Jul 14, 2016

On DVD: George Hamilton and Joseph Cotten in Jack of Diamonds (1967)

Joseph Cotten is master and teacher and George Hamilton is the protégée jewel thief in this cheerful caper comedy, now available on DVD from Warner Archive. The pair are notorious as Ace of Diamonds and Jack of Diamonds respectively; in public life the Jack is known as Jeffrey Hill. In Jack of Diamonds (1967), Ace emerges from retirement for one last great heist with Jeffrey.

Before diving into the plot, the film begins with an extended scene featuring jewel theft victim Zsa Zsa Gabor, who plays herself with evident glee. When she discovers her empty jewel drawer, the actress seems mildly disappointed, as if she has forgotten to buy champagne. Much more exciting is the arrival of the police and the press, an unexpected, but welcome audience.

In a pair of brief segments as previous victims of Jeffrey, Carroll Baker and Lilli Palmer in similar cameos seem equally delighted to be the center of attention. There's nothing more flattering to an actress than being hired to make an appearance as herself.

Hamilton is also full of self-confidence, envisioning himself as more sexy than he is. He's too eager and says his lines too loud to be especially slick. Whenever he tries to flash a sly smile, rather than appearing sophisticated, he looks like a teenager giggling about silently breaking wind at a fancy dinner party.

The actor is interesting to watch though, with a well-placed mole over his lip, an elegantly pointed nose and hair so thick it looks like a shiny brown hat. He doesn't take himself too seriously either. Perhaps Hamilton isn't all he'd like to be, but he's never dull.

Jack of Diamonds is a goofy film, much more so that it intends to be. It's always reaching a bit for effect, but full of things that must be seen, like Hamilton shimmying into a zip-up tux, swinging nonchalantly across his living room on a trapeze bar and skiing down a mountain with a sexy lady in pursuit, the soundtrack blaring with singers yodeling and belting out enthusiastic "do do's" over mariachi-like horns.

It begins to slow down by the half point, getting a bit too engrossed in the police procedurals, making you wonder if Jeffrey is still up on that trapeze, or if perhaps he's doing flips on a fold-out trampoline normally hidden in his couch. Things eventually perk up with a groovy nightclub dance scene which has some awesomely awkward dancing (check out the guy constantly thrusting his arm in the air: mad? or hot moves?). As long as there aren't extended stretches of dialogue, it keeps moving well enough.

While the big heist drags, and doesn't add much to the genre, the continually odd soundtrack adds to the amusement. In an apparent attempt to emulate Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schifrin, the staccato sounds of a man either gagging or quacking like a duck are punctuated with jazzy horns and jaunty flutes.

The accomplices in the heist: Wolfgang Preiss as Nicoli Vodkine and Marie Laforêt as his daughter Volga, don't feel entirely necessary. As Jeffrey's Man Friday Helmut, Karl Lieffen is more entertaining and adorably in love with his employer.

For the most part, the picture is of VHS quality, with light dirt and scratches, some washed out color, and a bit of fuzziness in spots. While it isn't a pristine image, its faults don't detract from the viewing experience.

Though not an entirely brisk ride, Jack of Diamonds offers plenty of fun for fans of lightweight sixties caper and spy flicks.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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