Case Number 14530: Small Claims Court


Sony // 1971 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 17th, 2008

The Charge

If we didn't have thieves, we wouldn't need banks.

The Case

Capers were so much more fun back in the low-tech days. Since not everything was computer-automated, there was plenty of room for human error, thus opening the door for crooks and cons. Someone planning a bank heist could call his accomplice on the bank's phone and not have to worry about being busted by modern nuisances like Caller ID or automatic re-dial. People could hop on airplanes at a moment's notice and could bring in their carryon liquids, solids, even some heroin in a folded over bill -- just enough to snort up in the bathroom while the flight attendant (here called "stewardess") was giving take-off instructions.

$ takes us back to those lazy, hazy days before cell phones, lap tops, and DNA testing complicated our lives.

It's Hamburg in the early '70s, and Joe Collins (Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde) is an American security expert outfitting a bank with the latest crime-stopping technology -- mainly, surveillance cameras.

But Joe is no mere security expert. He's a security expert with a larcenous heart and logical mind. Joe has a plan to trip up his own system and rob some safety deposit boxes. The owners of the targeted boxes are criminals, so they won't be able to report the thefts to the police or bank officers, so Joe won't have to worry about an investigation. Assisting him in this deceptively simple plot is giddy prostitute Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn, Everyone Says I Love You), who has intimate knowledge of the bad box holders.

$ (or Dollars) probably seemed far more clever and edgy when it was released in 1971. Writer/director Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry) gives us a fast-paced film with some clever dialogue and enjoyable performances. Somehow, though, $ is just too top heavy for its lightweight premise.

The great joy of a heist film should be the heist -- the planning, the intricacies, the details that all have to fall into place, the nuances, and of course, those tiny-but-all-important flaws that build up the tension. The problem with $ is there's really not a whole lot to the heist. It's set up in a needlessly complicated way that has the audience expecting something far more complex than what we actually get. Little elements are drawn out -- for instance, part of the plan involves Hawn's air-headed hooker disguising her voice (by speaking low) and making a prankish phone call. This bit of business, including Hawn's working up the nerve to do it, takes around 20 minutes, and frankly, the call is nothing special.

The film really tries too hard to be hip (or mod or funky or whatever the prevailing term was), starting with an opening credit sequence that fails to provide a title. Instead, we have a crane hoisting a metallic dollar sign while the soundtrack gives us people talking about the economy. A drug ring operates out of a strip club (thus providing the requisite '70s R-rated nudity) and deals heroin, cocaine, and LSD. On the upside, we get another fine score from Quincy Jones.

By '71, Hawn's reinvention of the dumb blonde -- played to such great effect on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and in her Oscar-winning role in Cactus Flower -- was beginning to devolve. It wasn't until three years later -- in Steven Spielberg's feature debut, The Sugarland Express -- that Hawn turned serious. 1971 was a big year for celluloid hookers, but Hawn's Dawn is a giggly throwback, not hard-bitten and introspective (like Jane Fonda's hooker in Klute) or hard-bitten and business-savvy (like Julie Christie's hooker in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Beatty's other film that year).

In $, Brooks plays a little too much into Hawn's "kooky" persona. Scenes of her dressing up like a firefighter and playfully spritzing water on a guy or getting into comical yoga positions to calm her nerves just go on and on and drag down the movie. Beatty breezes through this without breaking a sweat. The two had a lot more chemistry four years later when they co-starred in Shampoo.

Sony gives us a decent release of this comparatively little-known film. Apparently, the company has a new line called "Martini Movies." These are catalogue titles that are cleaned up tech-wise and for extras have "Martini Minutes," clip pieces along with a martini recipe. For $, we also get the theatrical trailer. While these thin supplements aren't reason enough to run out and buy the disc, I applaud Sony for releasing these titles in decent shape with a little added something. There are so many films out there that were not major releases and seem to get lost in the DVD shuffle or released in bare bones editions with barely acceptable tech. Other Martini Movies include The Anderson Tapes, The New Centurions, and The Garment Jungle.

$ is a mixed bag. Overly long at 120 minutes, it's still a pleasant-enough diversion. Unless you're already a fan, I'd suggest a rental.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)

* English
* French

Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Martini Minute: "How to Play the Leading Man"
* Martini Minute: "How to Pull off a Heist"
* Trailer

* IMDb