Rio – Rififi Style! GRAND SLAM (1967)

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I love a good heist film. They’re often formulaic and follow a well-worn path originally etched out by classic capers such as John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), Jules Dassin’s RIFIFI (1955), Alexander Mackendrick’s THE LADYKILLERS (1955), Jean-Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955) and Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING (1956) but the best heist films take unexpected turns and leave their own special mark on a genre that seems to find new ways to define itself every decade. My favorite heist films usually involve a ragtag group of down on their luck ne’er-do-wells, outsiders and lone wolves who come together in an attempt to steal a fortune. Mistakes are made, alliances are formed and shattered, but the end goal is always the same. These career criminals all want a chance at a better life and they assume, rightly or wrongly, that ill-gained riches will buy them a first-class ticket to a brighter future. Unfortunately for these misbegotten dreamers crime rarely pays and when it does, it demands its own kind of compensation.

As regular viewers (and readers) are probably aware of, TCM is currently airing a selection of ‘Great Capers’ every Tuesday night throughout January. Since great capers often feature a great heist I’ve been tuning in to watch some of my favorites and catch up with a few films I hadn’t seen before. One film I was particularly excited about seeing again was Henry Hathaway’s SEVEN THIEVES (1960) starring Edward G. Robinson. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, Robinson plays Professor Theo Wilkins, a scientist turned thief who brings together a bunch of small time crooks and hustlers (Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Eli Wallach, Alexander Scourby, Michael Dante and Berry Kroeger) to rob a Monte Carlo casino. As much as I enjoyed seeing SEVEN THIEVES again, while I was watching it on Tuesday night I was reminded of another great heist film starring Edward G. Robinson that I like even more, Giuliano Montaldo’s GRAND SLAM (1967). GRAND SLAM isn’t part of TCM’s ‘Great Caper’ series but I think it’s one of the best heist films made in the ‘60s and I don’t make that claim lightly. I’ve seen a lot of good crime capers but the last moments of GRAND SLAM are so surprising and well executed that I often refer to the film whenever someone mentions, “best film endings.” But GRAND SLAM has a lot more to offer viewers besides its unforgettable conclusion.

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GRAND SLAM begins with Edward G. Robinson boarding a plane to New York from Rio de Janeiro where he’s been employed as a teacher at the Scared Heart American School for the past 30 years. The world-weary Robinson has spent three decades studying the operations of a Diamond company that sat directly across the street from his classroom and he has no intention of retiring with only his small pension to carry him through his last years. In New York he visits the luxurious home of a childhood friend (Adolfo Celi) who happens to be an established gangster. With his help, Robinson puts together an international team of thieves that include a hotheaded German ex-solider (Klaus Kinski), an aging British safecracker (George Rigaud), an awkward Italian electrician (Riccardo Cucciolla) and a French playboy (Robert Hoffmann) to assist him in executing an elaborate $10 million dollar diamond heist back in Rio. The four thieves arrive in town just days before Carnival begins and while Kinski, Rigaud and Cucciolla get busy preparing for the heist, pretty boy Hoffman spends his time trying to seduce a chaste secretary (Janet Leigh) who holds the key to the vault where the diamonds are located. For their crime to succeed, they must overcome the high-tech sound sensitive security system called ‘Grand Slam’ that protects the diamonds but that won’t be easy. Tension begins to mount when it becomes clear that Janet Leigh isn’t a woman who can be easily taken advantage of and Kinski’s volatile temper makes him a threat to everyone. Naturally things don’t go exactly as planned and as the suspense mounts, you’ll find yourself wondering if this eccentric group of criminals is capable of defying the odds and delivering the jewels to Edward G. Robinson.

Sergio Leone (The Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West, etc.) was originally supposed to direct this stylish caper but the film ended up in the very capable hands of Giuliano Montaldo (Machine Gun McCain, Sacco & Vanzetti, etc.). Many of Leone’s regular collaborators, including composer Ennio Morricone and editor Nino Baragli, worked with Montaldo on GRAND SLAM helping to give the film a very distinct look and sound. The film benefits greatly from being shot on location in Rio, New York and Rome but it’s the directing choices made by Montaldo combined with Antonio Macasoli’s stunning cinematography and Baragli’s editing skills that make GRAND SLAM one of the best looking heist films to emerge from the ‘60s. Every frame is artfully composed so it’s easy to take them for granted but Leone fans will spot the director’s influence all over the film. GRAND SLAM is brimming with stunning wide shots, memorable POV shots and extreme close-ups. Throughout the movie the lead actors are shot from behind with their faces concealed from the camera for an extended period of time. This was one of Leone’s favorite tricks that suggests that the characters are part of the landscape, embedded in the scenery, instead of just hired props wandering through it. GRAND SLAM also benefits from Morricone’s lush and complex score that is arguably one of his best, and includes the extensive use of choirs; bossa beats and lounge rhythms that move the action along and allow the ensuing drama to unfold at its own pace.

