Saturday, March 14, 2009

MOVIES: #18 Gambit

Enough movies without any leading ladies. Time to bring up the 1966 gem, Gambit, starring Shirley Maclaine.

Maclaine almost made this list twice. I really, really liked her and Jack Lemmon in Irma La Douce. But I just couldn't find a spot for that tale of a hooker with a heart of gold and her cop-turned-pimp on this list, despite the laughs a plenty. Besides, I had her in the top 20 with this caper movie with enough twists to dizzy you.

I'm going to issue a spoiler right here. The opening sequence, with its emphasis on action and keeping the talk to a minimum, would make a wonderful short film. Great heist, very imaginative. And when the sequence comes to an end, the dreams of the perfect caper goes with it. The rest of the movie is spent trying to replicate the success and style of the opening sequence, if oft by other means.

This is a movie with so many twists, don't you dare step out for a snack or some relief, without pausing the movie. You pick the wrong five minutes in this flick and it won't make a lick of sense when you come back. I promise.

MacLaine was young, beautiful, lithe and, apparently, half-oriental in this movie. Back in those days, you didn't find natives filling a lot of roles that movie STARS of a white complexion could play with some make-up. So, MacLaine plays Nicole Chang, a dancer from Hong Kong. Michael Caine plays true to form as Harry Stanton, but we are treated to Herbert Lom as Ahmad, Roger C. Carmel as Ram and Arnold Moss as Abdul, in this middle-eastern set piece in the days before sectarian violence turned the area into a disaster zone. Lom's the target of the caper and is every bit as suave and sophisticated as Caine is, in this, Caine's first venture in Hollywood. Carmel, forever Harry Mudd in Star Trek to me, is very effective in his short stints on screen.

Make no mistake, this is not the best caper movie of all time. But it's close. And NOT just for Maclaine.

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