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The Anderson Tapes

by Glenn Erickson Aug 12, 2023

Sidney Lumet directs his first on-location New York crime picture, giving the escapist heist thriller a taste of paranoid cinema to come. Released after ten years in stir, thief Sean Connery launches into an immediate raid on a swank 5th Avenue apartment building, not realizing that a Brave New Surveillance World is watching and recording everything he does. Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Alan King and a young Christopher Walken shine in this three-ring-circus of mob politics, sly comedy and a daytime heist that’s both brilliant and absurd. So is the movie, with its prescient warning about the New Wave of extra-legal surveillance snooping.


The Anderson Tapes
Blu-ray
KL Studio Classics
1971 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 95 min. / Street Date July 25, 2023 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95
Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Alan King, Christopher Walken, Val Avery, Dick Williams, Garrett Morris, Stan Gottlieb, Paul Benjamin, Anthony Holland, Richard B. Shull, Conrad Bain, Margaret Hamilton, Judith Lowry, Max Showalter, Janet Ward, Scott Jacoby, Raoul Kraushaar.
Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz
Production Designer: Ben Kasazkow
Art Director: Philip Rosenberg
Film Editor: Joanne Burke
Original Music: Quincy Jones
Screenplay by Frank R. Pierson from the book by Lawrence Sanders
Produced by Robert M. Weitman
Directed by
Sidney Lumet

Who doesn’t love a good New York crime movie?  1971’s The Anderson Tapes occupies an interesting historical spot between old-fashioned crime pictures and paranoid conspiracies concerned with the nefarious uses of new technologies. It predates Coppola’s The Godfather and The Conversation and also Watergate and the revelations of The Pentagon Papers.

Mystery writer Lawrence Sanders’ Edgar-winning first novel seems to have anticipated the wave of political paranoia that hit screens  in 1973 and ’74.’  A colorful heist story populated by cops, crooks, Mafia dons and a high-priced call girl is also a technology-happy tale with Sci-Fi edges. Snoops of every stripe compile surveillance information, but what happens if nobody wants to hear it?  Quincy Jones’ soundtrack music score is frequently edged out by electronic beeps and alarms — and the sound of spy cameras turning. Released in the same year as the even more tech-happy The Andromeda Strain, The Anderson Tapes even uses the same ‘computer-‘ styled font for its titles.

All of this concern with surveillance and wiretapping gives a precocious edge to the classic caper film. Unrepentantly bitter, convict Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) finishes serving his ten-year sentence for robbery, and is eager to get back at society for the time he’s lost. He reconnects with his girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon), a hooker kept in high style by her steady client Werner (Richard B. Shull). Seeing that the other tenants of Ingrid’s ritzy Fifth Avenue apartment are awash in priceless paintings, artwork, silver and cash, Duke goes to his old mob connection Pat Angelo for seed money to knock off the entire building. He then assembles a gang composed of pro thieves and iffy misfits. It’s an afternoon heist, and it’s planned down to the smallest detail. What could go wrong?

 

The Anderson Tapes is an impressive production filmed on the streets of New York. With ready access to the cream of the acting profession, director Lumet has a fine time orchestrating some broad but entertaining characterizations.    Some will see Martin Balsam’s fey antiques dealer Tommy Haskins as a glaring stereotype but he’s really not all that exaggerated; Balsam has a lot of fun with the role. Just the same, Frank Pierson’s script exploits the gay contest for some easy laughs. Tommy is actually an integral part of the heist, as his interior decorating research is what identifies the museum-worthy spoils to be purloined.

There are small parts but none are throwaways. Future Saturday Night Live staple Garrett Morris makes a strong impact as a steeplejack-cop with blisters on his fingers. Anthony Holland plays an obnoxious prison psychologist to the hilt. Activist thief Spencer (Dick Anthony Williams) likes Duke’s style and only gets involved in sure things.

Alan King’s mafioso Pat Angelo has no real interest in penny-ante heists, and lends Duke the startup funds for old times’ sake. A year before The Godfather, Angelo is shown taking care of his invalid father, attending a huge funeral, and debating the wisdom of Duke’s robbery plan with his fellow Made Men. Angelo forces Duke to use an unpleasant goon named Socks Parelli (Val Avery    ) to assist with ‘crowd control’ — and imposes another condition that Duke can’t tell anyone about.