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As memorable as the twist ending of GRAND SLAM is, the film wouldn’t work at all if the buildup to it was sloppy and haphazardly put together but it’s not. GRAND SLAM is executed with a lot of thought and care, even while it’s asking you to suspend your disbelief in order to appreciate its wild premise, and the film works on multiple levels. It’s a terrific heist movie, suspenseful, slick and lot of fun but it also packs an emotional wallop thanks to the tightly wound performances of the exceptional cast. With very little dialogue and only a sliver of a back-story provided for them, Edward G. Robinson, Janet Leigh, Klaus Kinski, George Rigaud, Riccardo Cucciolla and Robert Hoffmann all bring an emotional depth to their roles that’s shrewd, smart and surprising. Kinski’s a natural scene-stealer and in GRAND SLAM he amps up his testosterone levels to play a German solider who favors professionalism over human compassion. It’s easily one of Kinski’s best performances and every line he manages to spit out is dripping with acid. But he’s not the only actor I admire who delivers some of their best work in GRAND SLAM. I also think the film contains one of Janet Leigh’s most fascinating and nuanced performances as a mousy secretary who seems to slowly open herself up to love while playing her own cards close to her chest. If you haven’t seen the film yet I suggest you stop reading here. Do yourself a favor and seek out GRAND SLAM immediately. But if you’re familiar with the film please feel free to read on. I’d like to discuss Janet Leigh’s performance a bit more but I wanted to let readers know that there may be some spoilers ahead and GRAND SLAM should be seen blind. Knowing too much about the film could lessen its impact.

janetlWhen Janet Leigh made GRAND SLAM in 1967 she had appeared in a number of notable films but her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO had gained her an Oscar nomination and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It’s Leigh’s signature role and one that earned her a legion of devoted fans and a lifetime of critical praise. No matter how many other accomplishments Janet Leigh had during her acting career, she will always be remembered as the female star of PSYCHO but it’s surprising to see her subverting that role in GRAND SLAM just 7 short years after making Hitchcock’s film. In PSYCHO Leigh played Marion, a secretary who pockets $40,000 of her boss’ money and heads out of town in hopes of meeting up with her lover before she’s murdered in a seedy motel. While watching GRAND SLAM again I was struck by the similarities between her character in the film and the character she portrayed in PSYCHO. First and foremost is her name. In GRAND SLAM Leigh is called Mary Ann, which sounds almost identical to Marion when said aloud. Mary Ann, like Marion, works as a secretary and she’s given some big responsibilities. In PYSCHO Leigh’s Marion is trusted with $40,000 dollars and in GRAND SLAM Leigh’s Mary Ann is trusted with $10 million dollars in diamonds. Both characters eventually end up giving up their job security and risking prison for money and men. Both women are also stalked by suspect characters who want to destroy or control them in very different ways. But the parallels between Janet Leigh’s Marion and Mary Ann run deep and there’s no doubt in my mind that director Giuliano Montaldo purposefully linked these too unfortunate and unlikely heroines together. Hitchcock aficionados will have fun spotting these ambiguous references and anyone who appreciates a good heist film should enjoy Montaldo’s suspense filled crime caper.

Blue Underground released GRAND SLAM on DVD in 2004. Except no substitutes! Bootleg copies of the film are floating around and I’m sure someone has probably uploaded multigenerational copies of the movie to good old Youtube but this film deserves to be seen in the best circumstances available. The Blue Underground release is topnotch and presents the film in widescreen so you can enjoy every aspect of Giuliano Montaldo’s deftly directed film.

32 Responses Rio – Rififi Style! GRAND SLAM (1967)
Posted By Emgee : January 10, 2013 4:17 pm

Thanks for tipping me off to this movie. I love a good heist movie as well,although Seven Thieves didn’t do it for me, despite Edward G.
The League of Gentlemen; now there’s a great heist pic for ya!

