Ronald Neame’s Gambit came on the heels of one of cinema’s most celebrated heist comedies released a mere two years before, Jules Dassin’s Topkapi, but as delightful as that caper film was and is, Gambit is perhaps just a little bit cleverer and fresher.
The Production: 4/5
Ronald Neame’s Gambit came on the heels of one of cinema’s most celebrated heist comedies released a mere two years before, Jules Dassin’s Topkapi, but as delightful as that caper film was and is, Gambit is perhaps just a little bit cleverer and fresher. Both have star-laden casts plying their deceitful trade in exotic locales, but the twists and turns in Gambit are more startling and original giving it the slightest of entertainment edges.
Cat burglar Harry Dean (Michael Dean) enlists the help of Eurasian dancer Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine) to assist him in stealing a valuable piece of sculpture centuries old. Nicole is central to the heist plot because she is the spitting image of both the present owner Shahbandar’s (Herbert Lom) late wife and the princess who was the subject of the sculpture Harry plans on stealing. Though Harry feels he has a foolproof plan, one catch after another occurs as the scheme unfolds to prevent things from going smoothly. Both Harry and Nicole have to depend on their wits and the ability to improvise in order for them to have any chance of the plan being successful.
The screenplay fashioned for Gambit by Alvin Sargent and Jack Davies (from a story by Sidney Carroll) begins with one of the greatest twists in cinematic history. It’s completely necessary, of course, for the remainder of the film to be so comically and ironically diabolical, but if you’ve never seen the movie before, prepare to be gob smacked. Once the caper begins, so does the comedy as things go wrong almost from the first moment as Nicole turns out to be anything but the mysterious femme fatale Harry expects (despite a stunningly exotic wardrobe by the celebrated Jean Louis) and Harry’s carefully plotted caper points all fall by the wayside. Director Ronald Neame keeps things ever-moving forward despite the speed bumps in Harry’s plan while he indulges in lots of local color to catch our eyes (and possibly to hide the fact that apart from some second unit shooting in Hong Kong, most of this was shot on Universal’s extensive backlot; Topkapi did film in real locations). The twists and turns don’t stop throughout as the caper comes to what appears to be its surprising and suspenseful conclusion; in typical caper style, the audience finds itself conned in a couple of final, completely unexpected reversals, all deliciously perverse.
Shirley MacLaine, top-billed as she often was at this stage of her career, not only gets to enjoy an extensive and expensive wardrobe but also gets to play a charlatan with quite a few surprises up her sleeve. Michael Caine’s contrasting performance as a posh British nobleman and his more earthy but appealing crook counterpart is a delightful performance at this early stage of his career. Herbert Lom as the fabulously wealthy potentate with a fondness for gadgets is marvelously calculating and sophisticated. John Abbott earns some good laughs as Harry’s friend Emile while Richard Angarola offers strong support as Colonel Salim, guardian of Shahbandar’s person and possessions. Roger C. Carmel as Harry’s pal Ram and Maurice Marsac as a surly desk clerk make brief but worthwhile appearances.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.35:1 original Techniscope aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Taken from a brand new 4K restoration by Universal, the picture looks exquisite with gorgeous color and excellent sharpness. In fact, it’s so sharp that rear projection and other cinematic techniques used to place our stars in a foreign locale become painfully obvious at times, but it’s all part of the film’s mid-60s charm. There are no problems with splices, scratches, dirt, or debris. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is just as one would expect from a non-roadshow film of this era. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been mixed with Maurice Jarre’s sprightly background score and the multiple sound effects quite professionally. There are no examples of mood-deflating hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentaries: the disc offers two options, both worth a listen. In the first, director Ronald Neame offers a slate of reminiscences about making the film and about other aspects of his career guided by host David Gregory. In the second, film historians Nathaniel Thompson, Sergio Mims, and Howard Berger all express their extreme delight with the movie and give opinions on the careers of the director and the film’s three stars and also briefly talk about the 21st century remake.
Theatrical Trailer (1:13, HD)
Kino Trailers: Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Ipcress File, Arabesque, Return from the Ashes, Impasse, The Pink Jungle, The Seventh Dawn.
Reversible Cover Art
Nominated for three Academy Awards for its production design, its costumes, and its sound, Ronald Neame’s Gambit is a delightful and most entertaining caper film with two wonderfully talented and appealing stars and a new restoration that positively shines in Kino-Lorber’s new Blu-ray release. Highly recommended!
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