Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

They Came to Rob Las Vegas


Boy, did I ever have a crush on Elke Sommer when I was in high school. It was that face, sweet and sexy at the same time. And, yes, that bouffant hair. All the girls were wearing it that way, poor things. It was the berries. Starting with her nude scene in The Victors (and damn it, when is that going to come out on video?) and going on to A Shot in the Dark, The Prize, and The Oscar (one of the worst movies ever; sorry, Harlan Ellison). She acted about as well as a Swedish meatball, but who cared? (Okay, she was German, though I always thought of her as a Swede.)

Then in the early ‘70s her career started to peter out into B-movies. She also speaks seven languages, so she has made movies all over the world that never opened here. I hear that these days she concentrates on her painting, for which she is respected.

The male lead is Gary Lockwood … Gary Lockwood? A top-billed romantic lead? But remember, he was just coming off 2001: A Space Odyssey, where he looked pretty good, thanks to Stanley Kubrick. Nobody had quite come to the realization that he couldn’t act. Add in the great Lee J. Cobb and the always interesting Jack Palance, and you’ve got your cast. Most everybody else was from Italy or France because, oddly enough, it was filmed in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco … and Spain. The scenes in the desert are not the Mojave, but the same sandy plains Clint Eastwood was riding with a bunch of Italians not long before. Most of the small parts were played by Italians and Spaniards, and the voices were badly dubbed, which was standard procedure in Italian cinema at the time. It was directed by one Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi, whose career was, shall we say, less than distinguished.

It starts well, the very first frame being a jailbreak by an old gangster. He meets up with Lockwood, but Gary thinks his plan to rob an armored car stinks. It’s old-fashioned, and this is the computer age. And he’s right. The old hoods try it, and the high-tech (for 1968) cameras and such hold them off, even though the robbers came equipped with RPGs, until the cops arrive and blow them all away. This armored car is tough

Then back to Vegas, where Gary is dealing blackjack and bedding Elke, who is the mistress of Cobb, who owns the armored car company and has a smuggling business on the side with mobsters in Mexico.

And suddenly, we’re in the heist, fast enough to give me whiplash. It’s a humdinger … and almost totally out of left field. Gary’s gang comes ready made. We see them for a few minutes, and then they’re out in the desert. They include the usual suspects, including the hothead that you know Gary will have to kill eventually.

The robbery is damn interesting, well-thought-out … and utterly implausible, and completely unexplained. I mean, we see them driving out to the desert with a backhoe and a bulldozer, and that’s it for preparation. Then a dozen guys are working together like clockwork, in many different locations. Turns out they have dug a huge bunker in the sand, basically put together a whole building out there, hauled in a ton of expensive stuff … and where did the money come from for all this? It had to have been very costly. Nothing to the seven and a half million they expect to get, but still. It’s like the evil guy’s massive underground secret lair in a bad James Bond movie. Who built all this shit, and how did they keep it secret?

Again, the really original and fascinating stuff keeps getting overwhelmed with the implausible. What’s good: The car is not only high-tech, it’s damn near invulnerable. It stood up to multiple bazooka rounds. And now these guys have one underground—another good thing, the ingenious ways they have of covering up their tracks, which could lead the cops to them like a sign saying THIS WAY TO THE SECRET UNDERGROUND LAIR! And it ain’t easy to open. Two guys are locked inside, and they have enough food for four days. Dynamite would open it, but it would blow the roof off the hideout and maybe destroy the money.

And then it all goes to shit. People make really stupid decisions, and the thing ends out there in the desert with the truck blown up and money raining down (and how many times have we seen that?) and Gary telling Elke his big secret, the real reason he’s doing this, and it’s not the money … wait for it … “That old gangster who died trying to rob one of these? He was my brother!” Ta-da. We get a drawn-our climax where the director clearly saw way too many Sergio Leone movies, with close-ups alternating with long shots, lacking only Clint in his serape and Lee Van Cleef with his black hat and cigar. Really sucks.

PS: One of the worst things about this turkey is the music. No kidding. It is never very appropriate to what’s happening, and most of it sounds like someone left a radio on playing awful muzak jazz, full of the worst musical instrument ever invented, bongo drums.