Cinema: Failed Comedy, Vigorous Suspense

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"They got Dobermans to rip your arms off. Some of these places got moats." The speaker is Pat Angelo (Alan King), a Mafioso gone straight. Plump and vested, he wants no part in a major crime planned by ex-Con Duke Anderson (Sean Connery). But Duke is persuasive, the take promises to be in the millions, and what the hell, Pat misses the glorious game of cops and robbers. So he gives the green light and the dirty sport begins, with a Fifth Avenue luxury apartment house as the scene of the heist.

As a caper picture, The Anderson Tapes displays a slick criminal shrewdness: its paraphernalia and plans are always chillingly plausible. Had the film restricted itself to its own Rififiefdom, it would have remained as airtight as a legit alibi. But Director Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker, The Group), who has never shown a scintilla of genuine wit, aims for nothing less than political satire. Since Duke's parole, it seems, he has had no secrets that the cops do not know instantly. When he consults a black driver who lives above a Panther storefront, Duke's schemes are electronically processed. T-men tune in on his conversations with Angelo; even the apartment of Duke's mistress (Dyan Cannon) is tapped by a jealous lover. As the plans unfurl, the eavesdroppers are heavily lampooned. America, in a supposedly shattering revelation, is shown to be not only a racist society but also a bugged one.

Nor do the comic attempts end there. Sometimes Lumet attempts to send up other movies: a one-sided encounter between Angelo and his paralyzed father is an inept parody of Jack Nicholson's monologue in Five Easy Pieces. The film also mercilessly mocks a homosexual antiques dealer, with Martin Balsam, as they say in Hollywood, "cast against the part."

Unfortunately, failed comedy and vigorous suspense are handcuffed together for the entire trip. Angelo and Duke agree to split fifty-fifty. That is a better deal than the one offered the audience.