Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The The Anderson Tapes is an amusing New York-based caper film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Sean Connery. It was produced in 1971, at an interesting juncture between old-fashioned crime pictures and later conspiracy films concerned with the nefarious uses of new technologies. It predates The Godfather and The Conversation and also Watergate and the revelations of The Pentagon Papers. Beneath a colorful heist story populated by cops, crooks, Mafia dons and a high-priced call girl is a slightly paranoid tale with Sci-Fi edges: technology amasses information, but what happens if nobody wants to hear it? Quincy Jones' jazzy soundtrack is frequently edged out by electronic beeps and alarms, and the sound of surveillance cameras turning. Made in the same year as The Andromeda Strain, The Anderson Tapes even uses the same "IBM"-styled font for its titles.
All of this concern with technology sits rather uneasily on the structure of a classic caper film. Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) finishes serving a ten-year sentence for robbery, and is eager to get back at society for the time he's lost. He reconnects with his girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon), a Fifth Avenue hooker being kept in high style by her client Werner (Richard B. Shull). Seeing the ritzy apartments stocked with priceless paintings, artwork, silver and cash, Duke collects the expected gang of misfits and pros to knock off the entire building.
With ready access to the cream of New York actors, director Lumet has a fine time orchestrating some very broad characterizations. Alan King's mafioso Pat Angelo has no real interest in penny-ante heists, but lends Duke the startup funds for old times' sake. Martin Balsam's fey antiques dealer Tommy Haskins is a glaring stereotype but also credible and funny; Frank Pierson's script probably indulges in a few too many "fag" jokes. Christopher Walken is The Kid, an electrical journeyman who talks like a hippie but trusts Duke implicitly: "I'm not into violence, but that's okay with me if that's your scene, man." Spencer (Dick Anthony Williams) is a thief who likes Duke's style and only gets involved in sure things. Socks Parelli (Val Avery) is an unpleasant goon supposedly along to assist with "crowd control", but in reality Pat Angelo is expecting Duke to kill him during the robbery, as a favor to The Family. The funniest member is Pop (Stan Gottlieb), a doddering old jailbird who has been in stir since 1931 and knows little beyond the inside of a jail cell. But when Duke asks if he wants to play a role in the heist, Pop responds like he's dealing with James Cagney: "Anything for you, Duke!"
The Anderson Tapes announces its sub-theme from the beginning. As Duke goes from meetings with Pat Angelo to Spencer's place, he's filmed by detectives with cameras and taped with illegal bugs and wiretaps. The justice department is monitoring Pat Angelo's activities, and a shady FBI group is illegally bugging the Black Panthers building where Spencer lives. Detectives working for the jealous Werner have bugged Ingrid's lavish love nest. We soon realize that a number of agencies and individuals, all conducting illegal surveillance, are well aware that Duke is planning a crime. But in every case they're after other kinds of information and committing felonies in the process. They log Duke's presence and what he says, but report nothing to the authorities.
Pierson and Lumet work up the requisite tension for a satisfactory heist, maintaining a slightly semi-comic tone. We keep wondering when someone is going to blow the whistle on the whole deal, considering that so many snoops know about the planned robbery. Duke's caper is a good one. His boys take over the entire apartment building, lodging a Mayflower moving van in the basement and systematically looting the apartments. Some of the wealthy tenants resist and others do not. Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) and Judith Lowry (The Night They Raided Minsky's are a funny pair of old birds excited by the drama of the robbery.
When all is said and done, The Anderson Tapes is a variation on the "obsolete hood" as chronicled in movies like I Walk Alone, capping the technological subcategory initiated by White Heat. Just as in those movies, progress has overtaken the old way of doing things with "gadgets" that Duke barely understands. His perfect caper is essentially done in by improved communications techniques. Young Scott Jacoby plays a shut-in kid with severe asthma, and Duke foolishly leaves him locked in his room. It goes without saying that The Anderson Tapes would never work in today's world of cell phones.
Pierson' script eventually shifts to a tragicomedy, with the cutaways to wiretaps in progress matched by some alarming flash-forwards to the aftermath of the robbery. Audiences in 1971 would probably have preferred that the movie dispense with the fancy narrative trimmings and just tell the story straight, but the surveillance subtext now makes The Anderson Tapes seem prophetic, especially the part about crooks in and out of the government erasing tapes to obliterate evidence. Interestingly, the long arm of the law -- a Buster Keaton- like army of cops with machine guns -- bursts in on Duke just as he's reluctantly reverting to the old "rough stuff" of a bygone era.
It matters little that Sean Connery isn't particularly convincing as an American; he carries the film with ease. Duke's gang believes in him -- this isn't one of those cynical capers where everybody double-crosses everybody else. Dyan Cannon's Ingrid pretty much retires the cliché of the moll with the heart of gold. We really feel for Duke when he offers to call off the raid for her sake, and she says no. Billed rather high but in only for the last act is tough guy actor Ralph Meeker. His bulldog-like Irish police chief sets up a Manhattan siege reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon. The humorous but realistic details of the massive police retaliation give the ending a strangely split tone. Inside the town houses we're concerned for the survival of Duke and his leather-masked mob, while outside a phalanx of cops are repelling their way from building to building.
Garrett Morris has a notable role as a steeplejack-cop with blisters on his fingers. The wonderful Janet Ward (Fail-Safe, Night Moves) is a burglary victim who becomes furious when her husband would rather see her tortured than open his safe. Anthony Holland plays an obnoxious prison psychologist to the hilt.
Sony's DVD of The Anderson Tapes is a good enhanced transfer with a slightly grainy picture and clean audio. It's another of Sony's new "Martini Movies" branded line and we're still trying to figure out where that name came from. A trailer is the only extra. The annoying "Martini Minutes" features are promos in disguise. On the positive side, the Martini Movies are a very interesting batch of titles, and that's always good news. The movie comes with an alternate French track and English and French subtitles.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Anderson Tapes rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 17, 2008
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson
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