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Just Add Popcorn for this Memorable Romantic Comedy Caper
on March 20, 2005
In the 1960s Hollywood combined the classic "caper" film with a healthy dose of romantic comedy. The result was a series of charming films such as CHARADE (1963) and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)--films that combined major stars, clever plots, witty scripts and which balanced suspense with comic and romantic complications.
Made in 1966 and released in 1967, GAMBIT was among the last of these films, and like all others in the genre it had a complex plot. Ahmad Shahbandar (Herbert Lom) is quite possibly the richest man in the world and a recluse to boot, a man who has never gotten over the death of his beautiful Eurasian wife some twenty years ago. Harry Dean (Michael Caine) devises a clever plan to gain access to his luxury apartment and rob him blind: he will use honky-tonk dancer Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine), who bears a striking resemblance to Shahbandar's long dead wife, to breach Shahbandar's defenses.
There's only one problem: it won't work. To tell exactly why it won't work is to betray the plot, which is extremely clever; suffice to say that Dean has made a number of incorrect assumptions about both the situation and the personalities involved. When the plot begins to twist, it does so in a truly unexpected way, taking both Dean and the audience completely by surprise.
This is the sort of film that Hollywood used to do so well but which we seldom see today, a frothy, glamorous confection with first rate production values and expert performances from major stars. MacLaine gets top billing, and she is quite fine, but the weight of the film rests on Caine and Lom, who give memorably dry performances, and director Ronald Neame (who was responsible for a host of memorable films including THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) keeps everything moving along at a smart pace with plenty of style.
This may not be the best of the genre--I think both CHARADE and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, to name but two, outpace it. But even so it is a perfectly charming film, the perfect antidote to a drab afternoon. Just add popcorn!
GFT, Amazon Reviewer