Safe-cracker John “Duke” Anderson finds himself a relic of different time as he unwittingly enters a world of pervasive surveillance (cameras, bugs, and tracking devices) and attempts his latest caper. Based on the book of the same name, Sean Connery plays Anderson, a recently released convict who is no sooner out of prison than he is already planning his next job: burgling an upper-class apartment building in Manhattan in a single sweep. Now, I am a sucker for a heist movie. Give Ocean’s, give me Inside Man, give me Heat. Catch me in the right mood and I’ll even take Now You See Me or The Italian Job. Bearing that in mind, this film held some intrigue for me, as it featured a character using old-school methods in what was starting to become a digital age. I was curious to see if his old-school methods could overcome the technological advances. However, I will say that in order to be capable of beating the surveillance, you first need to know about it. Fun fact: The Anderson Tapes was the first major motion picture for Christopher Walken, as well as the last on-screen film appearance by Margaret Hamilton.
Connery is obviously the film’s biggest draw, and his character, Duke Anderson, is likeable to a certain extent. He’s charming and clearly capable of masterminding a heist. At times, particularly during the planning stage, the film reminds me of the opening sequences of a Parker novel. This comparison is most notable when Anderson goes in search of financing to bankroll his heist endeavor and putting his crew together. The side deal he makes with his financier also carries a measure of intrigue, because up until this point, I merely thought of the character and the job as a nonviolent endeavor, and yet in this moment, violence became a factor. This ups the stakes, you could say.
Interestingly, while Anderson advances his scheme, he shifts from the surveillance of one group to another as locations or individuals change. He goes being watched by private detectives to law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). What’s interesting about this is that none of this surveillance is intended to be focused on Anderson and his crew. The only even remotely related to him is the private detectives’ surveillance of Dyan Cannon’s Ingrid, who is the mistress of a wealthy figure as well as Anderson’s girlfriend.
“What’s advertising but a legalized con game? And what the hell’s marriage? Extortion, prostitution, soliciting with a government stamp on it. And what the hell’s your stock market? A fixed horse race. Some business guy steals a bank, he’s a big success story. Face in all the magazines. Some other guy steals the magazine and he’s busted.”
While it doesn’t quite have the pop of Danny Ocean’s speech in the 2001 remake, it is difficult not to see Anderson’s point, especially when it is Sean Connery making the point. As this is a heist movie, the number one thing that any fan of a heist movie wants to see is how the crooks are going to pull it off. However, given the fact that Duke and his crew have inadvertently stumbled onto several ongoing surveillance operations, the question I found myself asking is how is it all going to go wrong. And while it the method of failure was not quite what I was envisioning, I can’t say that I was disappointed. Given that circumstances, it was a forgone conclusion that the job wouldn’t be successful; it was all just a matter of how it job would go bad. In the end and true to the philosophy of Murphy’s Law, things take that turn, and in reality the group does it to themselves. That said, it was still enjoyable to see.
On my heist movie scale, I suppose I would put it far below the greats like Inside Man or Heat, but perhaps maybe in the vicinity of the Ocean’s sequels, just south of Out of Sight. At the end of the day, the film is mainly about Anderson’s character, and my research tells me that Sean Connery’s performance in this film was instrumental in helping him break out from being typecast as James Bond and restored him to the ranks of top male actors in the U.S. While I don’t see myself re-watching the film, I’m no worse for wear from the experience.