Throwback Thursday #TBT
Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy.
The trailer here represents one of the issues with selecting this film for the TBT project. The movie is not commercially available so no one seems to have cared to find and post the trailer for the film. What you see above is a fan created promo, obviously done on free software since the watermark is all over the video. I had never heard of this movie before checking a list of 1975 films on IMDB. When I saw that Robert Shaw and Richard Roundtree were the stars, I was enthusiastic about including it on the project. The problem is that it is not really available. No streaming services were offering it, it never had a DVD release, and the only home media that was available was a VHS tape for sale on ebay.
So I made my purchase and dug out the VHS player that my wife had used in her classroom, it also has a DVD player, and hooked it all up. It turns out I could have watched a bootlegged copy on You Tube. In the long run, a You Tube viewing will be my last resort for these lost films. I still prefer physical media, even if it is an antiquated format.
Before I talk about the film itself, there are a couple of interesting points. First of all, the film was also marketed as “Diamond Shaft”. That is the cover title on my ebay acquisition and the art work there pretty well explains why the title switch. Richard Roundtree was best known as the actor who portrayed Shaft in the movies. The character of John Shaft is nowhere in this film, and Roundtree does not ever hold a gun in his hand in the movie. Another alternate title was “Ace of Diamonds”, which I think would have worked better, but back in 1975, no one asked my opinion.
This is a heist picture and it has some interesting elements to it. Robert Shaw for example, plays twins. He is both Charles and Earl Hodgson. Earl is a security expert who designs protection for large businesses. Charles is a diamond merchant. An early scene establishes the competitive nature of the two brothers, they are both blackbelts and they spar with one another. Charles has tricked his way into having a social evening with Sally, played by Barbara Hersey who was going by Barbara Seagull at the time. Sally is the girlfriend of recently released prisoner Archie, the professional thief played by Roundtree. It is a convoluted sequence designed to bring all of them together but also to potentially drive a wedge between Sally and Archie. Charles has some agenda that we are not yet privy to.
“Diamonds” was written and directed by Menahem Golan, who was yet to partner with his cousin Yoram Globus, to form Cannon Films, but they did have a history of making films in Israel, which is exactly where this movie is mostly shot. The rest of the cast are Israeli actors who I did not recognize, but they were all pretty good. Oh there is one other American actor in the cast, Shelly Winters appears as a widow visiting the Holy land, but her role is completely superfluous to the story. At best she is comic relief, but if you took her out of the film completely, it would not have changed a thing about the plot.
The three act structure is very clear in the plotting. The opening section is the recruitment phase, which largely takes place in London. When they arrive in Israel, things get more complex as the plan is being laid out for us and there is a substantial amount of police attention paid to Archie because he is a known criminal. I enjoyed seeing the Israeli locations and seeing all the people in the squares and marketplaces. This elaborate set up contains a lot of cat and mouse playing between the thieves and the police who have them under surveillance. There are also a couple of red herrings thrown in, to baffle the police and us.
I am usually of the opinion that we as an audience should be in on as many details of the planning as possible, without giving away any surprises. There were a couple of technical elements in the execution of the theft which would have been more dramatic if we had seen them coming. However, the casing of the security vault and it’s procedures was shown pretty effectively. Charles has some insider information that could have been laid out to his partners, but it was not of critical importance. I do think though that Shaw’s character needed to have a little more development as a personality. The interactions between him, Archie and Sally, after the opening section in London, are pretty dry. There is a suggestion of some tension but none of it is very dramatic.
When we get to the heist itself, the parts we see were well staged. As is required in a plot featuring a crime like this, there are some complications, but the main variable is the cooperation of a representative of the security vault. His motivation to provide information is a result of threat and duress, but when he overcomes that, he is so tentative about approaching the authorities that the extra time feels like a dramatic cheat. Robert Shaw was on the other end of an elaborate con game in “The Sting”, so it is kind of fun when the tables are turned on the cops and his partners at the climax of the film. “The Thomas Crown Affair” seems to have also been something of an inspiration for the story turns here.
“Diamonds” or “Diamond Shaft” if you prefer, is not an essential film. Shaw was better in “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” the year before. The film is however interesting enough for fans of heist films and Robert Shaw. Roundtree and Seagull(Hersey) have little opportunity to shine because character development is not a goal of the screenwriter/director. This is a movie that is all about the crime, and it is only moderately interesting in spite of the tricks that get played.