The Anderson Tapes 1971 A Movie A Day Day 91

I remembered this movie extremely well, even though I have not seen it for twenty years. The first time I saw it was on it’s release in 1971. Sean Connery appeared in his last “Official” Bond project the same year this came out (Diamonds are Forever). In this movie the character has none of the charm or sophistication of 007. Duke Anderson is a tough burglar, capable of violence but not really prone to it. There is a self righteous speech he gives to the psychologist at the prison on the day that he is released, that indicates he is angry and a bit of a sociopath. From the very beginning though, we see a pretty good relationship with a younger criminal and an old timer, that tells us that though he is a crook, he may not be a bad guy to know. I don’t think I saw many movies with my friend Mark Witt. We met at Margarita Elementary School in the 7th grade, and we were good friend until we graduated Alhambra High. I seem to recall going with him to the Alhambra Theater for this film. Although I remember the film quite well I am a little fuzzy on the circumstances.

Sidney Lumet is the director of this movie and he made several excellent crime films in the 1970s. Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico are the best known of these films, both are rightly celebrated. It is unfair that this movie does not have the same reputation. The actor’s roles are not as flashy, but the direction of the movie is taut and very much in keeping with the gritty atmosphere of other New York based crime films. Let me point out two illustrations of how this movie reflected a real New York early 70’s vibe. The police squad that is asked to enter the building that is the scene of the crime, is shown struggling to get across the rooftops of the building next door. Their climb up a wall is not smooth but rather quite labored. Garrett Morris, who later appeared on the original Saturday Night Live, plays the leader of the team. After he slides down the rope from one building to another, and lands on the roof, he looks down at his hands. The skin on his palms is torn, there is blood and obvious pain on his face. This is not some anonymous SWAT team, that mechanically does their jobs like perfectly programmed robots. These are guys struggling to do the best they can in the situation and not always rising up to the moment gracefully. Another example of the grit that Lumet adds to the movie is a short insert that has nothing to do with the story. I would be really surprised if it was even in the script. Two ambulance attendants are down on the police perimeter getting the ambulance ready if the police raid goes bad. One of them is replacing a pillowcase on a pillow in the ambulance. If you look quickly, you can see that the pillow has a big bloodstain on it. The case will cover that and make the pillow look fresh, but we all know that there is nothing clean and starched about what is going to happen. It’s a two or three second shot that tells you this is real.

This is Christopher Walken’s first adult role after being a juvenile actor on Broadway and TV. You can tell by watching him that there is something different and compelling about him as an actor. I already wrote that these were not flashy acting roles, this is an ensemble crime drama, but everyone adds some special touches. As they get released from prison, Walken’s character talks about wanting to just eat America up it is so great. He has a fun flair with that line. Martin Balsam is in this movie doing a gay character and the stereotyping is something that GLAAD would be all over today. Both Balsam and Connery are wearing toupees,but we are supposed to notice Balsam’s character has one on. Alan King plays a mob boss who is financing the teams elaborate holdup, I mentioned Garrett Morris already. Dyan Cannon, is once again the bombshell looker (or in this case hooker) that fills the female part, but it is a small role as well. It should be noted that there is some sexuality but no nudity. It was shot in the discrete style of the early seventies. If you compare it to Sidney Lumet’s last movie,”Before the Devil Knows You Are Dead” you will be amazed at the shift in cultural guidelines.

The story is told in a distinct style that in part explains the Title. This crime was being planned and many police agencies should have been able to figure that out. The mob boss is wiretapped by the IRS, the decorator is the subject of an FBI investigation on antique fencing, the girlfriend is being eavesdropped on by her client who hired private investigators to wiretap the apartment he provides her. The Kid played by Walken is being monitored by the Narcotics Bureau in NYC. Of course there is a lot of public electronic video as well. This movie was made in 1971, here we are today talking about some of the same privacy issues and now everybody is watching on-line. In my blog on “The Life of Brian”, you will find a link to a web cam at the Chinese Theater. You can look at Tommy Trojan 24 hours a day. So the premise of the story is we hear about all the set up through the surveillance that is going on. Pieces of the puzzle are brought together in an interesting way. The outcome is told in an equally interesting manner. We get a series of flashbacks from interviews done with the victims after the crime is over. Storytelling is very innovative and interesting in the screenplay and shooting of the movie.

