By Glenn Erickson
Produced by Mike Frankovich, Dollars is a slick caper film that pairs Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn as the daring robbers of a German bank. Writer-director Richard Brooks frames the tale in traditional escapist terms, making the thieves likeable because they're really only stealing from other thieves. The fast-paced story is certainly amusing, but neither Beatty nor Hawn is called upon to stretch their familiar star personas. Beatty is a confident thief and Hawn an unlikely choice for a high-priced call girl. Channeling her ditzy Laugh-In character, Hawn is even less convincing than Barbra Streisand's streetwalker in The Owl and The Pussycat.
Beatty is Joe Collins, a security consultant attached to the high-tech Hamburg bank of Mr.Kessel (Gert Frobe, in fine form). His plan is to fake an emergency that locks him in the bank vault, and to swap the contents of three safety deposit boxes into the box of his girl friend, prostitute Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn). A Vegas attorney (Robert Webber), an Army black marketer known as Sarge (Scott Brady) and a drug smuggler called the Candy Man (Arthur Brauss) each use the vault to stash hundreds of thousands in ill-gotten gains; Joe wants to take it all in one fell swoop. Joe and Dawn narrowly avoid disaster and pull off their unscheduled money transfer without a hitch - until Sarge and the Candy Man realize that an inside man had to be involved.
Brooks directs the film in a rather impersonal slick style that takes advantage of the relaxed censorship made available by an 'R' rating. Hamburg's red light district is the background for some of the crime action, with nude strippers paraded before the camera at regular intervals. This informality doesn't extend to Hawn's chaste prostitute, who remains attached to her bathrobe at all times. Despite a few weak attempts at double-entendre dialogue, we never buy her character. Beatty knows full well that Dawn is sleeping with other men, which also takes the edge off their romantic relationship. Dollars wants to be an old-fashioned screwball caper and fashionably adult, but the two aims don't mix well.
Taken as basic caper material, Dollars is not that dissimilar from Spike Lee's The Inside Man of a few years ago. The entire city watches Collins in the sealed vault on TV, thinking that he may die for lack of air. While pretending to be calm and stoic, Joe waits for the security camera to pan away so he can use purloined keys to raid the security boxes of the three crooks. As with almost all capers, our interest doubles when things go wrong. Two of the patsies realize that they're both clients of Dawn Divine, and it doesn't take long for a murderous chase to get underway. This particular pursuit takes the better part of a day and involves Joe fleeing by car, train and ferry. At one point the Candy Man pursues him onto the slippery ice of a frozen river. Richard Brooks saves an unpleasant twist ending for the unlucky Sarge. Dollars is a lively diversion, if not a superior thriller.
Gert Frobe is funny, Scott Brady is brutal and Arthur Brass is a sinister smuggler with a bad habit of murdering women that help him transport his goods. Beatty coasts through the role on charm and a perfect hairstyle. It's a shame that the very talented Goldie Hawn spent so much of her career playing giggly girls, as the role does little or nothing for her. Still, fans will find both Hawn and Beatty charming enough.
Quincy Jones' jazzy score is a good fit, and Little Richard enthusiastically sings the praises of the Yankee dollar. The actual title of the movie is $, which has been a source of confusion ever since it came out. The disc uses the phonetic Dollars as did many of the newspaper listings, but the title on the screen itself is a large golden dollar sign being hoisted in position by a construction crane.
Sony's welcome DVD of Dollars is a good enhanced transfer with mono audio. A trailer is included along with two extras themed to match the release's Martini Movies branded line. The extras are as meaningless as the name, being brief promos for other Martini Movies in the collection. But the list of upcoming titles neutralizes all complaints: it includes Carol Reed's Our Man in Havana and Arch Oboler's rare end-of-the-world movie Five.