Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round

A heist film with a fun title, but that's about all it's worth. Eli Kotch (James Coburn) is a con man on probation setting up the robbery a Los Angeles airport bank on the same day that the Russian premier is arriving, causing boosted security, picketing, and chaos. But before he can even attempt it, he must first raise enough money in order to get the blueprints of the bank, so he cons his way into a bunch of ladies' hearts, only to make copies of their keys and steal their things. Though he becomes a bit more connected to one of the women, Inger (Camilla Sparv), and ends up marrying her. But once he has the blueprints, he and his small group of co-robbers begin their master plan on pulling off the highly improbable.

I usually don't watch too many older movies (this was made back in 1966), but the title caught my eye first, and when I read the description, I thought I'd check it out, as I'm a fan of heist films. Unfortunately, it only seemed to prove my thoughts on why I don't watch too many older films. It was only 104 minutes, but it felt like 3 hours. It felt unnecessarily long, disjointed, sometimes confusing, and boring. In fact, the entire conning women in order to steal their things stuff would, today, be just written off as a montage, as it isn't the point of the film. Instead, each woman gets at least 5-10 minutes of the film (and some of them are more annoying than others, especially the first one). All together, the conning stuff took up at least 30+ minutes of the movie at the least, and most of it was very dry.

     The one fun thing about it was seeing the different personas that James Coburn pulled off. He was almost a master of accents in this movie, and it was always fun watching him pulling a fast one over on people. He was the best thing about the movie. Camilla Sparv was alright in her acting, but nothing especially noteworthy. Everybody else was relatively forgettable.

     There were some great cinematic shots, though, especially toward the beginning. The movie starts off focusing on a group of shadows on the wall while a prisoner gives a monologue during a group therapy session. Later, when Inger is introduced, it begins with a beautiful shot of snow on tree branches, then pans down to show snow-covered everything.

     When the big heist finally came, there was some suspense. I watched nervously, wondering if they were all going to get away with it and get to safety. It wasn't the most amazing heist of all time (nothing like Inside Man or the Ocean's films), but it was alright. But the real kicker is the twist ending in the last few seconds of the movie. It confused me at first, mostly because of the way the scene was acted, but then I realized what had happened. It was a fun and ironic twist.

     Otherwise, it was just alright. It's not up there on my favorite heist films of all time, and I probably wouldn't watch it again (actually, I might if just to catch a glimpse of a young Harrison Ford, as this was his first movie, and he has a brief appearance as a messenger of some sort, though I missed it when I watched it... mostly because I didn't know to look for it). But if you're a fan of heist films, conman films, or James Coburn films, you should give it a shot. Otherwise, I wouldn't really bother.

     And no, the title doesn't really make much sense, except that it seems to be the title of an essay or poem Eli wrote, but the movie never goes into it. You just see it on the front of a page as it's being read silently.

Reviewed by: Nick