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Grand Slam

Grand Slam(1968)

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A schoolteacher (Edward G. Robinson) recruits a team of criminals, all specialists in their fields, for a daring jewel robbery in Rio de Janeiro at the height of the city's Carnival. Their target is a high security vault containing $10 million in diamonds which is surrounded by an elaborate maze of alarm-triggered laser beams. The heist is timed to the last second but first the thieves have to gain entrance to the fortress that houses the safe and the key is in the possession of a meek secretary (Janet Leigh). Will she succumb to the romantic overtures of an international ladies' man and con-artist hired for just this occasion?

A rarely seen but highly entertaining example of the heist thriller - Grand Slam (1967) - now available on DVD from Blue Underground - has many pleasures to offer the uninitiated, from its eclectic cast (Edward G. Robinson, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski!!), to its exotic locations (Paris, Rome, New York, London and Rio) to the percolating pop score by Ennio Morricone (the theme song sounds like a goofy homage to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass/Burt Bacharach collaboration on the Casino Royale [1967] main theme). While Grand Slam lacks the intensity and grim seriousness of other caper movies like The Killing (1956) or Rififi (1955), it does share with those films an ending and a message that would make the Production Code enforcers of Hollywood's golden age quite happy - cheaters never win. Ah, but somebody does profit in this jewel heist and the surprise twist ending of Grand Slam ends the film on a note of comic irony that is all the more appropriate for taking place in a Rome piazza.

In terms of ranking Grand Slam against other movies in its genre, it would fit comfortably between, say, the original version of Ocean's Eleven (1960), a rather ponderous and vastly overrated heist film, and its peppier, more stylish 2000 remake starring George Clooney. Though Grand Slam is a relatively lightweight affair, it does feature some surprising moments of violence and the unexpected demise of some major characters. In fact, Klaus Kinski's borderline psychotic getaway driver often seems to have dropped in from a more deadly caper thriller but you have to admit his numerous facial tics and snarling behavior are enormously entertaining (his introduction into the film - performing an aerial stunt - is also hilarious). Edward G. Robinson makes a wry appearance in what amounts to little more than a cameo role but it is really Janet Leigh and Robert Hoffmann as her would-be seducer who are entrusted with carrying the picture. While their on-again, off-again courtship generates some suspense, it is really the actual diamond heist which is the film's highpoint and it's a visually dazzling set piece. Additional eye candy is provided by the numerous Rio carnival street scenes and the whole affair moves along a fast clip under the direction of Giuliano Montaldo (Machine Gun McCain, 1970).

The Grand Slam DVD is a bit skimpy on extras - it only offers the theatrical trailer and a poster and stills gallery - but the picture quality is outstanding for a relatively obscure mid-sixties feature; it's presented in a widescreen format (2.35:1/16:9) and the playful interactive menus feature sound cues from Morricone's delightful score. This is the English language version but you also have the option to select the French language version (no optional subtitles for that). For more information about Grand Slam, visit the distributor's web site at Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase a copy of Grand Slam, visit Movies Unlimited.

by Jeff Stafford