Movie still from 1971's "$."

$ June 29, 2017        

unfathomably high number of sinners commit financial wrongdoings anyway, the film watches as Las Vegas mobster the Candy Man (Arthur Brauss) and brassy army man Sarge (Scott Brady) and his sidekick Major (Robert Stiles) attempt to make big on a heroin and LSD smuggling job. They try to harness the reliability of the safe deposit boxes that come with all banks in the area. 

 

Set in Hamburg, West Germany, where privacy laws are lenient and where an unfathomably high number of sinners commit financial wrongdoings anyway, the film watches as Las Vegas mobster the Candy Man (Arthur Brauss) and brassy army man Sarge (Scott Brady) and his sidekick Major (Robert Stiles) attempt to make big on a heroin and LSD smuggling job. They try to harness the reliability of the safe deposit boxes that come with all banks in the area. 

 

But unfortunately for them, Collins, an American security consultant, is well-versed in their scheme and plans to nab the cash collected by their endeavors. He allows for Divine, the classic hooker with a heart of gold, to insinuate herself into the lives of these scoundrels to distract them from what’s really going on. If Collins’ plot proves successful, he and his feminine sidekick could run off with more than one million dollars.

 

We’ve sat through such a storyline before — once you’ve seen five or so features deemed to either be a heist or caper movie you’ve seen them all — but $ rises from the ashes of familiarity thanks to Beatty and Hawn’s sparkling rapport. The temperaments of their characters are vastly different, Beatty like Bond if he were an everyman, Hawn a girlish, seemingly insipid blonde recalling Marilyn Monroe at her most comedic. But the imbalance works to their benefit. 

 

They play off each other beautifully, the humor of Brooks’ screenplay more interesting than any sort of will-they-or-won’t-they sexual chemistry. Hawn and Beatty would team up again four years later in the underrated black comedy Shampoo (1975). And yet $, which has mostly been forgotten in comparison to the latter, uses them more efficiently. Both have a knack for delivering the intelligent comedy played up in the movie, and the writing allows them to work off something other than sexual charge.

 

But the film is still a convincing caper. When guffaws aren’t being let loose, the action is stellar, deftly combining cheap thrills with a noticeable lightheartedness. It’s built like an exercise, but it overcomes the trappings of going through the motions by giving the charisma of its ensemble a place to call home, too.

 

It runs slightly long at a little over two hours, but $ gets the job done with aptitude to boot. There are better crime comedy riffs, sure. But when you have Beatty and Hawn keeping you company, with direction and writing by Brooks that reminds us just why he’s one of the more underrated filmmakers of his generation, you won’t be thinking about much else besides how much fun you’re having.  B

DIRECTED BY

Richard Brooks

 

STARRING

Warren Beatty

Goldie Hawn

Gert Fröbe

Robert Webber

Scott Brady

Arthur Brauss

Robert Stiles

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1971

 

RUNNING TIME

2 Hrs., 1 Min.

T

urns out the suave Warren Beatty and the giggly Goldie Hawn are the caper movie’s dream team — you can forget about your sophisticated grifters this time around. In 1971’s $, made in the same vein as Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963) or William Wyler’s How to Steal a Million (1966), they are Joe Collins and Dawn Divine, an unlikely duo prepped to steal an abominable amount of cash from an odd assortment of criminals who deserve to be bested.

 

Set in Hamburg, West Germany, where privacy laws are lenient and where an