Posted By Emgee : January 10, 2013 4:17 pm

Thanks for tipping me off to this movie. I love a good heist movie as well,although Seven Thieves didn’t do it for me, despite Edward G.
The League of Gentlemen; now there’s a great heist pic for ya!

Posted By swac44 : January 10, 2013 5:04 pm

I recommend seeking this out on DVD in a budget double feature (less than $10 in some places) with the Oliver Reed pic Revolver. They’re both fine transfers from Blue Underground, and deliver lots of bang (literally) for your buck!

http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Movies-Vol-Feature-Revolver/dp/B00862WFC0/ref=sr_1_10?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1357851741&sr=1-10&keywords=Revolver

Posted By swac44 : January 10, 2013 5:04 pm

I recommend seeking this out on DVD in a budget double feature (less than $10 in some places) with the Oliver Reed pic Revolver. They’re both fine transfers from Blue Underground, and deliver lots of bang (literally) for your buck!

http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Movies-Vol-Feature-Revolver/dp/B00862WFC0/ref=sr_1_10?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1357851741&sr=1-10&keywords=Revolver

Posted By Cromset : January 10, 2013 5:56 pm

This is a fantastic movie.
I first saw it in the late 90′s at a Klaus Kinski film fest at the wonderful Blinding Light Cinema in Vancouver.

Posted By Cromset : January 10, 2013 5:56 pm

This is a fantastic movie.
I first saw it in the late 90′s at a Klaus Kinski film fest at the wonderful Blinding Light Cinema in Vancouver.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:34 pm

Emgee – I like SEVEN THIEVES but I love GRAND SLAM. Hope you enjoy it if you find the time to give it a look. I think it will surprise you. btw THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN is scheduled to air next week on TCM as part of “Great Caper’ Tuesdays!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:34 pm

Emgee – I like SEVEN THIEVES but I love GRAND SLAM. Hope you enjoy it if you find the time to give it a look. I think it will surprise you. btw THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN is scheduled to air next week on TCM as part of “Great Caper’ Tuesdays!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:37 pm

swac – Thanks for sharing that tip about the Blue Underground DVD! I didn’t realize that they had repackaged it with REVOLVER and that’s a great double feature.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:37 pm

swac – Thanks for sharing that tip about the Blue Underground DVD! I didn’t realize that they had repackaged it with REVOLVER and that’s a great double feature.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:39 pm

Cromset – Glad to see another fan of the film posting here! It really is a terrific film and I suspect that if Leone’s name was on it instead of Montaldo’s it would be much better known.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 6:39 pm

Cromset – Glad to see another fan of the film posting here! It really is a terrific film and I suspect that if Leone’s name was on it instead of Montaldo’s it would be much better known.

Posted By Sergio : January 11, 2013 11:13 am

KIMBERLY

Why are you always talking about 60′s movies that I love? We’re on the same wavelength. They are the film that I grew up with

I have Grand Slam Blue Underground DVD. Terrific film. But Seven Thieves I think is pretty bad. The script is weak and tedious, it’s cheaply made, suspense free and Rod Steiger is woefully miscast in that film. Oh yeah it’s got a lousy ending

Oh well we can’t agree on everything.

But another heist film from that period I highly recommend is the Spanish/Italian/German produced They Came to Rob Las Vegas which is available on Warner Archive. Like Grand Slam but much more ruthless

Posted By Sergio : January 11, 2013 11:13 am

KIMBERLY

Why are you always talking about 60′s movies that I love? We’re on the same wavelength. They are the film that I grew up with

I have Grand Slam Blue Underground DVD. Terrific film. But Seven Thieves I think is pretty bad. The script is weak and tedious, it’s cheaply made, suspense free and Rod Steiger is woefully miscast in that film. Oh yeah it’s got a lousy ending

Oh well we can’t agree on everything.

