“Is it true what the papers say? Is it true that you’re involved in many activities, from paid murder to high finance?”
The heist movie has a venerable history ranging from such fine 1950s entries as The Asphalt Jungle (directed by John Huston, with Sterling Hayden); Rififi (1954, directed by Jules Dassin); and The Killing (1956, directed by Stanley Kubrick, also with Sterling Hayden) to Ocean’s Eleven (1960, directed by Lewis Milestone, with Frank Sinatra) and Topkapi (1964, directed by Jules Dassin, with Peter Ustinov) to more recent efforts like Heist (2001, directed by David Mamet, with Gene Hackman). Back in the 1960s and the heyday of the Spaghetti Western, and also a time when many American actors found themselves in Europe picking up small parts in various European co-productions, the heist film Grand Slam was released. It was a 1967, joint Italian-German-Spanish effort that sported an Italian director, Giuliano Montaldo, and an international cast including Americans Edward G. Robinson and Janet Leigh, Germany’s Klaus Kinski, Austrian Robert Hoffmann, Argentinian George Rigaud (who did much of his work in Spain), and Italians Riccardo Cucciolla and Adolfo Celi (of Thunderball fame).
The story begins with Professor James Anders, who has been a teacher in Rio de Janeiro for 30 years. During that time he has observed the shipment of diamonds twice a year to the Brazilian Diamond Company, a building near where he taught. Anders develops an elaborate plan to steal the diamonds, and when he retires from his job, he returns to New York where he contacts old childhood friend Mark Milford who is now a very successful crime boss. He proposes that Milford provide the skilled individuals needed to carry out the robbery and all will share in the stolen proceeds. Milford assembles a team of four, led by strongman Erich Weiss and also including a safe cracking specialist and a smooth ladies man. The need for the latter two soon becomes obvious. The diamonds are kept in a safe protected by an elaborate alarm system called “grand slam,” and one component to opening the safe is a special key that will somehow need to be borrowed from Mary Ann, who is a trusted worker at the building. The heist is carried out successfully during the annual Carnival celebrations in Rio, but as is so often the case, matters then start to go awry.
Grand Slam is not as well known as some of the more famous heist films, but it deserves to be. The plot is an engaging one that really grabs one’s attention after a slow build-up in the first third of the film, and then ends with a nice twist. The actual sequence of opening the safe develops some real suspense as the director cuts between the safecrackers, their leader who has run into a hitch in the plan, and the returning watchmen. In the style of Rififi, most of this is carried out without dialogue. Part of the film’s attraction is the four-man gang charged with the actual heist. Although not entirely novel, contrast is effectively drawn between the abilities and personalities of the four, with Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of Erich Weiss as the barely-under-control leader being particularly noteworthy. Although first-billed, Janet Leigh’s role is more of a supporting part, but she seems fairly engaged in it. It’s always a pleasure, too, to see Edward G. Robinson. As Professor Anders, he has a key but small part that bookends the film. There is also a playfully entertaining score by Ennio Morricone.
The DVD is from Blue Underground, by way of Image Entertainment, but has very much the look and feel of an Anchor Bay release. It sports a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that features bright colours and a clear image that looks quite film-like. There is some evidence of aging in the occasional scratch and speckle, and grain is apparent from time to time, but for what is not likely to be a major DVD seller, the film looks quite attractive. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (in both English and French) and is adequate for the film’s needs. Supplements include the original theatrical trailer, a stills and poster gallery of some 40-odd images, and a nice lobby card reproduction on the case insert card.