Dollars ($) (1971) dir. Richard Brooks
Starring: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Gert Frobe
By Alan Bacchus
“Dollars” has much in common with “The Anderson Tapes,” (a film I reviewed last week) – both are heist genre pictures from 1971 directed by respected Hollywood vets and newly reissued by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment under their ‘Martini Movies’ banner. Richard Brooks’ “Dollars” does everything right which Sidney Lumet’s “The Anderson Tapes” does wrong. Unlike Lumet’s sloppy film, Brooks’ is a precisely planned out heist dramatized with maximum charm, intrigue and suspense.
As is standard with the genre, the film’s three acts are broken into the three stages of a heist – the set-up/casing of the crime, the robbery and the getaway. Warren Beatty plays Joe Collins a bank security consultant who has recently revamped a Hamburg Banks’ vault with the latest security measures. His partner in crime is Dawn Divine (the delectable Goldie Hawn), a call-girl who has helped Joe choose their next victims. They include two sets of criminals who coincidentally hold their cash in Joe’s newly secured bank. It’s seems to be easy pickings for Joe, whose guile and attention to detail allows him to literally steal the money right from under their noses. But when the victims put two and two together quicker than Joe thinks he is sent fleeing for his life with the baddies hot on his tail.
Since “Dollars” was made in 1971 it unfortunately emulates the free form experimental style of that psychedelic era. Usually I can’t stand the erratic, non-sensical editing, those ugly crash zooms and silly and random sound design. While this influence is not entirely invisible to “Dollars” Brooks’ precise storytelling skills trumps these faults.
The psychedelia is apparent in the opening act, a lengthy set-up sequence which, through sloppy editing creates more confusion than intrigue. Characters are never introduced properly, we see exchanges of money, drugs, and meetings between gangsters, military men etc which are not explained and thus make no sense. But then Richard Brooks turns on the magic and the film gets good, really good.
Heist films live or die by their details and Brooks expertly thinks everything through and precisely edits the robbery to create maximum suspense. The heist is intelligently laid out from the common sense point of view. After Dawn calls in a fake bomb scare, Joe heroically grabs a valuable gold bar on display in the lobby and locks himself in the vault. Since it’s on a timelock no one can get in there for hours. And only the security camera can see inside. Of course Joe knows the timing of the motion controlled camera and commits the robbery in one-minute time intervals so his actions can’t be caught on camera.
Brooks also knows that audiences want their characters to get off with the money. This tension is made palpable in the third act, which is essentially one lengthy, and impressive chase/getaway scene.
At a full 120mins it’s about 15-20 mins too long, especially in the opening act, but once the action starts Brooks never lets up and the final hour is a breeze. Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn, two of the more charming of Hollywood stars in their day, or ever, anchor this smart and satisfying film. Enjoy.
“Dollars” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Other related postings:
THE ANDERSON TAPES
THE NEW CENTURIONS