' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Money Movers (1978)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday's Old Fashioned: Money Movers (1978)

In David Mamet’s 2001 thriller “Heist” Danny DeVito semi-famously barks “Everybody needs money! That’s why they call it money!” There is a loopy kind of illogical logic to this line, evoking the innateness of money’s hold, that it could be anything, really, greenbacks or fish guts, doesn’t matter, and everybody’d want it. That line kept popping into my head as I watched Bruce Beresford’s absolutely ferocious, black-hearted 1978 Aussie heist flick “Money Movers.” After opening with a heist, the movie spends the rest of its run time building to another heist, each one involving an armored car carrying vast sums of cash, the climactic robbery planned by the men driving it. At no time, however, are we shown precisely why these men are planning the heist in the first place or where they even hope to flee. It’s as if such proximity to so much money renders their actions inevitable. Beresford lingers over stacks of money being counted, the sound of crisp bills as a kind of titillation, while conspicuous signs of commerce pop up everywhere, usually in the background, cheap beer advertisements and gas station billboards. Here, money really is the root of all evil.  

The targeted armored cars belong to a Security Service run by its namesake, Lionel Darcy (Frank Wilson), who essentially gives away the corrupt nature of his own game, explaining to several subordinates that he trusts none of his employees. Indeed, when the new guy, Leo Bassett (Tony Bonner), is eventually revealed as working undercover on behalf of the company’s insurance firm, he tells Darcy that he, the owner, the man in charge, not any of his underlings, was considered suspect #1. If that doesn’t turn out to be true, it also doesn’t sound like a stretch. The big heist is instead dreamt up by three mid-level employees: Eric Jackson (Terence Donovan), his younger brother Brian (Bryan Brown), and Ed Gallagher (Ray Marshall) who runs Darcy’s counting house. Their scheme is eventually uncovered by a local crime boss, Jack Henderson (Charles Tingwell), who not only gets his hooks in the heist but assumes command of it, inserting a few of his own men into the scheme and demanding a hefty chunk of the haul, the punchline to one big cosmic joke. Even when you’re sticking it to the man, the man gets his cut. 

As Eric, more or less the ringleader, at least at first, Donovan is alternately intense and in over his head, a surprising kind of complexity that emerges despite the movie’s lack of traditional character building moments. When Henderson takes Eric prisoner, interrogating him about his plans, he makes a brief escape, despite his hands being tied together, kicking and head-butting his way outside. If another movie might have been rendered as a hero’s escape, here it is just hysterically perfunctory, epitomized in a quick cut from the final brawl’s aftermath to him right back in the same chair and tied up, a striking example of the movie’s frequent, bleak, hysterical humor. 

Eric has a wife, Dawn (Jeanie Drynan), though she hardly factors into the plot, existing more just to be in the way, a la Brian’s young girlfriend who barely gets a word and exists on screen to be ushered right off it so she doesn’t overheard anything she shouldn’t. Drynan at least brings a melancholy air to her few moments, which might have been insulting if not for her acerbic final scene. As the big heist bears down, Eric is asked about leaving his wife behind, at which point Beresford cuts to disconnected shot of Dawn outdoors, looking longingly into the distance. As soon as it conjures up a sense of faded romance, however, Beresford jarringly cuts away, with Eric deciding she’s better off without him anyway, in its own cruel way mimicking the moment almost 20 years later when George Costanza decides his parents are better off thinking him dead for a little while. And though Leo’s lady friend has a crucial role to play, that role, dispatched by Lionel to sleep with him to unravel his true identity, cruelly renders her as less than human.

If there is any good in this world, it is less Leo, who Bassett plays as wholly oblivious, than Dick Martin (Ed Devereaux), the ex-policeman driving an armored car who is not quite one step ahead of the robbers but distrustful of them all nonetheless. When the gates at Darcy’s go down, Eric and his crew planning to transfer gobs of cash from one truck to another truck decked out to look like one of Darcy’s own, Dick refuses to be made a fool, resisting being spirited off to a union meeting as a distraction, satirizing the collective’s intent as nothing compared to the selfish art of the steal. No, Dick fights back when the robbers try to shut him up, leading to a sustained shoot-out that is pulverizing and violent, bringing home the pointlessness of the whole escapade in the first place, summarized in Brian’s death, brutally shot in the back, Brown’s squeaks as the life goes out of his body making him sound like a little kid out of his depth. 

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