Bank Shot

BANK SHOT, an appallingly unfunny heist comedy, was one of the worst movies of 1974, when it limped into 80th place. One of just two features piloted by lauded theater director Gower Champion, the other coming a decade earlier as My Six Loves, a mild family comedy starring Debbie Reynolds. That trifle was no great shakes, but compared to this squawking buzzard, it’s Citizen Kane. In a career nadir, George C. Scott stars, leading a group of normally fine character actors, who mugg shamelessly. To be fair, make that gallantly, considering the material they’re given and the hand at the throttle. *

Robbery specialist ‘Walter Ballantine’ (Scott) stages a spectacular escape from a private prison in order to pull off a foolproof (aren’t they all?) bank job, one that involves actually stealing the bank itself, housed in a temporary mobile home. The “zany” crew who help include knockout ‘El’ (Joanna Cassidy) and Walter’s obnoxious former partner ‘Al Karp’ (Sorrell Brooke). Warden “Bulldog” Streiger’ (Clifton James) pursues, with the FBI on tap.

Veteran screenwriter Wendell Mayes adapted the script, based off a novel by popular and prolific crime writer Donald E. Westlake. Mayes credits include Anatomy Of A Murder, In Harm’s Way, Von Ryan’s Express, Death Wish and Go Tell The Spartans. Westlake, under his own name or a slew of pseudonyms, turned out more than a hundred novels and non-fiction books. Mayes laid the main blame on Champion: “What happened is that Gower tried to turn it into a farce, and it didn’t work. The people weren’t equipped to play farce. Gower was a nice guy and a marvelous stage director; but the film simply wasn’t deft, and it should have been. He held pretty much to the script but ruined what I thought was a good piece. He was the only bad experience I’ve ever had in my career with a director. I was bitterly disappointed.” Not as much as any paying customer.

Frantic yelling and noise. Scott, looking embarrassed to be there, with eyebrows done up like a gravedigger in a monster matinee, plays it straight, while everyone else are directed to force-feed ham bone like they’ll never get another check. Game and gorgeous, Cassidy is somehow supposed to be hot for Scott: they have less chemistry than syrup on salmon. Champion’s direction to Brooke  seems to have been “make people want to hurt you”, and normally superb James is almost as bad here as he was playing the redneck sheriff in Roger Moore’s first Bond flicks. If the grimacing, pacing and utter witlessness isn’t enough, the honk-honk music score from John Morris is atrocious. That same year he did a terrific job on Young Frankenstein, but this concoction seems designed for 3-year-olds.

Others flailing about: Bob Balaban (simpering), Don Calfa (simpering), Bibi Osterwald (yelling), Frank McRae (yelling), G.Wood, Liam Dunn. The gross was $3,000,000, about $2,999,000 more than it deserved. 83 minutes you can’t buy back.

* A Great Actor doesn’t equal great judgement. Scott’s other project that year, The Savage Is Loose, came in 105th. That picture, a misguided survival drama he also directed, was funnier because it was meant to be serious, whereas this one, intended to be rib-tickling, is unendurable. One wonders (I being the one) if the failure of this movie was a kick in the shins for Joanna Cassidy, who, with only a handful of credits, got second billing here. Though she worked afterwards, she didn’t attract radar until 1982 and Blade Runner. If this turkey was in part responsible for that long lag time, it’s just another reason to beat it to a pulp, stuff it in a sack and and toss it in the Los Angeles River.

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