Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cinema Tuesdays {Hot Millions}

One of the greatest underrated films of the 1960's. Peter Ustinov, who also wrote the screenplay, plays a con-artist being released from prison. He has just learned from the warden that his last embezzlement scheme was caught by a computer (remember when they were the size of a room and programmed by punch cards?). Naturally, he swears revenge against computers, or just the first computer he can outwit (it's a matter of principal) in order to get enough money to realize his dream- to conduct an orchestra. So, he learns everything he can about the latest model and bluffs his way into getting the CV and references of Caesar Smith, a dissatisfied computer whiz and butterfly fancier.

He manages to get a job at an American insurance company's new London office. And yes, that is Bob Newhart playing Mr. Gnatpole who's not very nice but loyal to the company and his job as a pencil pusher.
Karl Malden plays the boss, one of the few Executive Vic Presidents at the company. He's not interested in computers, but he is worried about his ulcer.
Karl Malden's secretary hardly has any lines, but some terrific designer dresses.
What a monitor used to look like, back when they said that one would have to know how a computer actually works in order to be able to use it. I just know which button turns mine on and off.
This is the computer itself, one of the smaller models available. That blue light there protects the computer (and the cheques it issues) from any untoward acts that any embezzlers might be planning. So long as it is switched on.

That blue light actually becomes a character itself, by taunting Mr. Smith, who can't figure out how to turn it off without the police coming.
Maggie Smith plays Mr. Smith's new secretary. She also lives in the room next door to him. And has fantastic but understated eyeliner and all the latest fashions that the working girl of 1968 is wearing this season.
From Maggie Smith, we get good practical advice. For example, when changing the typewriter ribbon, always take your dress off, so that it doesn't get dirty.

Mr. Gnatpole becomes interested in her after walking in on the previous scene. After asking her to take dictation after hours in his office, which is equipped with the latest in hidden sound systems (let's see Mad Men try to do that), and failing, he offers to drive her home.
Fortunately for us, she's interested in Caesar, who conveniently only lives a plot device away. Yes, she is cutting out a dress pattern on her floor. I'm sure we've all done that.
However, she's not very good at being a secretary, but Caesar refuses to fire her because she'll starve.
But the computer can fire her for being a few minutes late a couple of days in a row.
"The computer never lies" says the nasty personnel lady. I think that those glasses would be cool, if it were someone else wearing them.

Unfortunately, Maggie Smith just can't hold down a job for long, no matter how great her boots are. So she marries Our Hero and double the size of their flat by removing the shared wall.

In the meantime, Caesar has been busy. He's been renting addresses all over Europe, in order to send claim cheques to himself, as president of several fake companies.
How did he do it? The blue light doesn't like it when you hit the computer with a bucket and reprogram it. If only it was so easy to embezzle nowadays.
Keep an eye out for the passersby in the street scenes as he goes around Europe to collect his cheques.
Mr. Gnatpole has been reviewing the books and has noticed some new claims for very large amounts of money. It's up to Maggie Smith to distract him long enough in order for Caesar to get a head start on emptying his different bank accounts.
So she takes Gnatpole to The Beatles' new Apple Boutique, which was only opened for a few months in 1968. This movie is one of the few filmed glimpses at the inside of the store.

However, Mr. Gnatpole does eventually fly across the Channel and phones in the report "Caesar Smith is a thief!"

What happens next? I will only tell you that you do get to see Maggie Smith modeling some groovy maternity wear.
Although rare, Hot Millions is sometimes shown on TCM and is available, that is legally, on VHS and an expensive multi-region DVD from the Warner Archives.

Here's the trailer:


Andi B. Goode said...

Maggie Smith! I must see this. I love her.
-Andi x

Ivy Black said...

OMG! I haven't seen this in years! Every now and then it comes on TV on a rainy Sunday. People forget how glam Maggie Smith was...and is...I love her in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and she's brilliant in Calafornia Suite.
Thanks for the blast from the past!

Jessica Cangiano said...

This film is brand new to me and sounds exactly the kind of engaging plot that would appeal to both myself and my (self-described) computer geek husband. Will definitely add it to 2010's list of must see movies! :)

Tons of hugs & cheerful Thursday wishes,
♥ Jessica