Monday, February 23, 2015

The Films of Warren Beatty: $, Dollars, starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn, Directed by Richard Brooks (1971)

Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty in $, better known as Dollars, 1971.

German lobby card for Dollars. "Es geht um dollars!" translates to "It's about dollars!" Well, duh.

Warren Beatty with his trusty stopwatch in Dollars, 1971. His hair is pretty amazing in this movie.

Warren Beatty working the phones, circa 1970.
The most oddly titled movie of Warren Beatty’s career is the 1971 heist movie $, which is usually referred to as Dollars. The only title we see for the movie during the opening title sequence is a giant dollar symbol sign being moved by a crane. To alleviate confusion, most of the original posters for the film show both a dollar sign and the word Dollars. Ironically enough, the movie didn’t make many dollars at the box office when it was released in December 1971, despite being a decent movie and starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.

In Dollars Beatty stars as Joe Collins, an American expert in bank security who is helping a bank in Hamburg, Germany with upgrading their security. Dollars was the third movie in a row in which the first name of Beatty’s character started with the letter J. His next movie, 1974’s The Parallax View, in which he played Joe Frady, would make it four in a row. Out of the seven movies Beatty made during the 1970’s, his character is named Joe in four of them. Anyway, back to the movie. No one knows better than Joe Collins what the flaws are in the bank’s security system. With the help of his hooker friend, the bubble-headed blonde Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn) Collins sets out to steal money from the bank’s safety deposit boxes. But Collins only wants to steal money from people who are engaged in illicit dealings, as he knows they won’t report the theft to the police. Oddly enough, Dawn’s entire clientele is made up of men who are stealing and embezzling money. 

The heist itself is quite clever, but the disadvantage of stealing money from people engaged in illicit activities is that they are often quite ruthless and vengeful when they discover their money is gone. Which leads us to perhaps the longest chase scene in the history of the movies. The crooks chase Beatty through numerous different locations, including across a frozen lake. The chase scene is sort of clever, but it’s definitely too long. According to Peter Biskind’s biography of Beatty, the star hurt his ankle performing some of the stunts during the chase scene in the train yard. (Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, p.158) You can see Beatty limping during the chase scene at the train station. There are a ton of phone calls throughout Dollars, which must have delighted Beatty, who is famous for his long phone calls, both with his paramours and movie associates. 

Dollars is a good movie, made more enjoyable if you like the two lead actors. It was written and directed by Richard Brooks, the man behind such great movies as Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, The Professionals, and In Cold Blood. Dollars is one of the lesser entries in his formidable filmography. The beginning of the film is muddled, as characters are introduced without any explanation. It takes a long time before the story starts to make sense. Dollars is one of those movies, much like Beatty’s 1966 caper film Kaleidoscope, that’s supposed to be “fun,” but isn’t actually funny. 

It’s hard to be engaged with the characters in Dollars, as they aren’t very three-dimensional. If you want Joe Collins and Dawn Divine to get away with the robbery, it’s because you like Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty, not because of any emotions you feel about the characters. Beatty does a good job playing Joe, because he gets to play a guy who talks a lot. And Warren Beatty is really good at talking. Beatty is superb when he gets to play characters who are charmers, like John McCabe in McCabe & Mrs.Miller, or Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Dollars is yet another movie in which Beatty plays a con man/criminal. I’m not sure if the role of Dawn Divine was written for Hawn, but it certainly seems tailored for her scatterbrained persona. Hawn does a good job with what the script gives her. If you like Goldie Hawn, she’ll make you laugh. If you don’t like Goldie Hawn, she’ll irritate the hell out of you. Dawn must be doing very well, as she has a really nice apartment for a call girl/hooker. Gert Frobe, best known for playing Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger, has a supporting role as the bank manager whom Beatty finesses, the better to unknowingly assist in Beatty’s heist.  

Beatty and Goldie Hawn have a good chemistry together, even though their acting styles are rather different. Beatty and Hawn would later star in Shampoo and Town & Country together. Hawn’s three movies with Beatty ties Julie Christie as his most frequent co-star. Hawn and Beatty have remained good friends ever since making Dollars together in 1971. Hawn described her relationship with Beatty in an interview with Beatty biographer Suzanne Finstad: “He’s a very deep person…He has become the brother that I never had, and will always be till the day I die.” (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.402) 

If you compare Dollars to Kaleidoscope, another caper movie pairing Beatty with a dizzy blonde, you can see how much movies changed in the five years between 1966 and 1971. Dollars was rated R, and there’s a lot of nudity in it, including some full frontal shots at a strip club. That would not have happened in a Hollywood movie from 1966. With the demise of the Production Code in 1968, filmmakers were free of excessive censorship, which led to movies that dealt with more explicit subject matter. 

After Dollars finished filming in April of 1971, Beatty took a long break from making movies. His next movie was 1974’s The Parallax View. In between, Beatty immersed himself in the 1972 Presidential campaign of George McGovern, and he worked on his long-gestating script about a hairdresser, which would eventually become 1975’s Shampoo.

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