The Great Bank Robbery (1969)
Flawed and uneven this western spoof may be and it’s surely attempting to cash in on the popularity of Support Your Local Sheriff, yet, having said that there is an incredible cast of actors employed in this Hy Averback film that was actually scripted by William Peter Blatty. You know, that Blatty guy. The one who unleashed The Exorcist upon the world.
It follows the zany adventures of three separate groups of would be thieves attempting to bust into a fool proof bank overseen by western regular John Anderson. This isn’t just any regular bank either. It’s the bank in the town of Friendly where famed outlaws like the James Boys and The Younger Brothers store their own cash. It’s where our western baddie clad in solid black, Claude Akins and his sidekick, Elisha Cook Jr. deposit their own loot after robbing a train during the film’s opening scene.
On board that same train is group number one heading to Friendly under the guise of being assigned the town’s new Minister position is Zero Mostel and his company of do gooders, the beautiful Kim Novak, demolitions man John Fiedler and all around muscle man Peter Whitney. Once arriving they’ll connect with Brother Sam Jaffe as the artist needed to pull of their ingenious heist.
Terrorizing the country side and representing group number two at the head of an army of bandits is Akim Tamiroff and his poor excuse of a bandit son, Larry Storch. Not that wise in the ways of bank robbing, the pair continue to charge the bank on a regular basis and wind up in the middle of a shooting gallery led by town sheriff John Larch.
Our last group of thieves are far from it in actuality. Law enforcement agencies want proof that Anderson is offering shelter for outlaws throughout the west and assign secret agent Mako to enlist long tall U.S. Marshall, Clint Walker to pose as a new laundry businessman with his team of Asian workers as they go about planning their break in.
While Akim and Storch offer little in the way of new methods to crack the bank’s vault, both the Mostel and Walker groups begin tunneling their way underneath the city street towards Anderson’s bank. Little do they know they’re running parallel and this leads to a great line from character favorite and Juror Number 2, John Fiedler as he believes he can hear Chinamen through the walls of their tunnel. “I didn’t think we’d dug down that far.”
It won’t be long before Mostel and Walker are fully aware of the other’s tunnel so naturally Mostel lets Kim Novak loose upon our he-man who quickly melts at the sight of Miss Novak’s attributes that she helps along with some “Indian Candy.” Yes this film even takes Walker and Novak on a Roger Corman infused “Trip” minus Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. Best line from Walker? It comes when Novak is doubting if her sex appeal isn’t working on the tallest member of The Dirty Dozen. “Just because I talk slow don’t mean I’m peculiar.”
The final half hour evolves into a madcap affair that probably plays better overall to the kiddies of the day as opposed to the adult’s who took them to the local theater for the matinee showing. If the Dad’s were hoping to get a good look at Novak, then they were in for a treat when she goes Lady Godiva in the dark of night as a means of distraction for the night security guards within the bank. While Dad might have enjoyed seeing Kim, I suppose the stoic Walker baring his torso and pecs may have appealed to the ladies in the audience as well.
This is far from memorable but there are some key scenes and performances that make this live action cartoon enjoyable. One of which is Claude Akins as the villain in black. Akins always played a good heavy and here with the pint sized Elisha Cook as his partner, the pair engage in a number of funny exchanges until Claude’s temper gets the best of him. Not to worry though, he’ll apologize to Cook which makes it all right in the end. At least it does to Claude.
The best scene in the film comes from the top billed Mostel. As he is the new Minister in town, he’ll have to preach the Sunday services to the towns folk and his sermon from the pulpit is a laugh out loud affair as he begins his speech with, “Adam had an ass.” It only gets better from there.
As a fan of character actors, this one is an easy addition to my library of titles here at home. That coupled with Clint Walker and Kim Novak doesn’t hurt either. So while this spoof kind of comes up short in the end, it does have some amusing bits and enough welcome faces to make it a nostalgic affair overall.