A cheerful, colorful caper film with an engaging cast and enough credibility to its gimmicks not to be completely ridiculous, Grand Slam is an international production slick enough to be picked up by Paramount for its U.S. run, where it did great business. A product of the James Bond years, it's mostly forgotten now, with only the presence of its stars to attract the attention of non-crime caper fans.
Grand Slam is an excellent example of the mid-60s international production. A number of film companies in different countries back a show in exchange for distribution rights in their territories. In this case, Jolly Film of Rome, the makers of many hits including several big Mario Bava films, teamed up with German and Spanish companies. The casting spread the net wide, with two top American names for the marquee, and notable support from each of the biggest markets - France, Germany, Spain, Italy.
The costly Janet Leigh and Edward G. Robinson have limited roles, letting the journeymen carry most of the film, which sticks fairly close to the Mission Impossible - style mechanics of the heist. With Rififi as the obvious model, the crooks have to break into your standard unimpregnable safe, defeat the alarms and avoid the guards - all the usual caper shenanigans. There's discord in the group, with hothead Klaus Kinski getting rough with 'pretty boy' Robert Hoffman. Riccardo Cucciolla is enticed by a beautiful Brazilian, Stetuaka (Jussara), who shows up on next boat in the harbor, making us wonder where the snag in the caper will show itself ... something always goes wrong, or there's always an extra uncalculated wrinkle to botch things up. Grand Slam isn't exactly original, but it never gets boring, either.
Edward G. must have had a good deal, for he's literally inserted into many of his scenes with a travelling matte process that's more than a little distracting. 1 He's definitely on the street in New York and maybe in Rome at the end, but everything else looks like a day's work in a studio! Janet Leigh obviously got some desirable travel out of her contract, as several of her scenes are location exteriors. She looks very uncomfortable trying to dress mousy for her initial character. When she gets back into her short hairdo Marion Crane mode, she does indeed go up a few notches on the attraction meter.
Not everything in the movie is all that well handled. Hoffman's job to seduce Leigh in 24 hours or less is pretty ridiculous: if bombarding a woman with flowers and stalking her like a grinning madman worked, there'd be more flower shops, and fewer harassment restraining orders being issued. Naturally we suspect something's up when she becomes a pushover at the eleventh hour.
Clever story construction makes the assault on the safe protected by the 'Grand Slam' noise alarm very diverting. Some of the devices are rather unlikely, but the arena for the big job is nicely photographed, with some very convincing electric eye beams. On the other hand, why nobody in a crowd of thousands of Carnival revelers would look up and see the thieves swinging between the buildings, is a bit of a stretch. Also rather interesting is the duplicate safe that Klaus Kinski has managed to rig up below the deck of a not-all-that-big boat. How he could get it on board is one thing, and why it doesn't sink the rickety tub is another.
One positive note is that Grand Slam uses its Carnival background better than the Junkanoo in Thunderball. There's a very clever reveal of a street full of bikini'd samba dancers, when Kinski tries to pop up out of a manhole. Obviously a rather light entertainment, the Carnival is just another travelogue-type attraction that helps this smartly-produced thriller look expensive.
Blue Underground continues its string of attractive DVDs with Grand Slam, which has been transferred in a nice 16:9 format. The color is very good, and I'd call the encoding and bit rate adequate to good. There are no artifacts or other flaws, so some of the softness might stem from the tiny half-frame original Techniscope photography. The sound is fine, with most of the foreign leads dubbed. Adolfo Celi speaks with a voice that is neither Emilio Largo nor Ralph Valmont, and he makes a pretty unlikely-looking 'Mark Milford'. Familiar from complilation albums, Ennio Morricone's zippy, lighthearted title tune fits right in, and he contributes some sleek latin rhythms, as well as a memorable romantic theme that gives the tepid Leigh-Hoffman affair some class.
The trailer is borderline awful, ruined by a boring voice that chants caper film cliches. Blue Underground's cover art is pretty nondescript, and relates the film to Ocean's Eleven, ignoring any of the qualities that made it marketable in 1968. I recall the ads for this one when it was new, but haven't ever seen it listed on television since, so it might be a big surprise for most viewers.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Grand Slam rates:
Like caper films?
1. Using blue or sodium vapor screens was typical then for all kinds of shots, but the
telltale matte lines and flatness of the scenes usually stands out badly now. Grand Slam was shot in half-frame
Techniscope, so any opticals look even worse on the smaller format. Because they too must be duplicated down a
generation, the titles also look washed out and soft - producers working in Techniscope should have used standard
35mm and scope lenses for scenes to be subjected to optical duping, the way effects experts now use VistaVision and