Few would argue that George C. Scott was one of the greatest actors of stage and screen. His presence in even a mediocre movie elevated its status considerably and his work as the nutty general in "Dr. Strangelove" was described by one critic as "the comic performance of the decade". When Scott won his well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor in "Patton" (which he famously refused), he seemed to be on a roll. His next film, the darkly satirical comedy "The Hospital" predicted the absurdities of America's for-profit health care system in which the rich and the poor were taken care of, with everyone else falling in between. The film earned Scott another Best Actor Oscar nomination despite his snubbing of the Academy the previous year. From that point, however, Scott's choice of film roles was wildly eclectic. There were some gems and plenty of misfires that leads one to believe he was motivated as much by commerce as artistic expression. One of his worst films, the 1974 crime comedy "The Bank Shot", has been released on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer by Kino Lorber. If only the film itself lived up to the quality of the transfer. It's pretty hard to bungle a comedic crime caper. Alec Guinness used to knock out classics like "The Lavender Hill Mob" , "Kind Hearts and Coronets" and "The Ladykillers" seemingly in his sleep. In the 1970s Hollywood studios were enamored of the works by novelist Donald E. Westlake, whose books provided ample fodder for lightweight caper comedies such as "The Hot Rock" and "Cops and Robbers", both of which had much to recommend about them. Not so with "The Bank Shot". Not having read the novel, it's possible that it had plenty of merits, but suffice it to say that the film's director, Gower Champion, and his equally estimable screenwriter, Wendall Mayes, needed to provide a light hand in transferring it to the screen. Instead, they ended up with a lead foot.
Scott plays Walter Ballentine, a notorious and famous heist master whose last caper went awry. When we first see him he's serving a life sentence in a desert prison camp run by his arch nemesis, a lawman named Streiger (Clifton James, essentially recreating his role as dopey Sheriff J.W. Pepper from "Live and Let Die", with the addition of constantly smoking foot-long Churchill cigars.) Ballentine receives a brief visit from one of his confederates in crime, Al Karp (Sorrell Booke), who informs him that he has a plan to help him break out of the prison camp with the intention of joining his new gang. He sneaks Walter the plans for an audacious caper in which the gang will put a small Los Angeles bank on a set of wheels and literally steal it by attaching it to a truck and driving it away. In the first of many preposterous scenes, Ballentine manages to break out of prison using a Caterpillar earth mover and despite the fact that the vehicle moves about fast as a real caterpillar, the police are unable to catch up with him. He meets up with El (Joanna Cassidy), a bored rich beauty who is financing the caper seemingly out of boredom. She and Ballentine meet up with Karp and several other misfits who will work together to pull off the robbery. In order for even a nutball comedy premise to work it has to have its roots in some sense of believability. However the screenplay asks us to believe so many far-fetched premises that is never remotely believable. As with all similar films, the initial stages of the caper go well only to have unexpected twists of fate threaten to thwart the best laid plans of the lovable culprits. Why George C. Scott chose to be involved in this modest enterprise is anyone's guess but it may have been the rare opportunity to work with director Gower Champion, a legend for his work on Broadway. Champion only directed two feature films in his life (the other being the little-remembered 1963 romantic comedy "My Six Loves") and its equally puzzling as to why "The Bank Shot" lured Champion back to the film industry after a full decade. In any event, Champion is the main culprit for the film's failures. He seems determined to recreate the screwball comedies of the Keystone Cops era. Supporting characters dress absurdly, wear ludicrous disguises and the actors who portray them are encouraged to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. (Among the other talents victimized by Champion's direction is young Bob Balaban.) Even Scott doesn't emerge unscathed- he sports exaggerated eyebrows that make him resemble Leonid Brezhnev. Champion goes for belly laughs but most fall embarrassingly flat, like that drunk at a party who tries to get laughs by dancing about with a lampshade on his head. You desperately want to like "The Bank Shot" and occasionally there are a few genuine chuckles to be found amidst the debris, which is all set to a jaunty score by John Morris. However the only crime worth remembering from this caper is that people wasted their money to see it in theaters.
The Blu-ray release contains an original trailer that features original footage of Joanna Cassidy in a bathtub that plays up the sexual aggressiveness of her character in the film. There is also a trailer for the far superior "Cops and Robbers", which is also available from Kino Lorber. Kudos to the company for retaining the wonderful poster art by Jack Davis for the sleeve.