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The Biggest Bundle of Them All

The Biggest Bundle of Them All(1968)

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teaser The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968)

The posters for this movie made it very clear what the producers meant to advertise as the Biggest Bundle, or at least who they banked on to bring them a bundle at the box office. Images of Raquel Welch in a bikini were to the 1960s what Betty Grable's pin-up pose was to the World War II years. A shot of the leading sex symbol of the decade dominating the poster was considered enough to bring at least the male segment of the audience into theaters. What they found once they got there was not just a showcase for Miss Welch but a crack ensemble cast in a nutty crime-caper comedy. And beyond the scenic wonders of its voluptuous star, audiences were also treated to the beauty of several Italian locations and that standard of heist flicks, the action sequence aboard a train.

A group of rather inept Americans in Italy kidnap a deported Mafia boss attending the funeral of an old mob associate. The scheme runs into a quick dead-end, however, when it becomes apparent that not only is Cesare Celli flat broke and supported by his mistress, but no one is willing to come across with the meager $50,000 ransom. So instead Celli proposes that the kidnappers join him in the heist of $5 million in platinum ingots from the train they're being shipped on. The robbery turns into a screwy comedy of errors that somehow, against all odds, ends up a success...almost.

If the plot sounds a little familiar to the astute viewer, it's because it's very close to The Happening (1967), in which a group of hippies kidnap a retired Mafia kingpin. Anthony Quinn played the don who, unable to raise his ransom, enlists the gang in an even bigger crime venture. Both scripts were developed around the same time; an agreement between the two production companies resulted in The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968) being released later. In this one, Italian film veteran Vittorio De Sica brings a great deal of heart and humor to the role of Celli, the hapless mobster. As the leader of the American gang, Robert Wagner is top-billed in a cast that includes film great Edward G. Robinson in a small role as the mastermind behind the robbery, and a number of Italian actors, many of them making their American film debut. One Italian name in the cast actually belonged to the Welsh-born Victor Spinetti. Prior to this film, he appeared in three Beatles movies.

The film is also a chance to catch one of the most popular black comic actors of the time, Godfrey Cambridge. Largely neglected today, Cambridge went on from this picture to make a string of social satires that often took American racial issues as the starting point of their humor: Bye Bye Braverman (1968), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Watermelon Man (1970), and Come Back, Charleston Blue (1972). A unique and versatile performer, Cambridge died of a heart attack on the set of the TV movie Victory at Entebbe (1976), in which he was to have portrayed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada.

Director: Ken Annakin
Producers: Josef Shaftel, Sy Stewart
Screenplay: Josef Shaftel, Sy Salkowitz
Cinematography: Piero Portalupi
Editing: Ralph Sheldon
Art Design: Arrigo Equini
Music: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Robert Wagner (Harry), Raquel Welch (Juliana), Vittorio De Sica (Cesare Celli), Godfrey Cambridge (Benny), Edward G. Robinson (Professor Samuels), Victor Spinetti (Captain Giglio), Davy Kaye (Davey), Mickey Knox (Joe Ware).
C-109m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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