[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
A gas burner fills a huge balloon with hot air, sending it adrift above a palatial estate, whose lawn mills with partying rich folk: a suitable image to begin Rough Cut, a lightweight entertainment that insists on consorting with only the richest tastes. Don Siegel is poaching on Blake Edwards territory here, and we donâ€™t need Burt Reynolds imitating Cary Grant, or David Niven imitating himself, to remind us that the line that links To Catch a Thief with Rough Cut cuts straight through The Pink Panther. Counterpointing the Big Caperâ€”which really doesnâ€™t get underway until past midfilmâ€”is the burgeoning love of Reynoldsâ€™s Jack Rhodes (even the name implies a kinship with Hitchcockâ€”Grantâ€™s John Robie) for rich kleptomaniac Gillian Bromley (Lesley-Anne Down). The film is at pains to make her as icy and unpredictable as her Grace Kelly/Claudia Cardinale counterparts, but the effort is strained by a script bankrupt for new ideas. Gillian says, â€œI steal things … because itâ€™s exciting and dangerous,â€ and Jack proceeds to assure her that itâ€™s â€œto fill a void in your life.â€ They donâ€™t imply that sheâ€™s sexually unfulfilled, they just say so; and the sex motif is carried through with a string of double entendres that are hopelessly lame, not because they arenâ€™t appropriate to the characters and the situation, but simply because they are so old and unfunny. A line like â€œI have to go now, something just came up” no longer draws snickers or even hohums, but dumbfound amazement that someone would still think it clever. The plot itself so slavishly follows genre formula that the â€œsurpriseâ€ ending is tipped off well in advance, even though its justification is confined to a single comment on the part of … well, the operative character.
All this being wrapped up in a bundle and left on the doorstep of â€œFrancis Burns,â€ I hasten to add that Rough Cut isnâ€™t all that bad, either. One of the things that make it interesting is our continuing awareness of the presence of Don Siegel (and not just through signatures like those insistent low-angle shots of New Scotland Yard) working deliberately against his usual grain. The only brief hint of his customary interest in the earthier undersides of superficial appearances is an encounter with an Amsterdam pimp, whom Rhodes interviews as a possible driver for the caper, but who talks himself out of business by offering murder, torture, and terrorism as fringe services. But this sequence is there not to signify any special Siegel vision of social or psychological reality, but rather to stress the narrow ethical limits of Rhodesâ€™s own criminal activity. Siegel wants to keep Jack a good boy, the same way he wants to keep Rough Cut a light film. He succeeds. The balloon trip takes us from lawn party to penthouse, from Lear jet to yacht, never touching anything under a hundred grand a year. And even if the caper isnâ€™t particularly new, itâ€™s to be welcomed by caper-film fans who havenâ€™t had anything to celebrate for far too long. It may be domestic sec rather than imported brut, but the filmâ€™s still a sip of champagne.
© 1981 Robert C. Cumbow
Direction: Donald Siegel. Screenplay: Francis Burns (pseudonym for Larry Gelbart), after Touch the Lion’s Paw by Derek Lambert. Cinematography: Freddie Young. Production design: Ted Haworth. Editing: Douglas Stewart. Music: Nelson Riddle, adapted from Duke Ellington. Production: David Merrick.
The players: Burt Reynolds, Lesley-Anne Down, David Niven, Timothy West, Al Matthews, Patrick Magee, Susan Littler, Joss Ackland, Isobel Dean, Andrew Ray, Alan Webb.