All of this came out two years before we had heard of the Watergate Tapes and the famous 18 minute gap. When the feds doing illegal wiretaps here that the character played by Connery is on their tapes, they panic and start ordering the tapes be erased. This was really prophetic,given the way the Watergate investigation went down and the Oval Office tapes robbed Nixon of his legitimacy. Today, with digital recording, the information would end up in so many places, you could never be sure that it was all wiped out. The climax of the film involves a shootout, a brief car chase and crash and some mystery. It happens quick so pay close attention. If you are reading this blog because you are interested in 70’s films, you really should see this. It is not well known, but it has all the hallmarks of a classic 70’s heist picture. I suggest a double feature with this and the original “Taking of Pellham 123”, you will have a great afternoon or evening in the presence of real film makers.

Two Mules For Sister Sara 1970 A Movie A Day Day 90

Alright, one last Clint Eastwood picture before the end of the blog. Clint single handily kept the western alive in the 1970’s. Sure there were occasional westerns, but just about every year for the entire decade, there was a Clint Eastwood Western. He started off the decade of the seventies with this Spaghetti Style western, shot not by Sergio Leone, who had made him a star in his man with no name trilogy, but by his American director of choice, Don Siegel. This movie was also shot in the U.S. and Mexico, not in Europe. It has most of the same atmosphere as the Spaghetti Westerns, but with stronger film stock and actors whose lip movement matches the words they are producing. It also has a score by Ennio Morricone, who did the Leone westerns and turns in a nice theme that is irritating because it gets in your head and stays there. Allison did not care much for the “simulated”mule brays that are part of the tune, but I think they are a very nice touch to distinguish this music from some of the other scores that Morricone wrote.

Shirley Maclaine, is still working,and at the time this movie came out, I think she was top billed. When I was eight or nine I had a little crush on the red-headed girl that lived on the corner, Barbara Duffy. I saw this movie when it came out and I was 12, Shirlee Maclaine is cute as can be and very sexy. I never dated a woman with red hair but if Dolores wanted to go all Shirley red, I wouldn’t mind for a week or two. The opening scene is probably not supposed to be too sexy, after all the rotten cowboys are about to take advantage of the poor girl, but her red hair and fair skin being substantially exposed, is enough to imprint on a 12 year old. Her politics and personal life are not my cup of tea, but she is a terrific actress who has a very strong on screen persona. The match-up with Clint works very well. He has that steely eyed look, and she uses her pixie like demeanor to bring some warmth to a cowboy performance that would simply be an echo of earlier successes. His humor in the film is much more directed at sexuality issues than the violence that occurs.

For a mainstream, 1970 film, it is pretty violent. There is an execution scene in which the wall behind the prisoner is splattered with blood when the firing squad lets loose. In the big battle scene at the end there are several shots of the damage that might be done by a revolutionary wielding a machete. Although we do not see the human repercussions, this is another western from the time that uses the trope of attacking a train with dynamite. I must have seen that a dozen times in movies that came out from 1969 to 1976. Each film tries to give it a little bit of a twist, here it simply is a plot complication, rather than an integral part of the story. The most gruesome bit of business in the movie is the thing that I remembered best from seeing it the first time. Clint is shot with an arrow that does not come out the back. He has the Sister, carve a groove in the shaft, fill it with gunpowder and then as he lights the powder, she pounds the arrow through his shoulder and out the back. There was some tension, some humor and a little down home remedy all in this scene.

I saw this movie with my father in 1970. I am pretty sure it was just the two of us and I was probably the one who suggested the picture. I have a memory of it playing with a Gregory Peck film from the same period; either “The Chairman” or “Marooned”. I know I saw both of them, but I can’t quite remember which one was with this movie. I also think we saw this on the west side of L.A., maybe near Venice or the Airport. It isn’t of critical importance, it is just a little detail that is in my head and seems to be accurate. As far as I know, my Dad liked the picture. I was doomed to be an Eastwood fan after this. I don’t think I had seen any of his other movies before, so this is really my first memory of Clint. Probably not a bad bookend with Gran Torino, nearly forty years later.

These movies span the majority of my life, and they celebrate a transition in the way violence is portrayed. A western from the early days focused on the story, and violence was the tool of resolution for conflict. Today, a movie like Clint’s last starring performance, shows that violence is the story and what the consequences of that violence can be. Not all the movies that are made these days are infantile views of the world designed just for audience gratification. I do however have to say that I like me a little instant gratification from time to time. Modern revenge stories have replaced the western for the cathartic use of violence, but it is fun to go back and see how they did it in the old days of the cinema. Thanks Clint Eastwood, you have entertained me my entire life and your absence from the screen is a bitter pill that I have to swallow. Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, and Clint Eastwood have all retired from on-screen acting roles, and my world is a lot sadder for it.