Directed by Aram Avakian, 11 Harrowhouse, which was co-written by and stars Charles Grodin (based on Gerald A. Browne's novel), is a surprisingly clever and funny parody of the traditional heist film. Grodin plays Howard Chesser, an American diamond dealer who heads back and forth between his American base of operations and London, England where he trades in gems with a wholesaler set up at the titular 11 Harrowhouse. On one such trip, Howard is asked by a rather shifty associate, Clyde Massey (Trevor Howard), to purchase a large diamond for him, he agrees, only to have the diamond stolen from him before he's able to deliver it to his buyer.
So without the diamond to deliver to Massey, Chesser finds himself in a hot spot - obviously Massey is going to want his money back but he doesn't have it. His luck changes, however, when Massey encourages him to figure out he just might be able to pull off a pretty substantial heist and get all of the diamonds out of 11 Harrowhouse. He won't be alone in this gig, rather, he'll have help from his girlfriend, Maren Shriell (Candace Bergen), and an 'inside man' who works at the house named Charles Watts (James Mason) who is terminally ill and has an axe to grind with his employers. But how are they going to get the diamonds out? By sucking them out with a giant vacuum, of course! But double crosses ensue and things obviously get a whole lot more complicated as the movie plays out.
Fairly well acted from an obviously game cast (all involved seem to be having a good time with the material here), the highpoint of 11 Harrowhouse is the heist scene itself. Not content to simply use a vacuum all on its own, the story works in clever uses for such esoteric items as oddly painted cockroaches. The usual standards are there as well - impersonations and identity theft and clever maneuvering, but the use of bugs, thread and vacuum hoses at least makes this one stand out a bit from the pack. There's a bit of genuine creativity behind the heist itself, so once we get there, it holds our attention.
Aram Avakian generally keeps the film moving at a fairly good pace and Grodin's intentionally distant narration lends some quirky humor to the proceedings. Performance wise all involved are in good shape. Grodin makes for a likeable enough male lead and his chemistry with Bergen is strong enough in this picture that we don't have to stretch too much to see them as a reasonably well matched couple. James Mason is great as the character that basically winds up as Grodin's right hand while Trevor Howard is perfectly fine as the more suspicious of the group. Some nice cinematography and an appropriately tense score both help things a bit
Outside of the heist scene itself the picture falls pretty to too many of the standards and clichés associated with other films of its ilk, but thankfully the able performers make enough out of the material to ensure that, if nothing else, this is a pretty entertaining way to kill an hour and a half.
Shout! Factory gives 11 Harrowhouse a good 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The source material used for the transfer was evidently in pretty good shape though some mild print damage is apparent here and there. Black levels show some minor artifacts but outside of that the disc is well authored. Some softness inherent in the original photography takes away from things a little bit but for an older film that doesn't appear to have been given any sort of ultra-deluxe restoration, the movie looks pretty good on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is the only audio option provided and there are no alternate language options or subtitles available. The limitations of the source come through and range is obviously limited, but the levels are well balanced and the dialogue is easy enough to understand. This track won't rock the doors of your house but it gets the job done without any issues.
Aside from a simple menu and chapter selection, the only extra on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer.
An effective mix of humor and suspense, 11 Harrowhouse is an entertaining enough heist film with a solid cast and some stand out set pieces. If it's not a classic, it's certainly worth checking out and Shout! Factory's DVD is a fine way to do just that, even if it's noticeably light on extra features. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.