The Anderson Tapes: What Blockbuster Filmmaking Once Looked Like

10/05/2010 8:58 AM |

America, man. You know, its so beautiful—I wanna eat it!
  • “America, man. You know, it’s so beautiful—I wanna eat it!”

Tonight at Film Forum’s Heist Movie series, Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes plays as part of a double feature with Billy Friedkin’s The Brinks Job.

Drifting around in the backroad dustclouds of the American New Wave were a slew of genre roadsters entirely benefitting from the era’s textural ideas and ultrarealism, and Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes (1971) is a prime example. Imagine: this is what big-budget, star-packed “blockbuster” Hollywood films once looked and smelled like. Buttressed by a prophetic Nixon-era surveillance motif carried over from Lawrence Sanders’s novel and almost entirely incidental to the plot, the movie tracks career crook Sean Connery (sans toupee) as he gets paroled from the big house and instantly decides to rob an entire posh apartment building on the Upper East Side.

The realism carries over to the compromises he must make in getting funding from the mob (Alan King), and in the melange of ex-cons (pink poof Martin Balsam, why-not techie-kid Christopher Walken, ghetto wiseacre Dick Williams) he recruits and sometimes regrets recruiting. There’s no banter, just the job, which of course goes horribly wrong (in the pre-Reagan century, heist movies were demonstrations of greed’s tragedy, not the triumph of amoral rogues). But Lumet was fine-tuning what would soon become one of the best New York eyes in the business, and the rhythms of the crime as it unfolds (and refolds, in flashbacks) is breathlessly, hushedly seductive. Once the cops close in (again, quietly), and Connery & Co. begin padding around the carpeted hallways in a swelling panic, tensions rise as they never do in the Ocean’s films. Plus, the casting (Ralph Meeker as police chief, Garret Morris as a beat cop reluctantly roped into SWAT-like acrobatics, Max Showalter as an Ed Koch mayor before Ed Koch) is prime.