Saturday, February 23, 2008

70's Bonanza- The Anderson Tapes

Well known for it's continual procession of trend-setting paranoid thrillers, the 1970's was a veritable golden age of American "thrillers" and "retro noirs". One of the largely unsung forerunners of this genre has to be Sidney Lumet's "The Anderson Tapes". Released early in 1971 and yet to be manufactured on DVD in any form, it originated smack in the middle of a row of films that director Lumet was producing with actor Sean Connery. The premise is this- a master thief is released from prison and he immediately begins planning the robbery of a building that covers an entire block. He gathers a small crew (including Lumet regular Martin Balsam and featuring the first role for a blond, bright eyed Christopher Walken) and the adventure begins.

Taken on plot synopsis alone, "The Anderson Tapes" reads like a redundant narrative pieced together from numerous other heist films. But the glory of this gem lies in the impending paranoia that soaks the entire affair, pre-dating the electronic malaise that surfaces in Coppola's "The Conversation" and Alan J. Pakula's "Three Days of the Condor" and pretty much any other 70's thriller that comes to mind. Not only is the CIA canvasing some of the people that Connery brings into the heist (including a mob boss played to smarmy perfection by Alan King) but there's a jealous lover bugging the apartment of the woman (Dyan Cannon) that Connery shacks up with. The endless Pandora's box of electronics surveillance is represented with unnerving sound design by Lumet regular Jack Fitzstephens and genuinely claustrophobic music by Quincy Jones. The various bugs and tape recorders become a central character as they stay hidden in the background, threatening to rise up and obliterate Connery's single-minded determinism. One viewing of "The Anderson Tapes" and one understands where Coppola and the others gleaned their own visions of modern technology interfering (and controlling) human deceptions.

The final half of "The Anderson Tapes" deals specifically with the robbery itself, as Connery and his group quietly go from apartment to apartment and rob the tenants. Here, Lumet is in full control of sound, motion and camera placement, slowly turning the screws as the goings-on inside the apartment building contrast with the logistics outside the building (not wanting to give too much away). In this final 40 minutes, Lumet cuts between the black and white monitors, the reactions of the tenants before and after the robbery and the structured precision of the robbery with a fluid sense of increasing tension. When a heist film is done right- thinking specifically of Jules Dassin and "Rififfi" or certain scenes in Michael Mann's "Heat"- it all coalesces in the editing. In "The Anderson Tapes", not only is the technical part handled with perfection, but one actually roots for the bad guys because you can appreciate the care that's gone into pulling off the perfect job. If anything, "The Anderson Tapes" is Lumet's perfect job as well.

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