They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968)
“The scene was the wildest freak-out in Vegas history…and the gig was to grab it all!”
Director: Antonio Isas-Isasmendi
Cast: Gary Lockwood, Elke Sommer, Lee J. Cobb
Synopsis: A casino blackjack dealer plots with his girlfriend and a group of criminals to hijack and rob an armored car carrying a $7 million in cash while it’s in route between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
In mid-1960s America, hip young criminal Tony Ferris (Gary Lockwood, in the brief summer of his career) undertakes a plan to rob the cargo of an apparently impregnable armoured car as it transports casino cash from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Tony recruits a band of friends to help him, and uses his girlfriend (Elke Sommer) who also happens to be the personal secretary of Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), the owner of the security company, to discover the time and route of the journey. While the hijack of the car goes to plan, things grow heated between the gang as they find opening up the car is harder than they expected. Meanwhile, Skorsky races against a US treasury agent (Jack Palance) to locate the truck as, unknown to Tony or the agent, the car is being used to transport a heap of mob money…
They Came to Rob Las Vegas opens with a couple of cheesy scenes that almost make you feel nostalgic for all those hopeless European co-productions of the late sixties and early-seventies. We first meet our anti-hero and his equally hip pals in one of those ‘groovy’ discos that never existed outside of a movie director’s mind, dancing to that generic brand of music that never got played outside of this kind of movie scene. Thankfully, the cheesiness eases off a little after this opening ten minutes, and director Isasi gets to work on the storyline.
However, he still can’t shake off the unavoidable price of these co-productions: English-speaking actors playing against foreign-speaking actors whose lines are badly dubbed and badly acted. The plot is also as formulaic as we have come to expect from these efforts, and the whole thing has the look of a bland TV movie at times.
Nevertheless, Isasi does manage to capture some of the hot and sweaty atmosphere of his Nevada locations, and also succeeds in conjuring up a few decent scenes in what is largely a ponderous piece of work. It’s always good to see Palance and Cobb on the screen, and should be especially enjoyable to watch them playing off one another, but their scenes together lack any kind of bite, and Palance overacts terribly at certain moments — like a drowning man momentarily spurred into increasing his struggles as he feels his life slipping away. Lockwood is a likable and adequate leading man, but lacks the charisma required to carry the picture, and without which it has no chance — the reason, no doubt, why his career was so indifferent after the film 2001. Sommer is good, but has nothing to work with: as so often in her career, she’s really nothing more than eye-candy in this one and her role could easily have been filled by a less-experienced actress. Her character is used by both Tony and Skorsky, but she doesn’t seem to care too much that they both take her for granted, and remains hopelessly devoted to Tony in the absence of any reciprocal shows of emotion. There was promise in her relationship with Cobb, her boss and sometime lover, and it would have been nice to see this developed further. In fact, it would have been nice if all the major characters had been developed further. We get little insight into why Tony became a robber and gained such a ruthless streak (“Chop him” he instructs one of his gang when they spy an innocent man unknowingly drive past their desert hideout), why Ann loves him so much, why a successful self-made man like Skorsky feels it is necessary to get into bed with the mob, and know nothing of their lives outside of what is happening on the screen. Without all this all we’re left with is a bland tableau, as interesting as a grainy tabloid snapshot. A final reel ‘revelation’ from Tony adds nothing, and the whole sorry escapade eventually fizzles out with a predictable finale.
(Reviewed 13th May 2005)