Sunday, May 20, 2007

One False, One True

A 60s heist movie starring Michael Caine sounds like a sure thing. GAMBIT, in which he stars with Shirley MacLaine, is a good example of this. DEADFALL, unfortunately, isn’t.

Directed by Bryan Forbes, best known for 1975’s THE STEPFORD WIVES, DEADFALL is a case of style not just over substance, but everything else too. It’s a very dour film and an early example of Caine seeming somewhat detached from the proceedings. Caine’s first Harry Palmer film THE IPCRESS FILE, which Sidney Furie directed, is also almost all style but it still has a plot that can keep our interest. Here, not so much. Caine plays a cat burglar drying out in a spa who is recruited by a man (Eric Portman) and his much younger wife (Giovanni Ralli) to pull off an elaborate heist. Of course, Caine and Ralli fall in love as certain secrets begin to come to light. (Random thought: So many movies in the 60s feature characters in spas that it almost seems to constitute its own subgenre. Caine also spends time in one in ALFIE.) The necessary heat from this triangle never really takes hold and all we’re left with are some unusual Majorcan locations to look at.

The centerpiece of DEADFALL, in some ways its entire reason for being, is the heist, an extended sequence where Caine and Portman break into an estate and attempt to crack a jewel-filled safe. The home-owners are out for the evening at a concert and for the duration of the heist we cut back and forth between the break-in and the concert, so to tie in the two events just about the only audio heard is a fourteen-minute piece by composer John Barry (who worked on this film during the period between YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) specifically composed for the film entitled “Romance for Guitar and Orchestra.” Barry even appears as the orchestra’s conductor, much like Bernard Herrmann did in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. It’s a moody, intoxicating piece and in fact Barry’s entire score for the film is very good. But like almost everything in DEADFALL the heist turns out to sound more interesting than it ever becomes. For such an important sequence it comes surprisingly early in the film, before we’ve fully gotten to understand who and what everyone is and there’s still half the film to go once it’s over. There’s also that hard-to quantify feeling that a stronger editor (like, say, Peter Hunt, who cut the early Bonds) would have made the sequence more effective. Forbes also seems to emphasize the presence of Barry and guitarist Renata Tarrago to such an extent that someone could easily suspect that the two of them will actually figure into the plot somehow. It even scrimps on some of the details of the heist. Caine has to remove the entire safe from the wall, lugs it over to the second-story window…then the next time we see him he’s on the ground carrying it, with no indication ever given how he got it down.

But Barry’s work here manages to make break-in as suspenseful as it is and “Romance for Guitar and Orchestra” is so good that it would surely be better known today if the film had been a hit. His score also includes the theme “My Love Has Two Faces” which is sung by Shirley Bassey in full-on Shirley Bassey mode—imagine a slower, darker version of a Bassey-sung Bond theme. If you ever get a chance to hear John Barry’s music for DEADFALL, take it. The movie is another matter.

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