DVD: $ (1971)

June 18, 2016 | By

Dollars1971Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Standard

Label:  Sony

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  September 23, 2008

Genre:  Heist / Comedy / Action

Synopsis: A security expert and his hooker girlfriend rob a vault in Hamburg, Germany.

Special Features:  2 “Martini Movie” factoids.




The heist film is one of those genres that manage to cycle back into popularity when someone makes a bonafide, unexpected hit, with high and modest budgeted variants cashing in before the genre wanes and returns to a period of stasis.

Richard Brooks’ extremely fluffy bank robbery flick $ (“dollars”) borrows elements from the best while remaining very tongue-in cheek in spite of some mean behaviour and bursts of violence.

Shot entirely on location in Hamburg, Germany, $ has American security consultant Joe Collins (Beatty) engaged by the city bank to safeguard its gold bar and stashings of questionable characters in a large vault. Joe’s morality is simple: like Robin Hood, he’ll only steal from the corrupt and criminal – drug runners and wayward U.S. Army officers – so there’s some honor in his elaborate inside job, handing off the goodies to ditzy girlfriend Dawn Divine (Hawn), a former Las Vegas showgirl of limited intellect and confidence who’s been earning extra dollars by bedding some of the corrupt figures destined to lose their criminal proceeds.

Brooks packs a lot of info in his nearly 2 hour film, saving the final quarter for a nearly dialogue-free chase by foot, car, and train. In the first scenes Beatty blows through necessary factual info – describing the safe’s unique security features, his moral stance on theft, and the heist mechanisms – with meaty monologues that overlap with reaction shots and quick quips from Hawn and bank president Kessel (the inimitable Gert Frobe, reportedly doing his own English dubbing). Hawn blinks and rolls and hops through her scenes, often pausing to bat her ridiculously massive eyelashes, while the underworld scum and corrupt Americans weave between each other.

Robert Webber (soon to co-star with Hawn again in the classic Private Benjamin) plays a corrupt businessman who likes it when Dawn dons a fireman’s hat and delivers a soda water golden shower on his giddy mug; western icon Scott Brady is fun as a corrupt army sergeant; Wolfgang Kieling (Torn Curtain’s doomed Gromek) is perfectly cast a sleazy crime lord whose home base is a strip club in Hamburg’s infamous Reeperbahn red light district; and emotionless Arthur Brauss (The Train) is creepy as the Candy Man, a drug runner who makes custom baseballs packed with heroin, kills escort hottie Helga (Christiane Maybach), and poisons and incinerates a black cat. The dude is mean!

Whether by cheeky design or coincidence, Brooks’ script seems to poke a lot of fun at American archetypes, with slick businessmen, the U.S. Army, and baseballs literally corrupted by drugs. The Germans aren’t saints, but they’re merely handlers of commerce, fulfilling the needs of Europeans and Americans wanting verboten goodies.

The U.S. dollar and what it represents is certainly perforated with Brooksian critique, whether it’s Little Richard crooning the title song (“Money Is”) about greed, Joe taking every bit of cash from the safety deposit boxes because there’s simply too much money to ignore, or in an extended shot of outrageous bawdiness: a $100 bill is projected on a busty stripper, rocking her breasts and causing Ben Franklin’s eyes to ‘jiggle.’

Credit to Brooks for sticking to his guns and delivering a R-rated comedy-thriller, giving audiences brisk but never fleeting samplings of Hamburg’s St. Pauli and its famous attractions, and filming $ on location within the city and its outskirts. By making the Candy Man and the sergeant ruthless killers, their relentless pursuit of Joe and Dawn in the finale ensures the film is never played for laughs; for all of Joe’s grinning and wisecracks, he knows if he’s caught, they will make him die slowly.

Petrus Schloemp’s cinematography is part documentary, part slick ‘scope, and captures the special grit and iciness of a chilly Hamburg winter, whereas Quincy Jones’ score is almost exclusively reliant on a heavy baseline and effective vocal stylings of Don Elliott and His Voices.

The real star within the production is editor George Grenville, who manages to retain the bulk of Brooks’ narrative by applying sharp modern editing, similarly finding a balance between a documentary style and slick Hollywood action editing. This is one of the best cut action films of the early seventies, with a chase on a thawing lake a major highlight.

$ was a box office hit, and joined a slew of heist films within a short few years, including Robbery (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), The Split (1968), The Anderson Tapes (1971), and The Hot Rock (1972), of which the last three, like $, were scored by Quincy Jones.

In spite of the film’s success, Brooks would direct just 4 more films – the superb horse racing drama Bite the Bullet (1975), the controversial erotic thriller Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), the satirical comedy Wrong is Right (1982), and the suspense-drama Fever Pitch (1985).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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