 

Duke Anderson might be ten years behind the times, but Socks Parelli is a fossil from the days of Murder Incorporated. His thug tactics unbalance the heist crew — he hates Duke and when angered can become a loose cannon. Socks contrasts 100% with ‘The Kid,’ played by a young Christopher Walken in one of his first movies (just below, left    ).  Released from prison the same time as Duke, the Kid is an electrical journeyman who knows phone lines, residential alarms and rudimentary safecracking. He eagerly volunteers for the dangerous heist even though he talks like a hippie:

“I’m not into violence, but that’s okay with me if that’s your scene, man.”

The funniest thief is Pop Meyerhoff (Stan Gottlieb of Putney Swope, just below, middle    ), a doddering old jailbird who has been in stir since 1931, and is completely unable to navigate the outside world, starting with the bus station. When Duke and The Kid try to help him, they’re almost arrested: the transit police see them going through Pop’s pockets, on closed-circuit TV. Pop worships Duke like he was James Cagney. When Duke asks if he wants in on the heist, the old man’s enthusiasm is boundless:

“Anything for you, Duke!”

 

The wealthy robbery victims are a group of excellent casting choices. Some resist the thieves and others do not. The wonderful Janet Ward (Fail Safe,  Night Moves) is a mother trying to protect her bed-ridden son. Socks badly beats her husband (Max Showalter), an innofensive nice guy. Another tenant (Norman Rose) refuses to divulge the combination to his safe, even when his priceless antiques are smashed. He won’t talk, even when Duke grabs his wife (Meg Myles) and threatens to break her arm.

 Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) and Judith Lowry (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) are sisters excited by the drama of the robbery. The funny pair can’t control their bickering:

“Go look in her room, look at what she reads! The Story of O! Seventy-three years old and all she can think of is sex!”

From the beginning, The Anderson Tapes’ ‘escapist caper’ storyline shares the stage with the sidebar message about Technological surveillance. As Duke goes from meetings with Pat Angelo to Spencer’s place, he’s filmed by detectives with cameras and taped with illegal bugs and wiretaps. The justice department is monitoring Pat Angelo’s activities, and a shady FBI group is illegally bugging the Black Panthers building where Spencer lives. Detectives working for the jealous Werner have bugged Ingrid’s lavish love nest.

That means that several agencies and individuals are well aware of Duke Anderson’s impending crime. But none are looking for armed robbers. They log Duke’s presence but do nothing: they can’t blow the whistle without revealing their own felony lawbreaking.

Director Lumet works up the requisite tension for a satisfactory heist, maintaining a slightly semi-comic tone. It’s absurd that so many outsiders — and law enforcement agencies — stay quiet about Duke’s caper. As far as he knows, he’s in the clear. His bandits lodge a Mayflower moving van in the basement of the residential building, don masks, and systematically loot the premises, top to bottom.

 

In basic genre terms, The Anderson Tapes is a variation on the Obsolete Hoodlum Syndrome, as chronicled in old movies like I Walk Alone. James Cagney’s out-of-touch armed robber in the classic White Heat has no idea that the FBI is using scientific methods to track him down.

Just as in those movies, progress has introduced new gadgets that Duke Anderson barely understands. He makes no major mistakes, yet is undone because he doesn’t know what he’s up against. He never finds out, either. Young Scott Jacoby plays a shut-in kid with severe asthma. Duke leaves him locked in his room, unattended. What harm can a little sick boy do to Duke’s plan?  It goes without saying that The Anderson Tapes would never work in today’s world of cell phones.

The film’s pace doesn’t falter, even if its escapism levels off into a tragicomedy. Lumet’s editor Joanne Burke works in some very progressive flash-forwards to the robbery’s aftermath. They’re not necessarily beneficial — the glimpses of sober finale mutes the suspense. Audiences in 1971 would probably have been happier if the movie dispensed with the fancy time-shifting, and just told the story straight.

The surveillance subtext now makes The Anderson Tapes seem prophetic, especially the part about intelligence organizations erasing tapes to obliterate evidence. The fancy technology, then, is mainly employed to allow ‘lawful’ institutions to cover up their crimes. Poor Duke Anderson conducts his activities the old fashioned way, running the risk of being caught in the act and shot down like a dog. The long arm of the law — a Buster Keaton- like army of cops with machine guns — bursts in on Duke just as he’s reluctantly reverting to the old ‘rough stuff’ of a bygone era.