But another heist film from that period I highly recommend is the Spanish/Italian/German produced They Came to Rob Las Vegas which is available on Warner Archive. Like Grand Slam but much more ruthless

Posted By morlockjeff : January 11, 2013 12:01 pm

Kimberly,

I love GRAND SLAM and SEVEN THIEVES has its moments (Joan Collins’ dance scene). Another fun contender is the Italian heist film SEVEN GOLDEN MEN (1965) with Philippe Leroy and Rossana Podesta. I also am fond of RIFIFI IN TOKYO (1963) but it closer to a noir than a heist film. Here’s a link to my blog on it – http://cinemasojourns.com/2012/12/11/rififi-in-tokyo/

Posted By morlockjeff : January 11, 2013 12:01 pm

Kimberly,

I love GRAND SLAM and SEVEN THIEVES has its moments (Joan Collins’ dance scene). Another fun contender is the Italian heist film SEVEN GOLDEN MEN (1965) with Philippe Leroy and Rossana Podesta. I also am fond of RIFIFI IN TOKYO (1963) but it closer to a noir than a heist film. Here’s a link to my blog on it – http://cinemasojourns.com/2012/12/11/rififi-in-tokyo/

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Putting the I’m back in crime : January 11, 2013 2:49 pm

[...] and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) and THE KILLING (1956) and, coincidentally, GRAND SLAM (1967), which Morlock Kimberly discussed yesterday, a day after I saw my DVD of it and thought “I need to give that another [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Putting the I’m back in crime : January 11, 2013 2:49 pm

[...] and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) and THE KILLING (1956) and, coincidentally, GRAND SLAM (1967), which Morlock Kimberly discussed yesterday, a day after I saw my DVD of it and thought “I need to give that another [...]

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 11, 2013 7:34 pm

Sergio – Glad we share similar areas of interest! The ’60s happen to be my favorite film decade so I often find myself writing about the period. SEVEN THIEVES has some problems (I dislike the ending too) but I like the cast a lot, even if Steiger’s character might have been better served by another actor. But yes, GRAND SLAM is truly terrific! I hope more people will seek it out because it deserves a wider audience. I haven’t seen THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS, but it’s being shown as part of TCM’s “Great Caper” series so I’m looking forward to finally catching up with it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 11, 2013 7:34 pm

Sergio – Glad we share similar areas of interest! The ’60s happen to be my favorite film decade so I often find myself writing about the period. SEVEN THIEVES has some problems (I dislike the ending too) but I like the cast a lot, even if Steiger’s character might have been better served by another actor. But yes, GRAND SLAM is truly terrific! I hope more people will seek it out because it deserves a wider audience. I haven’t seen THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS, but it’s being shown as part of TCM’s “Great Caper” series so I’m looking forward to finally catching up with it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 11, 2013 7:38 pm

Jeff – For some reason I’m not surprised that you’re a fan of GRAND SLAM too! I’ve never seen RIFIFI IN TOKYO but it sounds fascinating and I like Karl Boehm a lot so I’m going to have to track it down sometime. Thanks for making me aware of it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 11, 2013 7:38 pm

Jeff – For some reason I’m not surprised that you’re a fan of GRAND SLAM too! I’ve never seen RIFIFI IN TOKYO but it sounds fascinating and I like Karl Boehm a lot so I’m going to have to track it down sometime. Thanks for making me aware of it!

Posted By Dave M. : January 11, 2013 8:00 pm

I love the opening credits music in GRAND SLAM. It has to be one of the bounciest, catchiest tunes ever and it never fails to cheer me up.

Another recommendation for SEVEN GOLDEN MEN. What a fun movie. The sequel has its moments too.

THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS is very underrated and way better than that other Vegas heist flick OCEANS ELEVEN which is a chore to sit through with the exception of Sammy Davis Jr.

THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS is one of those movies I love to put on in the middle of summer to immerse myself in those desert scenes.

Posted By Dave M. : January 11, 2013 8:00 pm

I love the opening credits music in GRAND SLAM. It has to be one of the bounciest, catchiest tunes ever and it never fails to cheer me up.

Another recommendation for SEVEN GOLDEN MEN. What a fun movie. The sequel has its moments too.

THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS is very underrated and way better than that other Vegas heist flick OCEANS ELEVEN which is a chore to sit through with the exception of Sammy Davis Jr.

THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS is one of those movies I love to put on in the middle of summer to immerse myself in those desert scenes.

Posted By SergioM : January 11, 2013 10:45 pm

K

” The 60s happen to be my favorite film decade so I often find myself writing about the period.”

