The Midas Run (1969) ***

You ever wonder what triggers criminality? Don’t deny an upper class English civil servant his knighthood, don’t fire an American university lecturer for an anti-war demonstration, don’t humiliate your beautiful wife by making her part of a business transaction. They might all feel robbery is the best revenge.

The highly respected Pedley (Fred Astaire) has talked his superiors in government into the notion that the best way to ship a consignment of gold is by passenger rather than commercial airplane. He recruits wannabe author Mike (Richard Crenna) who, in turn, comes to the rescue of glamorous Sylvia (Anne Heywood) when she is being sold off to sweeten a business deal.

The apparently eccentric casting was based on unfulfilled promise. Fred Astaire, who had not starred in a film for over decade, had made a comeback for Finian’s Rainbow (1968). But that had flopped, putting a dent in his marquee credentials and dramatic roles were hardly the forte of this twinkle-toed dancer. Richard Crenna’s bid for leading man status in Star! (1968) had spectacularly derailed at the box office.

Anne Heywood, the only one of the three principles to have a recent hit, in unexpected sleeper The Fox (1967), found no demand consequently for her services except from lover, future husband and biggest fan, producer Raymond Stross who had bankrolled the lesbian drama, and assigned her female lead here. You could extend your incredulity to the involvement of Swedish director Alf Kjellin,who hadn’t made a picture since Siska seven years before, and like most of his countrymen was seen as producing arthouse fare.

The biggest problem in a gold heist, as anyone watching the current television series The Gold will be aware, is shifting loot that weighs a ton. So Mike and Sylvia hire some Italian crooks to supply a couple of petrol tankers to hide and transport the bullion after the airplane has been forced down over Italian airspace by an Albanian fighter plane, Mike driving the World War Two tank that supplies the ground-based pressure.

As with any heist picture, robbery is only the beginning, double-cross the middle and triple-cross the end. Pedley, who has accompanied the shipment, is delegated by the British secret service to recover the gold, aided by suspicious assistant Wister (Roddy McDowall).  The twist here is that he not only recovers most of the gold, apart from some secreted away by the now romantically-inclined twosome, but points the finger at his accomplices, including the fence General Ferranti (Adolfo Celi).

It then becomes a question of whether the younger crooks can evade his clutches, whether Wister can confirm his suspicions that the investigation has proceeded a tad too conveniently, and discover what the heck the bowler-hatted Englishman is up to. And, of course, whether Mike can trust Sylvia. It wouldn’t be the first – or last (see Perfect Friday, 1970) – grand theft in which the male has been the dupe.

Along the way there is some clever comedy, a play on the British assumption that everyone in the world naturally speaks English, the implicit trust that the upper-classes place in each other, and the stock view that any Italian, law enforcer or crook, can be distracted by a pretty face or comely derriere.

On the downside, the set-up takes too long coming to fruition, especially a mid-movie  interlude that seems intend on channelling the worst romantic notions of the era, idyllic strolls in fields, that I half-expected a burst of slow-motion trotting, or some metaphor for the orgasm. There is some little understood banter about war games. And, for obvious reasons, La Heywood strips down to brassiere in the overheated tank (Mike manages to resist such un-English impulses) though she has previously indulged her innovative ideas about dress, turning a bedsheet into a fashionable toga at a moment’s notice.

There’s nothing particularly new here but Fred Astaire makes a deft impression as a typical upper-class Englishman, accent not found wanting, and successfully reinvents himself as a dramatic actor, that highpoint an Oscar nomination for The Towering Inferno (1974). Anne Heywood, once you realise she is playing all sides against each other, slips easily into the femme fatale role. Richard Crenna’s acting appears limited since his character, despite occasional initiative, is outwitted by all and sundry, and that was scarcely a good look in those days for the leading man to be out-thought by the leading woman.

Effortless, and harmless enough for a matinee.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

4 thoughts on “The Midas Run (1969) ***”

  1. Anne Heywood did not acheived stardom, though I did find her watchable. Saw her 1st in Carthage In Flames and later in the disappointing The Chairman with Greg Peck.

    Liked by 2 people

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