This film shows that already by 1971 and a highly-prescient two years before Watergate, there was a healthy preoccupation with surveillance technology.
Throughout the characters are recorded, listened into and followed around by third parties who may or may not use the ensuing data. Interestingly and in an uncanny echo of British intelligence recent exposure for “monitoring” internet behaviour with the key rider that they wouldn’t actually use it, much of the recorded material proves to be unusable: compromised by the same civil liberties that still get in the way of over-protective snooping.
|Dyan Cannon and Sean Connery: class acts|
Lumet confronting the nature of “criminal” intelligence as he was to do again in Dog Day Afternoon, rather more successfully it has to be said.
|On the outside|
The soundtrack from Quincy Jones is also worth a mention as it skilfully combines electronica with the soulful modern jazz composition you’d expect: a giant of modern music who worked with everyone from Duke Ellington to Michael Jackson with Frank Sinatra and New Order in between.
|A welcoming Dyan Cannon|
But his immediate concern is to renew acquaintance with his old girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon) who is being kept in a very fine apartment by her sugar daddy Richard B. Shull. After a few days Duke hatches a plan to burgle the entire building which is crammed full of wealth and possessions.
|Young Chris Walken|
There are the traditional stirring sequences of the job being set up, Tommy knocking up the varied residents in order to assess their valuables and the finer details being argued over.
Also at this time, Duke loses the upper hand with Ingrid as her boyfriend has recorded all of their conversations and, rather generously, offers Duke a free run at the apartment block just so long as he gets the girl. Left with little choice, Ingrid follows the money and leaves her risk-laden lover adrift… Further proof if Duke would only heed it of the cards being stacked against him.
The job kicks off and Duke seems to have all the angles covered as each apartment unveils its loot and a rich assortment of New York’s wealth elite: outraged upper middle class professionals, a man who won’t even give up his safe’s combination in exchange for his wife’s safety and an elderly woman who claps her hands in glee: “a robbery!”
But the men fail to secure the room of an asthmatic boy who has a ham radio – those electronic gadgets just get everywhere… He contacts other "good buddies" who manage to relay his call for help to the police (in those heady days of private radio broadcasting, it wasn’t so easy to target your messaging: a bit like posting a comment online waiting for a response…is there anybody out there?).
Duke is undone but he doesn’t know it yet and the robbery proceeds as the police amass in the surrounding streets. It’s quite chilling to see the quiet streets around the apartment over-loaded with hundreds of armed police, fire trucks and cars: Lumet offers a sardonic view of the forces of order. Would even a fraction of this army be mobilised for a corner shop hold-up on the Lower East Side?
Officer in charge Captain Delaney (Ralph Meeker) orders a squad to climb onto the building from the neighbouring one and the camera follows their efforts, mirroring the efficiency of Duke’s operation: all this effort and for what?
The officers work their way down the interior stairs of the house and Duke finally hears their voices. Lumet darts back and forth from the aftermath as the victims are interviewed and taken care off. It’s an interesting technique which not only reveals elements of the narrative but also reinforces the inevitability of Duke’s defeat.
|No way out?|
The Quincy Jones soundtrack is superb and not what you’d expect perhaps but he was a man of very broad talent!
The Anderson Tapes has more going for it than a simple heist movie even if all the surveillance motifs are ultimately almost tangential. Then again, we were watching too… and taping. What do we do with all this recorded information? Delete or keep? Delete or keep? Delete…