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11 Harrowhouse


Rod Lott January 13th, 2011

From 1974, the caper "11 Harrowhouse" is an obscure gem about stealing gems.

The great Charles Grodin headlines as Chesser, a sad sack of a small-time diamond dealer who gets the chance to become somebody — and takes it — against seemingly impossible odds.

Treated as a second-class customer at best by Meecham (John Gielgud) at London's prestigious, highly secure exchange at 11 Harrowhouse, Chesser is hired by the super-wealthy Massey (Trevor Howard) to secure a rock there worth nearly a cool million. He does, but it's swiped from him by thieves.

Not having insured it and having no money of his own, Chesser has no choice but to take Massey up on another offer: to steal $12 billion worth of diamonds from 11 Harrowhouse. For his troubles — and since Chesser's not highly skilled as a thief or anything, there will be troubles — he'll receive $15 million.

So he and girlfriend Maren (Candice Bergen), with the inside help of Meecham's jilted employee Watts (James Mason), plot to clean out its fortress, two floors below ground level. Their plan involves — and this is pretty original — little more than hand-painted cockroaches and a long-reaching vacuum.

I love heist films, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s, and "11 Harrowhouse" is one whose existence I wasn't even aware of until the past few months, so going in cold was especially enjoyable. It did not disappoint, either, with a rather dry sense of humor (as in the style of Grodin, who adapted Gerald A. Brown's novel) and an intelligent plot that keeps things exciting without growing needlessly complex.

Aside from the closing scene, which plays a little too happy-go-lucky compared to the overall tone, Aram Avakian's film is a well-oiled machine whose parts click like clockwork. Glory be to Shout! Factory for rescuing this one from oblivion, and a double dose of goodwill for providing reversible cover artwork, so disc owners can choose the original poster art (I sure did) over the rather misleading photo-based treatment. —Rod Lott



 
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