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Silver Bears (1978)

Director: Ivan Passer
Screenwriter: Peter Stone (from the novel by Paul Erdman)
Starring: Michael Caine, Louis Jourdan, Cybill Shepherd, Jay Leno
Release details: Columbia Pictures, UK/USA 1978, 109mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Heist comedy
Rating: 7 out of 10

Doc Fletcher (Caine) is a Mafia money launderer who wants to branch out on a pet project of his own - getting a Swiss bank up and running to launder the Mob's money. His boss has reluctantly agreed, on the condition that his ne'er-do-well son and heir (an early part for Jay Leno) goes with Fletcher to Switzerland. Along with a bodyguard, they set off for Lugano, where the impoverished Prince di Siracusa (Louis Jourdan) is supposed to have set them up with a bank. When they get there, they find that the Prince has bought them a room above a pizzeria and "invested" the rest of the money in a get-rich-quick scheme involving Moroccan silver.

This is probably one of the least well-known Caine films, having been unsuccessful at the box office and little-seen on TV, but this is a real shame, as it's a witty and twisting little comedy thriller, not dissimilar in tone to both Gambit and The Italian Job, and perfectly suited to the small screen. Stone, a veteran screenwriter of exactly this sort of slight, but charming fare, has put together a complex but perfectly paced script which constantly keeps you guessing, without ever really worrying that Caine won't come right in the end.

In addition to Jourdan and Leno, there's excellent support from David Warner, Tom Smothers (a comedian better known in the US than in Britain) and Martin Balsam. Leno is a particularly revelation, especially if you're not familiar with his acting work, providing a certain charm to the brash but dim heir apparent role. It's a shame that Shepherd was chosen as Caine's married love interest, as she is too shrill to carry off what is clearly meant to be a screwball-comedy heroine in the same vein as Barbra Streisand in What's Up Doc?

Hard to get a hold of, as it's been deleted in the UK for some time, but well worth searching out.

Trivia

Screenwriter Stone won an Oscar for his screenplay for the Cary Grant-Leslie Caron romantic comedy Father Goose, but his best known work is undoubtedly another Cary Grant film, perennial holiday TV favourite, Charade.

Another early Leno film worth seeking out is American Hot Wax, the story of ground-breaking US DJ Alan Freed, who is credited with bringing rock and roll to the US public, but who died a broken man having been forced out of the business for championing so-called "negro" music. More fun than it sounds, with a cracking soundtrack.

Links

Cybill Shepherd has her own official site, as does the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.


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