Friday, 30 January 2015

The Master Touch

Title: The Master Touch
Director: Michele Lupo
Released: 1972
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Giuliano Gemma, Florinda Bolkan, Wolfgang Preiss, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Romano Puppo, Bruno Corazzri

Plot: Steve Wallace (Douglas) a master safe cracker has just been released from prison, but its not long before he is drawn back into old habits with the prospect of one final heist, which he plans to pull off with circus trapeze artist Marco (Gemma).

Review: Also known as “A Man To Respect” this film marks my first venture into the world of the Italian eurocrime which for one reason or another alluded me until now. Bizarrely it would be my boss of all people who gave me this film along with a bunch of other films from the genre with the recommendation of watching this one first. More so when it was one of the first films to kick of the genre. It would also form part of the classier period for these films before they descended into their ultra-violent later years. 
Opening with Wallace being escorted from prison by Detective Hoffman (Kolldehoff) he is barely out of the car before he is picked up by the goons of his former employer mob boss Miller (Preiss) who despite being responsible for landing Wallace in prison in the first place now has another bank that he wants him plan a heist for. While initially keen to refuse especially considering how the last heist he did for Miller went. But when faced with the prospect of trying to break the seemingly unbreakable security system “Big Ben” he finds himself unable to refuse.

At the same time Wallace is keen to go straight and make a new life for himself with his girlfriend Anna (Bolkan) who seems remarkably understanding that he’s embarking on another heist after having spent the last 18 month waiting for him to get out of prison from the last one. Truth be told Bolkan isn’t exactly the greatest actor and seems to specialise in looking sultry than anything too heavy acting wise only ever showing any real emotion at the end when the film builds up to the inevitable betrayal.

In many ways similar to the superior and much later “Oceans Eleven” remake only minus the other nine members. Still like Danny Ocean, Wallace is also a calm headed crook who works by his own honour code, which soon sees him taking Marco as an apprentice of sorts as he sets out to teach him the skills of his trade as we see through the various scenes of Wallace trying to teach him the finer points of safe cracking. It has to be noted though that compared to other heist movies it is a strangely small crew which consists solely of Wallace and Marco who despite initially being brought on it would seem for his circus training it ultimately makes zero difference when it comes to the actual heist and seems to have been included so that director Lupo could include a bunch of trapeze sequences in the lead up to one of several standout brawls we get here.

The action sequences here are really worth giving this film a watch if anything as Lupo shows that he knows how to craft a riveting action sequence as we get a series of brawls between Marco and Miller’s head goon (Puppo) which seem to stem from Marco beeping his car horn at him during their initial encounter. From here we get a brawl around and inside a car, aswell as the ultimate bar brawl which soon leads to a thrilling car chase as the two men engage on a destruction derby through the streets of Hamburg. This sequence in particular is the real stand out here, especially when its easily up there with the likes of “Bullet” and “The French Connection” while the fact that their cars are continually getting more and more banged up the longer the chase goes on with Lupo seemingly constantly trying to find ever more inventive directions in which to take the action.
My issue with this film apart from the surprisingly tension free heist is the sheer lack of character development, let alone any attempts to make us care for any of these characters. Not that many are particularly likable to begin with and Wallace is only not a complete failure as a lead thanks to the charm of Douglas, but when you have characters who are supposed to working together going off on their own paths with the minimal amount of interaction with each other, it only makes it the harder to really give much of a damn about the heist they are trying to pull off.
A flawed film but certainly enough to see to raise my curiosity to what else the eurocrime genre might have to offer, while the film on its own merits has enough to make for a fairly entertaining watch if only for the set pieces, while Douglas’ presence certainly brings a level of class to proceedings even if he’s pretty much slumming it here and seriously in need of a more developed role. At best I would say to give this a curiosity watch at best.

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