Before watching the movie:
This is based on a book that I’ve read, but I don’t remember very much of it. A gang of misfits that I recall as fairly large decides that instead of stealing from a bank, they’ll steal the bank itself, thanks to its temporary home in a trailer. Beyond the premise, I only remember one particular scene, and that while it’s a comedy, it was the kind of comedy that I had to keep stopping to remind myself that this wasn’t a drama with a bunch of one-off comic relief jokes. The situation sounds farcical, but in context I took it completely seriously. On the other hand, I was just a little too young to get it. I think I wasn’t even in middle school yet, and it’s definitely a book for adults.
I discovered it as an automatic recommendation along with other George C. Scott movies when I saw They Might Be Giants. The actor is probably the only similarity between the two movies.
After watching the movie:
Walter Ballentine, notorious criminal mastermind, escapes the desert prison run by Bulldog Streiger when his associate Al Karp begs him for help on a plum bank job. It turns out that this bank is under construction and currently operating out of a trailer down the street, allowing Ballentine’s ragtag gang to simply steal the bank itself. But all through his series of cons and misadventures in hiding his bounty, Ballentine is hunted by Streiger, insistent that nobody ever escapes his prison.
Maybe I didn’t have the imagination for it, but I found this a lot funnier than the way I recall the book. I am informed it deviates widely from the plot of the novel, but I think what was cut out sounds funnier than what was added. I should probably stop comparing it to a book I hardly remember, but this is definitely more of a farce than the impression of the novel I was left with.
George C. Scott brings the same quiet brilliance to the role as he did on the other side of the law in “Giants”. Ballentine is an idea man, and portrayed here as able to come up with an unorthodox scheme with just a few seconds of shutting out everything around him. On the other hand, he’s necessarily more worldly than in the other movie, which allows him to be more gruff and arrogant, which is fun. I wouldn’t have expected this kind of brilliance in his characters if I only knew him from A Christmas Carol and Patton. (Not that Scrooge is a dummy, or that Patton can’t be called brilliant, but that’s not the kind of skillful intelligence I’m talking about.) The rest of the cast seems sometimes underutilized. Of course, they’re a supporting ensemble, so they don’t get much time, but I wanted more from most of them. Particularly the nerdy ex-FBI nephew and the black safecracker.
My biggest complaint about this movie is that it seemed too short. It’s well under 90 minutes, and while comedies do err shorter, it felt closer to one hour when I was expecting at least an hour and 45. It’s not like there was a lack of material, because they hacked large chunks of story out to get it to this length. There’s even plot threads that could have been expanded upon more. It ultimately just seems like half a movie.
Watch this movie: for a zany and unorthodox heist.
Don’t watch this movie: with exceptional familiarity with the source material.