Sunday, February 16, 2014


I think I've mentioned quite a few times that the heist films of the 1960s are entertaining, if not quite as good as some of the 1950s movies like The Asphalt Jungle. I think that's because a lot of the 1960s films were going for some light comic relief in addition to the thriller bits. An excellent example of this is Gambit, which is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM.

Michael Caine plays Harry Dean, a British man visiting Hong Kong for a purpose we're quickly going to discover. He stops off at a particular nightclub, where he meets an associate of his, Émile Fournier (John Abbott). Harry is really looking to get in touch with Nicole (Shirley MacLaine), one of the dancers in the club's floor show, however. Harry eventually sits down with Nicole, and tells him what the purpose of his visit is, and why he's talking to her about it.

Shahbandar (Herbert Lom) is one of the world's wealthiest men, but living as a recluse in a penthouse at the top of one of the hotels in his city-state of Dammuz. He's a businessman and art collector, being in possession of some of the most priceless ancient sculptures out there, which he keeps in his penthouse apartment. He's also a widower, having lost hsi young wife after only a year or so of marriage. And that's where Nicole comes in. Nicole, half Chinese and half French-Canadian (yeah, there's an odd ethnic makeup), looks amazingly like Shahbandar's late wife. The minute that Harry and Nicole land in Dammuz, Shahbandar's men are going to see her, and invite the couple to Shahbandar's penthouse for dinner, where Harry is going to get the lay of the land, so to speak. And Shahbandar is going to be so taken by Nicole that he's going to want to take her out for a night on the town, leaving Harry free to get back into the penthouse, steal a particular sculpture and replace it with a copy, and get away. And they'll be able to make their escape, all with spending less than 24 hours in Dammuz. It's a brilliant, foolproof plan!

Yeah right. The movie presents this plan almost as though it's the actual action of the movie, suddenly ending about 35 minutes in. Nicole, for the very good reason that she needs the money, decides to take up Harry on his offer. The two, fake passports in hand, fly to Dammuz -- and find that there's nobody there to meet them, forcing them to face the traffic all by themselves. Shahbandar's men have spotted Nicole though, and eventually he invites Harry and Nicole to lunch -- on their yacht, not in the penthouse. And Shahbandar is peppering the couple with questions, which makes it sound suspicously as though he knows there's something not quite right.

Harry and Nicole eventually do get an invite to the penthouse, where he discovers that stealing the sculpture is going to be no easy feat, as it's guarded by a bunch of electric eyes which summon men with guns. And Nicole isn't excatly thrilled with her part in this whole hare-brained scheme, since it's been going on rather longer than Harry had originally planned for. But Harry, dammit, is going to go through with the plan anyway. Nicole ultimately has a change of heart, and shows up at the penthouse while Harry is trying to get the sculpture out of its cage, so to speak, and decides to help him do it! The two eventually steal the sculpture and escape the penthouse, getting away with it all. Or do they? There's still a whole series of complications to befall all of the main characters.

There really isn't all that much of a plot here: boy meets girl, boy uses girl to try to steal something from another boy. It's all in the presentation. Caine is suitably charming, which is about the only real characterization the script asks any of the cast members to do. Gambit is a movie more about the heist than about the characters carrying it out. In that sense, the movie succeeds quite well, at least when it comes to entertaining the viewer. Yes, the plan is hare-brained, and thoroughly utterly daft. Who in his right mind could thing a plan like this could possibly work? And yet, watching the movie, you really don't care that these people have to be nuts to even try to carry it out. There's nothing deep going on in Gambit; just a couple of pretty people violating every bit of common sense. But boy is it entertaining.

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