 

We remember that movie fans met The Anderson Tapes with a slight sense of resentment. We didn’t want Sean Connery to abandon the role of James Bond, a move that now seems the actor’s best and only way forward. Seeking to distance himself from 007, Connery doesn’t wear a hairpiece, yet his appeal isn’t affected — his boundless charisma carries the film with ease. Duke’s gang believes in him — this isn’t one of those cynical capers where everybody double-crosses everybody else. Dyan Cannon’s Ingrid pretty much retires the cliché of the moll with the heart of gold. When Duke offers to call off the raid for Ingrid’s sake and she says no, we feel for Duke . . . the transactional Ingrid digs him, but falling in love is not part of her plan for career security. On the other hand, Cannon and Connery look like they’re having great fun playing their seduction games. Ah, those movie stars can get mighty frisky.

Billed high in the cast but in only for the final act is tough guy actor Ralph Meeker.    His bulldog-like Irish police Captain Delaney barks out orders, setting up a Manhattan siege reminiscent of Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. Captain Delaney is barely (and literally) a walk-on, but his every moment on screen is hilarious. He borrows an officer’s newspaper as a prop for his surveillance — and then gives the officer a rip for having personal reading material with him on patrol.

 

The humorous yet realistic details of the massive police retaliation give the ending a strangely split tone. Inside the luxury flats, we’re concerned for the survival of Duke and his leather-masked mob. On the outside a phalanx of cops is rapelling its way from building to building, picking up injuries as they go.

The assault on the apartment building is a favorite caper set piece. We’re aware of the layout of multiple floors. Each hallway has an elevator at one end and an ornate circular staircase on the other. Are those stairway doors locked?  The moving truck is a VERY tight fit into the building’s loading dock, a detail that makes us nervous. Closed-circuit TV tells the thieves in the lobby that the coast is clear outside — because the cagey cops are staying out of camera range. The raid ends in a final burst of violence that avoids easy clichés: no brain-dead car chase, no predictable shoot-out. The Anderson Tapes’ flash-forwards are borderline counterproductive, but the movie overall has a lot of integrity, and a lot to say.

Fooled by hi-tech gadgets, Duke Anderson may never learn what queered his ‘perfect’ raid. He’s a charismatic mix of selfishness and chivalry — he takes care of his crew but is also willing to commit cold-blooded murder. Is Duke a closet romantic looking for a break, or does he believe his own cynical justification for screwing the system any way he can?:

“Its bullshit. It’s just dog eat dog, but I want the first bite.”
 


 

The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray of The Anderson Tapes is a solid HD encoding, presumably by Sony, of this imaginative New York crime picture. Cameraman Arthur Ornitz goes the realistic route, filming scenes in location-appropriate light, like the hardware store with its greenish fluorescents. The images capture Riker’s Island, various boroughs and Manhattan in the hot days of summer vacation, when half of those ritzy Park Avenue apartments are left empty.

As befitting the year 1971 and the high tech theme, Anderson’s main titles are written in that ‘computer’ font still used on bank checks. Quincy Jones’ soundtrack music makes for some nice transitions and travelling cues; it reverts to electronic tweets and chirps at every glimpse of a closed-circuit camera. The 3/4″ reel-to-reel video tape equipment seen in the movie was brand new, and very expensive.

The informative Glenn Kenny audio commentary has migrated from a 2017 Powerhouse Indicator release. Kenny begins by noting that Anderson has been cast with many faces familiar to older viewers, and likely unknown to everyone else. These days it’s nice to know that some millennials still know and appreciate Sean Connery. Mr. Kenny explains the novelty of the surveillance theme, and even discusses the film’s title font. Near the finish he references old Variety notices that suggested that the film’s ending had been re-shot, because TV networks (?) demanded that the heist fail. Kenny rightly points out the likelihood that wires got crossed in the print reportage — any such re-shoot would involve restaging half of the final, very expensive heist.

The film’s original ad campaign promoted Anderson with an image of tape recording equipment, not an action pose for Sean Connery. The attractive alternate poster style for Kino’s cover puts Connery in a Derek Flint-like pose, holding a gun. The original poster design is on the disc sleeve’s reverse side.

This Kino Blu is the first U.S. release of The Anderson Tapes save for a Mill Creek disc of lesser quality. Powerhouse Indicator’s earlier UK release was Region-Free, but it went OOP in 2020. If you’re thinking of chucking the old ‘Martini Minutes’ DVD release, know that it has a feature not carried over to Blu-ray, an alternate French audio track and matching subtitles.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Anderson Tapes
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements:
Audio commentary by Glenn Kenny
Trailer and TV spot.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed:
August 9, 2023
(6974tape)
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About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Katherine Turney

Me, I’m keeping my MARTINI MINUTES!

David Low

I believe Indicator’s Limited Edition of The Anderson Tapes is out of print but you can purchase the Standard Edition. I don’t know if the Kino Lorber is a better transfer.

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