Donald Westlake the way I do a lot of authors, via movie credits, finding out the movie I was watching was based on a novel/book/story from an author. I first heard his name watching 1972's The Hot Rock, based on his novel of the same name. I gave his books a try and liked them, including his 1972 novel Bank Shot. I wish I could say the same for the 1974 film adaptation, Bank Shot.
Wasting away a prison/rehab center run by Bulldog Streiger (Clifton James), accomplished crook and master planner Walter Ballentine (George C. Scott) is slowly losing his mind. He's allowed a visitor one day, his "lawyer" who's really his former partner in crime, Al G. Karp (Sorrell Brooke), and he's got a new plan for a very lucrative caper. Streiger is on the lookout, but even he can't keep Ballentine from escaping, his prisoner getting away in ridiculous fashion. What job awaits him with Karp? Not one he would have thought of. A new bank in Los Angeles is being built, a temporary bank in a trailer being used until the new one opens. Ballentine laughs at the plan given him and comes up with his own instead. Instead of robbing the bank in convoluted fashion, why not just steal the entire bank? With Karp's oddball crew of crooks, Ballentine goes about putting his own plan into operation.
Wow, this movie was just not good. Like at all. We're talking really bad. Eastlake's novel is pretty goofy, a little silly, but there's an underplayed sense of humor that works well. I could be wrong too, maybe that's just my interpretation. This comedy from director Gower Champion has no subtlety, no sense of underplaying anything, no real laughs at all. It is the broadest definition of broad humor. Oh, no! Ballentine is driving a huge Caterpillar into a barn! Oh, no! A trailer is driving out of control down a vacant road! Physical comedy is one thing, but this is so bad it never amounts to anything. John Morris' musical score is painfully obvious, almost begging, willing the audience to laugh. The opening prison break, Ballentine getting away on an excavator, Streiger on a souped-up golf cart, sets the tone for the painfully unfunny attempts at laughs to come.
What the hell is George C. Scott doing here? Scott had some odd acting choices in the 1970s, but this one is pretty bad. I say that having watched a movie with Scott where had to stop an assassination attempt on the President by....dolphins. Yeah, The Day of the Dolphin, check it out. It really exists. From the get-go here, Scott seems bored and uninterested in actually being a part of the ever-stupid story. As for the character that Eastlake wrote -- John Dortmunder in the books -- Scott isn't the best casting choice either, whether it be his physical appearance (rocking some amazingly LARGE eyebrows, we're talking REAL big) or his demeanor at basically all times. Was he blackmailed? Was he doing a favor for a friend? I don't know what was going on, what prompted him into doing this flick? I'm listening if there's a good theory out there.
So heist flick with a lousy premise that falls short on basically every level, surely the oddball crew of crooks can save this poop-fest, right?!? Yeah, that's what I was counting on, only to be disappointed there too. Beyond Brooke as Al G. Karp as Ballentine's goofy partner, there's also Eleonora (Joanna Cassidy), the sexy backer of the plan with all her cash (and an unexplained attraction to Ballentine, helping him "ease back" into society after so long away from women), Victor Karp (Bob Balaban), Al's nephew, the other planner and a former FBI agent, Muns Gornik (Bibi Osterwald) and her son, Stosh (Don Calfa), and Hermann X (Frank McRae), a pistol-wielding, demolition expert hoping to become a politician. There isn't an interesting character in the bunch, making it a tad difficult to actually support the crew. We learn little to nothing about them, just an introduction and right into the heist. The rest of the story in an 83-minute story is spent on hamming it up James and his L.A. cop partner (G. Wood) trying to track Ballentine down.
The premise of the heist is actually pretty original, and some of their plans are actually unique. But at any point is it interesting to watch? No. Everything just seems obvious from beginning to end. The heist and its fallout could have been decent if it wasn't handled in such spoof-like fashion, but the efforts to make it all hysterically, gut-busting funny fall short. Steer clear of this one, go read the Westlake novel instead.
Bank Shot (1974): */****