They say that the period you saw films you while you were growing up as kid becomes, in your opinion, the greatest period of films in film history. But even if I was younger (born after Star Wars and all that stuff) I will still say that the period from the early 60′s up until the mid-70′s was simply the greatest period of filmmaking ever. Never before or since was there such an amasing wide diversity of films in every genre you can imagine. From Lawrence of Arabia to The Great Race to The Wild Bunch to Deliverance to The Day of the Locust and literally everything in between from comedies to disaster films to blaxploitation films to Hammer horror films. Truly a great time for films.

Posted By SergioM : January 11, 2013 10:45 pm

K

” The 60s happen to be my favorite film decade so I often find myself writing about the period.”

They say that the period you saw films you while you were growing up as kid becomes, in your opinion, the greatest period of films in film history. But even if I was younger (born after Star Wars and all that stuff) I will still say that the period from the early 60′s up until the mid-70′s was simply the greatest period of filmmaking ever. Never before or since was there such an amasing wide diversity of films in every genre you can imagine. From Lawrence of Arabia to The Great Race to The Wild Bunch to Deliverance to The Day of the Locust and literally everything in between from comedies to disaster films to blaxploitation films to Hammer horror films. Truly a great time for films.

Posted By Cary Watson : January 12, 2013 12:33 am

Wow, nice to hear all this love for THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS. I’ve been beating the drums for it for a while now. I’d almost forgotten GRAND SLAM, but I remember being very entertained by it a very long time ago. Now that I know it’s got a Morricone score I’m determined to get ahold of it. Here’s a link to my review of THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/05/film-review-they-came-to-rob-las-vegas.html

Posted By Cary Watson : January 12, 2013 12:33 am

Wow, nice to hear all this love for THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS. I’ve been beating the drums for it for a while now. I’d almost forgotten GRAND SLAM, but I remember being very entertained by it a very long time ago. Now that I know it’s got a Morricone score I’m determined to get ahold of it. Here’s a link to my review of THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/05/film-review-they-came-to-rob-las-vegas.html

Posted By swac44 : January 13, 2013 11:42 am

SPOILER ALERT!

Watched Grand Slam again this morning, still a lot of fun as long as you don’t think to hard about the intricacies of the plot. None of these detract from my enjoyment of the film, but there are still a bunch of elements I’m trying to figure out, like if Adolfo Celi was planning to double cross Robinson all along, and how much of Robinson’s actual plan relied on Leigh reporting it to the police (which she must have done, since otherwise the theft wouldn’t have been discovered until the heist team was safely out of the country). And who tipped the police off to their boat HQ? If they’d been caught, it would have been discovered that the theft was an inside job, and the finger would point back at Leigh, and … but now my head’s starting to hurt.

Then again, even the best caper films aren’t intended to be held up to all that much scrutiny, let alone German-Italian-Spanish co-productions from the late ’60s (although my DVD has the inaccurate tagline, “Before there was Ocean’s 11, there was … GRAND SLAM“), you just enjoy them as they unfold, especially when they’re as stylish and well-constructed as this one.

Posted By swac44 : January 13, 2013 11:42 am

SPOILER ALERT!

Watched Grand Slam again this morning, still a lot of fun as long as you don’t think to hard about the intricacies of the plot. None of these detract from my enjoyment of the film, but there are still a bunch of elements I’m trying to figure out, like if Adolfo Celi was planning to double cross Robinson all along, and how much of Robinson’s actual plan relied on Leigh reporting it to the police (which she must have done, since otherwise the theft wouldn’t have been discovered until the heist team was safely out of the country). And who tipped the police off to their boat HQ? If they’d been caught, it would have been discovered that the theft was an inside job, and the finger would point back at Leigh, and … but now my head’s starting to hurt.

Then again, even the best caper films aren’t intended to be held up to all that much scrutiny, let alone German-Italian-Spanish co-productions from the late ’60s (although my DVD has the inaccurate tagline, “Before there was Ocean’s 11, there was … GRAND SLAM“), you just enjoy them as they unfold, especially when they’re as stylish and well-constructed as this one.

Posted By Morten Bakkeli : August 30, 2013 1:55 am

Very good movie

Posted By SergioM : August 30, 2013 2:22 pm

“And who tipped the police off to their boat HQ? If they’d been caught, it would have been discovered that the theft was an inside job”

I’ve always assumed it was Robinson who did after he was informed by Leigh to keep the heat off her. And Celi planned to double cross Robinson from the moment he told him about his plan. But Robinson keeping in mind that celi was a criminal after all was one step ahead of him

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