I finally got around to watching The Anderson Tapes the other day. Before Sidney Lumet's nifty little caper made its debut on DVD in September as part of Sony's "Martini Movies" imprint (uh, Sony, I think you missed the lounge movement by about 10 years), it was on my list of films I--a fan of '70s heist flicks like the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Hot Rock--wanted to watch but wasn't able to because they weren't available on disc.
I always dug the Smackwater Jack version of Quincy Jones' Anderson Tapes theme, which features the late Freddie Hubbard on flugelhorn and a nice harmonica solo by Toots Thielemans. That version of the theme actually never turns up during Jones' unreleased, love-it-or-hate-it score, which is filled with early synthesizer bloops and squeals due to the paranoid film's subject of pre-Watergate (and pre-Conversation) surveillance.
The Anderson Tapes a certain analog charm. The groovetastic sound effects remind me of the electronic noises during Roman Coppola's amusing 2001 film about the making of a low-budget French sci-fi flick, CQ, which takes place in the same era.
The Hill and The Offence (when's that film going to hit DVD?), Lumet clearly loved giving Connery speeches that were long and fiery (yet not overwrought). Eager to move past his rather limited 007 persona, Connery excelled at those speeches, and he pulled off another juicy one here, an anti-authority screed that's more Cool Hand Luke than 007, courtesy of Cool Hand Luke screenwriter Frank Pierson ("What's advertising but a legalized con game? And what the hell's marriage? Extortion, prostitution, soliciting with a government stamp on it.").
In The Anderson Tapes (which the creatively bankrupt Sony has been attempting to remake, and I hope the box-office failure of their Pelham remake discourages them), it's interesting to see narrative devices and character types Lumet would revisit in later, better-known works. Lumet jumbled the Labor Day heist's time frame--a gimmick the director would re-use in The Offence and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. The flashbacks to the heist are less distracting here than in Before the Devil. The crooked cops of Serpico, Prince of the City and Night Falls on Manhattan are cut from the same cloth as the lawmen who illegally bug or wiretap Anderson's cohorts (the only likable cop in The Anderson Tapes is a resourceful SWAT team leader played by a pre-SNL Garrett Morris). The victims of Anderson's heist get some standout lines and are as fleshed out as Al Pacino's hostages from my favorite Lumet film, 1975's Dog Day Afternoon. The heist sequence's tension is offset by some welcome comic relief from Judith Lowry as an elderly resident who doesn't seem to mind being robbed (Lowry was the same ornery old lady who stole scenes in Norman Lear's not-yet-on-DVD satire Cold Turkey, also released in 1971).
If you can find Walken's obscure 2000 indie movie The Opportunists, in which he plays a world-weary safecracker whose mentorship of a younger crook carries echoes of the Connery character's mentorship of Walken's upstart safecracker, it would make for an intriguing double feature with The Anderson Tapes. Walken's performance in The Opportunists--it's Walken in not-so-weird Catch Me If You Can mode--is one of his most underrated. Too bad The Opportunists is rather listless for a caper flick. Compared to the fun and nail-biting Anderson Tapes, The Opportunists is--to borrow a line from one of Walken's many quotable SNL sketches--a Stiffly Stifferson.