Terrific, sadly overlooked (until now) heist picture that crackles with energy and suspense, with director Wise at the top of his game.
NYC ex-cop Ed Begley wouldn’t take cash from the mob but wouldn’t squeal on them either; his expertise at his former position, however, has clued him in to a chicken just ripe for the plucking: a pushover bank at a small upstate city that has a fortune in payroll in cash every Thursday night. He needs two partners, a tough guy (Robert Ryan at his surly best) and a Negro to take the place of the Thursday night deli deliveryman (Harry Belafonte, who also produced the film). Both of his would-be allies turn him down but are forced to reconsider due to economic circumstances, but the only thing Ryan likes less than being broke is Negroes, and there’s your conflict: can these guys get along long enough to get the loot?
Spicing up our cast are Shelley Winters and Gloria Graham (RRRWWWL!) as the women in Ryan’s life, and Kim Lambert, Cicily Tyson, and – as the mobster – Will Kuluva. You’ll also enjoy Richard Bright as the world’s gayest mob muscleman and young Wayne Rogers as a soldier looking for a bar fight.
Shot documentary style by Wise, who used infrared film for some sequences to create a ghostly cast on selected actors and locations. The inside sequences, in various apartments and even a nightclub, are so cramped and filled with interesting characters that the movie should come with a warning for claustrophobics.
A threat from the mob boss: “I’ll KILL you and EVERYTHING you OWN!”
The new Olive Blu-ray looks great, although the aspect ratio is strange: it’s listed at 1.85:1, some claim it’s 1.77:1, IMDB says the film was shot at 1.37:1, and part of the opening credits are cut off at the very bottom. I’m not going to wade into that controversy, because the movie’s too good, including a classic John Lewis score. Includes subtitles but no extras. A terrific movie and the new disc is highly recommended.