Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round


One of the all-time great titles, huh? It has nothing to do with the story, but what the hell. You have to call it something, and this is a lot better than Just Another Heist Movie.

I love caper/heist movies, and this is an outstanding one. Not quite in the class of Topkapi or The Hot Rock, maybe, but good enough. James Coburn is a recently paroled con who has a plan to rob a bank at LAX while the Russian premier is visiting, thus snarling up all the traffic. We see him gathering the money this job will take. One of his scams is working in a women’s shoe store, and when he sells a pair of sensible work shoes and finds that the customer is a ladies’ maid or personal assistant, he seduces her, swipes her keys, and later breaks in and steals the jewelry. One of these ladies is the lovely Swede, Camilla Sparv, and it’s clear that she’s something special. He plays her, never telling her the truth, but you can see that he’s coming to care for her.

In a caper movie you spend most of your time wondering how the carefully laid plans of the people involved will get messed up. Some little forgotten detail, some happenstance that couldn’t be planned for, some human weakness that you didn’t take into account. This one leads you on, as it should, getting you ready for something you think you can see coming … and like the best caper movies, it pulls the rug out from under you. You figure that love is what will screw him up. … and that’s all I can tell you. This movie is one of the very, very small number that takes you literally right up to the last second, the last frames of film, before springing the complete surprise on you. (In fact, the only other example I can think of at the moment is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, with Walter Matthau. I’m sure there are more, but none are coming to mind.) This movie waits until the last three words of dialogue to stun you. And you will laugh in appreciation, I promise you.