the space in between her wonderful posts.
    Page

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    1. Hey, Page, Dor here: Vinnie and I love your suggestions! I'm thrilled to have Vin in the spotlight this time around! I assure you that I've always encouraged my sweet smart hubby to post his witty writings here at TotED, and I'm tickled pink that he's finally done so!

      In fact, Vinnie and I have periodically collaborated here with double-feature blog posts ever since our FLICO SUAVE post back in 2010! Feel free to check out the Team Bartilucci team-up that started it all:

      http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2010/10/flico-suave-analysis-of-suaveness-in.html

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  12. Oooh - I LOVE the caper movie!! And especially the caper movie featuring the rich and well dressed and bejeweled. One of my favorite light-hearted capers is "How To Steal a Million." The only thing that gets me to take my eyes off the young and beautiful Peter O'Toole is Audrey Hepburn's to-die-for wardrobe. Hmmm - after reading this, I feel like casing the joint....

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    1. Hey, Chick, Dorian here: I had a feeling a soignee gal like you would enjoy our caper movie post! And who wouldn't be tempted to case the joint with swells like Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, a.k.a. "The Finest Man Who Ever Breathed," according to the wacky 1967 version of CASINO ROYALE? :-D Thanks for joining in our caper film cut-ups!

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  13. I love a great classic caper film and you have listed some of my favorites, but.. Bonnie and Clyde, is my all time favorite. I'm a huge Fay Dunaway fan and loved every movie she was in .. which reminds me of another favorite, sexy caper film .. Thomas Crown Affair.

    I have not yet seen George Clooney's version of Danny Ocean. I may have to get my hands on a copy of that film. After reading your awesome post, I'm in the mood for a good caper film.

    Happy New Year Vinnie and Dorian!!

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    1. Hey, Dawn, Happy New Year to you and yours, too! Vinnie and I are happy to have you joining Vin's caper movie conversation! I really like the choices you suggested, especially the original 1968 THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Not that there's anything wrong with the 1999 version, a favorite of my dear late mom - she was a big Pierce Brosnan fan, bless her! I agree that BONNIE AND CLYDE counts as a seminal caper movie. We hope you'll check out the 2001 version of OCEAN'S 11, too; it's really fun, and has affectionate tips of the hat to the 1960 original!

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  14. Hey, gang, Dori here: Vinnie wrote another great caper movie review last summer during our BEST HITCHCOCK MOVIES (THAT HITCHCOCK NEVER MADE) Blogathon: namely, David Mamet's THE SPANISH PRISONER! Indeed, I'm surprised Vin didn't mention it here. By all means, read the link below, and feel free to comment on it now. Here's the link:

    http://40yearoldfanboy.blogspot.com/2012/07/on-importance-of-jumping-only-to-right.html

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  15. I need to get a hold of THE ITALIAN JOB and WHO'S MINDING THE MINT (looks like the WB Archives will be getting more of my business!). I just watched TOPKAPI for the first time, thanks to a library copy, and loved it. Dorian and I have discussed this film in the past. Peter Ustinov just steals the film! By coincidence on my Twenty Four Frames FB page, I just listed my top five favorite heist films (Topkapi made the list). May want to check it out. Making lists, for me, is a never ending thing because they are constantly in flux, especially as you find a new film you have not seen before. Anyway, a great and entertaining post, Vinnie!

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  16. Reading about 'Seven Times Seven' reminded me of a couple of British films. 'Two Way Stretch' also hinges on the thieves (in this case, including Peter Sellers) escaping from prison, doing the robbery then breaking back into prison. The other film, 'The Big Job' has the crooks hiding the loot in a tree which they return to after they get out of prison only to fid it's now in the yard of a police station. Both are lots of fun.

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