The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

They Came to Rob Las Vegas

In the late 1960s over a span of about three years, Gary Lockwood seemed to be a rising star in Hollywood. So what happened then? By the 1970s, he worked mostly as a guest star on television and B-movies. He's still kicking at 75 years old, but he hasn't been in a feature film since 1998. Whatever the reason, I'm still a fan, and I was glad to see a recent TCM airing of one of those late 1960s movie, 1968's They Came to Rob Las Vegas.

Planning the perfect robbery of an armored car headed for Las Vegas, aging crook Gino (Jean Servais) sees his plan fall apart in execution, and he's killed in the robbery. His nephew, Tony Ferris (Lockwood), is hurt hard by the news because he chose not to take part in the robbery, leaving family out to dry. Knowing what the plan was though, Tony picks up where the previous effort failed, working with a small team of friends and fellow crooks to take down the supposedly impregnable armored trucks of Alex Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), a businessman trying to get a government contract. What Tony doesn't know though is a dogged insurance investigator, Douglas (Jack Palance), is also on Skorsky's trail, and the three men are on a collision course.

I stumbled across this flick several years back poking around at the IMDB but was never able to track down a copy until this recent airing on Turner Classic Movies. I was intrigued by this heist movie with an above average cast that I'd never even heard of. So why has it been brushed aside all these years? For starters, it is a tad leisurely paced at 124 minutes, countless scenes of the armored truck driving around to the amazingly bad jazz-themed soundtrack. It's hard to describe how bad the soundtrack is, but what's funny is that at other times it is spot-on perfect. Listen to part of it HERE. Even at two-plus hours, the story drifts too much, key background going unexplained, new situations and developments seemingly coming out of left field. And you know what's most surprising? I really liked it.

All bad to lousy things considered, this heist movie with U.S.-Spanish-French-Italian backing is a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, it is fun in that guilty pleasure, so bad it's good department, but the end result is the same. It's fun and entertaining, reeking of that suave, groovy late 1960s style. With backing from so many countries, we've got the feel of a modern spaghetti western -- bad dubbing galore -- with an international cast and Spanish filming locations and then we've got on-location shooting in Las Vegas, a city dripping with sleazy style. Seeing it in 1968? That's just an awesome city. Like the Bond movies or the B-movie Euro crime thrillers, there's just an unexplainable charm and style to 'Las Vegas.' Either you go along with it or you don't, and your take on the movie will probably hinge on that reaction.

What originally drew me in was the heist angle coupled with the casting. Lockwood is a worthwhile anti-hero, quiet and confident as he puts his plan into motion. He also gets the love interest, the very beautiful Elke Sommer as Ann, his girlfriend and inside source at Skorsky's headquarters. Not a great actress, but I don't think she was cast for her acting chops. Cobb and Palance aren't given a ton to do, but they get some points for just being there. Cobb's Skorsky is into the mob for money laundering and generally looks worried/nervous, building up for some large outbursts. Palance is Palance, a high-strung ball of energy just waiting to explode.

As a fan of heist movies and men-on-a-mission movies, I came away disappointed with one aspect of 'Las Vegas' and that's Tony's team of crooks. They include Leroy (Georges Geret), the smooth talking, suave veteran thief, Cooper (Fabrizio Capucci), the young hothead, Sal (Gustavo Re), the machinist with the acetylene torch, Merino (Daniel Martin), the lookout, Clark (Maurizio Arena), the chopper pilot, and Baxter (Enrique Avila), the quiet, assured thief. One quick scene with Tony laying out the plan shows this group has worked together before, but we never hear about all. The team is cool because the story requires it, but when they inevitably turn on each other, it lacks any real punch. Interesting enough, but never developed enough either. A whole movie could have been devoted to Tony's crew.

That said, the heist and the aftermath -- no spoilers here -- are the highlights of the movie. The first 45 minutes are a tad on the slow side, but things pick up with the desert heist; Tony's crew attacking the heavily armored car in the middle of nowhere. The ending doesn't quite pay off like I'd hoped, leaving too much unanswered, but for some reason, I fell for this one. Not a classic and maybe not even that good overall, but worth a watch.

They Came to Rob Las Vegas <---Youtube montage (1968): ***/**** 

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