Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – The Anderson Tapes (1971)

by RICHARD WINTERS

In Sean Connery’s long and storied career playing in a wide variety of films, The Anderson Tapes somehow always gets lost in the shuffle, which is unfair as it is really an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Fortunately in October it was finally released to DVD and the print is excellent. There is now discussion of a remake, but see the original first. I highly recommend this movie not only to fans of Connery or director Sidney Lumet, but also to those who enjoy movies with an offbeat story and approach.

The story involves a man by the name of Duke Anderson (Connery), who upon being released from prison seeks to borrow money from the mob in order to finance a high-scale robbery of an apartment building populated by affluent tenants. The problem is that Duke is being tailed by the government who, through means of sophisticated electronic devices, is able to record everything he says and does. Even by today’s standards I thought the gadgetry and the way it was used was quite clever.

Many things help make this film stand out. One is the very distinctive music score by the legendary Quincy Jones. It has a weird electronic, techno quality to it that nicely compliments all the gadgetry in the story.

The casting is also interesting. Martin Balsam, who made a career playing typical, everyman characters, appears here as a flaming gay interior decorator, which he does hilariously well. Comedian Alan King gets cast in a serious role as the crime boss. Even the casting of Connery is offbeat. Usually he plays characters with strong personalities who are very much in control. Here he plays a character who is constantly forced to compromise and trying desperately just to hold everything together. He even ends up getting rejected by his girlfriend (played by Dyan Cannon) for another man and all Connery’s character can do is stand there looking dumbfounded.

The script has some really sharp dialogue. This is probably the third or fourth time that I have seen this film and yet I was still impressed by some of the great lines that I hadn’t caught on the previous viewings. One should actually make a point to watch this film twice just to take in all the great writing, which coincidentally was by Frank Pierson, the same person who wrote Dog Day Afternoon.

However, the most unique thing about the movie is the actual robbery sequence, which is made memorable by director Sidney Lumet’s innovative approach. It is told in semi-flashback form where you see a scene of the robbery and then it cuts to a scene where the victim recounts what happened to the police, making for some creative segues. The robbery victims are full of odd quirks, which makes them quite amusing. Two of the best ones involve Margaret Hamilton, best known as the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz, who plays a cursing, argumentative elderly woman in this, her final film role. I also like the bedridden, paraplegic young boy (Scott Jacoby) who is far more resourceful than anyone thinks and ends up single-handedly ruining all of the gang’s well thought out plans.

The robbery sequence also edits in scenes of the police force quietly setting up to raid the building. I especially like the shots of the S.W.A.T. team members sliding along a rope from one high rise rooftop to another. It is photographed in a realistic way so you see them dangling high in the air with nothing but the street below, which actually made me cringe a little. This is also a great chance to see Garret Morris in a pre-Saturday Night Live role playing the head of the S.W.A.T. team.

There is very little that I didn’t like in this film, as I found it to be very original and engaging from start to finish. However, of the two issues that I do have, one is the ending which in typical 70s fashion was a bit of a downer. It does have a twist to it, but it is not as clever as I think the filmmakers thought it was. There is also a glaring, if trivial factual error that is out of place in a film as sophisticated and polished as this one is. It is a woman on a phone stating that she is calling from Wichita Falls, Kansas. Now Kansas does have a city of Wichita, but Wichita Falls is actually in Texas.

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Possibly related posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Review of Dog Day Afternoon

3 responses to “Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – The Anderson Tapes (1971)

  1. The film was based upon a popular novel that caught the public fascination with what were then a much newer idea: wire taps and electronic surveillance. Many critics were unhappy that the actors, and not the technology, carried the film.

  2. Terrific heist film. I believe it was Christopher Walken’s first movie.

  3. Actually, Christopher Walken’s film debut was in the odd docu-drama from 1969 called ‘Me and My Brother’

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