Like the film noir genre, the heist film genre really came into its own after World War II. The Asphalt Jungle (1950) was the vanguard of this new subgenre of the crime film here in America, while films like The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Rififi (1955), Bob le flambeur (also 1955) and Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) helped usher the genre in overseas in Europe. By the 1960’s, the genre was in its golden age with bigger budgets and international casts, of which Grand Slam – a co-production between Italian, Spanish and German film companies – was a part of that wave. Previously released on DVD by Blue Underground, Kino has licensed the film for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4/5
After years of teaching at a Catholic school in Rio de Janeiro, Professor James Anders (Edward G. Robinson) suddenly retires. However, the “retirement” is actually part of a plan by the professor to recruit a team of international criminals – a former German military officer, a British safecracker, an Italian electronics and mechanics whiz and a French playboy – to pull off a heist of $10 million in diamonds stored in a state-of-the-art vault across the street from the professor’s former school during the Rio Carnival. Even if this ragtag group can pull off the impossible, will any of them be alive to enjoy the ill-gotten spoils?
One of the more notable yet overlooked heist films of the 1960’s, Grand Slam is a fun and colorful little caper. Although the script – by Mino Roli and 6 additional collaborators – does cover some familiar territory in the genre, the main premise is set up and executed nicely by director Giuliano Montaldo; the climatic heist – encompassing a tense 25 minutes – and the neat twist ending (which will not be revealed in this review) are prime examples of the excellent job Montaldo has done here. Another prime bonus is the great use of the Rio de Janeiro locations that add a beautiful and intoxicating atmosphere to the proceedings, especially during Carnival. Finally, the cherry on top here is the fun and swinging mod style score by the legendary Ennio Morricone that also captures the flavors of Rio and the era here perfectly. In short, Grand Slam is definitely a product of its time, but it’s an entertaining excursion worth taking again and again.
Although his part could be considered an extended cameo appearance, Edward G. Robinson ably does his job well as the mild-mannered professor who puts the heist plan in motion; he would appear in another Italian heist film the year after this movie’s release, The Biggest Bundle of Them All. Top billed here, Janet Leigh makes the most of her part as Mary Ann, the secretary who holds the key to the state-of-the-art vault holding the valuable diamonds; this came during the twilight period of her career, of which she would later appear alongside her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), the latter which would be the last film released in her lifetime. The intense cult actor Klaus Kinski is appropriately tough and menacing as the former German officer with a secret; he’s better known for appearances in For a Few Dollars More (1965), Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and for portraying the eponymous Nosferatu the Vampyre in Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of the F.W. Murnau silent classic. Filling out the cast here are Adolfo Celi as Anders’ childhood friend turned successful criminal who assists in getting the group for the Rio heist, Robert Hoffmann as the playboy Jean-Paul, tasked with seducing Mary Ann to get the key to the vault, Riccardo Cucciolla as the Italian electronics expert Agostino Rossi, George Rigaud as Gregg, the British safecracking expert and Jussara as the beautiful Brazilian native Stetuaka, who catches Agostino’s eye; Valentino Macchi is credited here, but does not appear in the film.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 2:35:1 Techniscope aspect ratio for this release. Color palette and fine details are both faithfully represented with a minimum of issues like scratches, tears, vertical lines or dirt present here. This release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Ennio Morricone’s mod style music score are all given a strong and faithful representation with minimal instances of crackling, popping, distortion or hissing present. This release is also likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson – Newly recorded for this release, the trio talk about the film’s production history while also praising Giuliano Montaldo’s work here.
Theatrical Trailer (3:52)
Attracting some critical praise during its theatrical run, Grand Slam is one of the best offerings from the heist caper subgenre of the crime film in the 1960’s. Kino has given the film a solid Blu-ray release, with a decent HD transfer and an informative and engaging commentary track as a special feature. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous home video releases.
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