Riding high on the James Bond/spy wave, some of the most memorable movies from the 1960s are international affairs, with art and jewel thievery being a completely reasonable career choice. Thankfully, 1968’s “Grand Slam,” does nothing to dispel any of these cliches.
As the movie opens, Edward G. Robinson, playing a Brazilian history teacher, retires from a life spent teaching and flies back home to the US. Upon his arrival, he visits Mark, a high school friend who he has heard has made a career in nefarious activities. He shows Mark a film of his classroom. Mark is unimpressed until the camera pans across the street to show the bank and the large number of diamonds and come in and out of there. Mark hooks him up with a group of thieves with a variety of specialties. The professor then disappears and the group he has assembled takes over, planning their heist in Rio during carnival.
The plot of heist movies are pretty much written in stone by this point. (Hell, they were pretty much irreversible in 1968 too.) A crack team is assembled, they clash, there’s a problem with their plan, and then the heist takes place. “Grand Slam,” doesn’t have any big surprises or twists to the formula. However, what it does have in its favor, (and in great abundance,) is the look and feel of a movie from the late 60s. There’s the great Ennio Morricone score. (It’s not a large, imposing score- in fact, much of the movie is music-free, but the title theme is so good, you can’t overlook his contribution.) There’s the acting. The standout is Klaus Kinski playing, you guessed it, a crazy German. The rest of the cast is equally great. Robert Hoffmann, Riccardo Cucciolla and George Rigaud are all great as members of the crew. Janet Leigh is a bank worker who must be won over for the heist to work. (One of the few unique additions to “Grand Slam,” is Hoffmann’s portrayal of Jean-Pierre, a crew member brought as a seducer of Leigh. That’s it. He can’t crack a safe, he can’t break into buildings, he can seduce chicks. Only in a 60’s movie can that count as a special criminal skill.)
The heist takes place during Carnival and the tension is nicely created and drawn out by the ambient noise. Of course things are going to go wrong during the heist, of course members of the group are not going to get along and of course there will be a few twists before the end of the movie. However, it never feels like the plot clunking into place here, and instead, it’s a genuinely involving, exciting and interesting heist movie. Sure, it doesn’t move at the pace of today’s movies but that’s one of its charms. Directed by Giuliano Montaldo, (who has spent much of his career directing low-budget euro film,) “Grand Slam,” is a fun couple of hours. It’s not the greatest thing you’ve ever seen, but it’s not presented in a way that makes you upset over this fact.
If you’re like me, and enjoy a good 1960s heist movie, you’ll really love “Grand Slam.” -Sam