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Film Festival: Caper Films
SEARCHING FOR fine art can lead to travel in exotic and beautiful places, such as Hong Kong and the Middle East. In the 1966 film, “Gambit,” Michael Caine masterminds a caper to pursue such artistic riches, and ends up in these exotic locales. But his first problem is how to convince Shirley MacLaine to be his accomplice.
“Gambit” opens in Hong Kong, where we watch debonair Harry Dean (Michael Caine) follow a beautiful Eurasian girl down the street into the International Palace of Joy, a local nightclub. Harry and an art dealer friend visit the club and watch the floor show, a multi-national version of New York’s Kit Kat Club. It features the beauty they were following on the street, Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine), who works as a chorine in the floorshow.
“How would you like to make 5000 dollars? Not Hong Kong, 5000 United States of America dollars. That’s uh 5, 0, 0, 0.” –Harry
Harry and Nicole fly to Dahmuz, a very prosperous Middle Eastern country. Their destination is a visit with Ahmed Shahbandar (Herbert Lom) the richest man in the world. Shahbandar owns a rare Chinese bust, the Empress Li Su, which looks like Shahbandar’s late wife. The bust also looks remarkably like Nicole, who is dressed as a Chinese princess for the visit. Harry hopes that Nicole will catch Shahbandar’s eye and that will help clinch the deal for the rare bust.
Of course, the movie would be over in 15 minutes if everything went Harry’s way. Ahmed turns out to be much more intelligent, perceptive and analytical than Harry thought — probably greater than Harry himself. Nicole is not an obsequious china doll who follows Harry’s every bidding. She’s a feisty, intelligent young woman, who might be able to help Harry if he would allow himself to respect her. And Harry is not quite as suave as he thinks. He can’t quite pull off the educated Etonian facade, since the con man Cockney he really is keeps showing through.
“Harry! I have the funniest feeling! You’re not one of those spies that get blown up, are you? –What are you talking about? –You’re being followed. –Are you at it again? Who’s following us? Your Aunt Minnie from Manchuria? –Why I don’t know their names, but they’ve been behind us ever since we left the hotel. –Are you sure? –They’re fingering trinkets at the purple booth. –Purple booth? –Why is it that people who follow people always end up fingering trinkets? –I don’t know. But they’re fingering trinkets all right. Come with me.” –Nicole and Harry
Jean Louis created the exquisite costumes for the film. Shirley dresses in traditional cheongsams (very vintage vogue) for much of the film, and are they ever gorgeous. There’s a red and white one, a teal and gold one and a pink one with gold lace trim. Shirley also looks fabulous in a white, one-shoulder, roman-style gown with silver trim.
“Saleem and I have been friends for years. We have many interests in common. He also shares my enthusiasm for gadgets. In fact it was he who helped me to perfect all those little electronic devices to protect my paintings and sculpture. One of these days we hope to test them out!”—Shahbandar
Will Nicole earn the $5000 Harry promised her? Will she and Harry end up with each other? Can Harry figure a way around Ahmed’s elaborate photo-detector alarm system, his sliding bookcases, his rooms that change floors? The secret panels? Will Harry get the Li Su bust, or will he go bust? Tune into “Gambit” and find out.
- “Gambit” (1966) from IMDB
- China through the looking glass from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Official website of Sir Michael Caine
- Official website of Shirley MacLaine
- Jean Louis obituary from the Independent
- Photogate sensor from Vernier Software & Technology
Let’s talk story
I love a good caper film. There’s something about the impossible puzzle and the suspense that really appeals to me. “Gambit” has the added perks of Shirley MacLaine (one of my favorite dancers), young Sir Michael Caine, and humor with the tension.
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