The Anderson Tapes Review

It might be best to approach Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes as an interesting cinematic failure. Based on a novel by Lawrence Sanders, the 1971 feature seems to consistently flirt with being a far greater movie than it ever becomes. It's a bit too undisciplined - never committing itself to anything singular and struggling to establish a definite tone throughout its 99 minutes.  The characters are fairly nondescript and drama feels forced and lacking in dedication, especially for a Lumet film. But it's got an obvious charm to it, and - like several of Lumet's movies - merits a re-appraisal.

Sean Connery reunited with Lumet following the actor's early artistic high point in The Hill six years earlier. Though The Anderson Tapes might seem particularly lightweight compared to that drama or their next collaboration, The Offence, Connery's clear trust in Lumet remains on display in this picture. As Duke Anderson, a burglar just released from a ten-year stint in prison, Connery lets go of his vanity by wearing unappealing suits and embracing his natural, thinning hair. He's a cynical, one-dimensional antihero channeling the voice of screenwriter Frank Pierson, who'd already co-written Cool Hand Luke and would again collaborate with Lumet for Dog Day Afternoon. Few would mistake this film for neonoir but that's through no fault of Duke Anderson, who seems readymade for it.

The supporting cast is notable from a recognition standpoint. Martin Balsam is as stereotypically gay as it got in 1971, and the other characters' treatment of him is cringeworthy. Completing the triumvirate of Best Supporting Actor Oscar winners is Christopher Walken, here in a very early role as a young ex-con Connery's Anderson recruits to help with the central heist. Also onboard are Ralph Meeker, Alan King, and Dyan Cannon. The latter plays Anderson's girlfriend who lives in a posh New York City building which he decides to rob. It's this planned crime upon which the film hinges, aided at every turn by Quincy Jones' laser-like musical score.

You get so accustomed to seeing epic, lengthy heists in films like The Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, and Le cercle rouge that having one play out in a much different way in a movie like The Anderson Tapes can feel almost inadequate. With hindsight maybe we can realize that the heist isn't really the thing in Lumet's take so there's no attempt needed at oneupmanship. The distinguishing characteristic here is something else entirely, and much of that probably starts with Sanders' source novel, which abandoned a traditional narrative in favor of using a collection of documents and surveillance transcripts. The larger idea of surveillance, aided by the accompanying sense of paranoia which the viewer can infer as much as he or she would like, permeates this movie to a degree hardly ever seen in Hollywood cinema.

The character Dyan Cannon plays unknowingly has her apartment bugged by her benefactor. Government agencies are constantly listening. At one point soon after he's released from prison, Anderson looks up while outside and sees security cameras staring back at him. Frequently we see video monitors, and the movie even begins with the image of Connery appearing on a small television as he takes part in some sort of recorded session among his fellow inmates. The pervasiveness of recording devices is almost overwhelming. It catches the viewer off guard, even in the decade that would later bring us The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and The Parallax View, among other classics of the cinema of paranoia. This was all prior to the events of Watergate, and it's only the lack of a dark, threatening tone that prevents this all from being absolutely frightening. Importantly, though, it's all there ripe for discovery over forty-five years after the fact. Lumet was never as committed to this theme as, for example, Alan J. Pakula, but he gets quite a bit right in terms of the potential fears from this sort of encroachment, even if it's disjointed from the main plot.

Connery gets two opportunities to deliver sections of dialogue which resonate and capture his character's ethos. One is at the very beginning when he cynically equates legal institutions like marriage and the stock market with criminal intentions, attempting to justify his livelihood as not dissimilar to more respected professions. The other is more thrilling. Anderson claims that robbing someone with insurance is, in a rather twisted way, doing that person a favor. "You're giving him a little excitement in his life, a story to tell. He becomes a more interesting person because you robbed him," he says. This small swath of dialogue can prove most affecting even when revisiting Lumet's film years after a first viewing. It's the connection that an otherwise cold and emotionless picture establishes with its audience, and it perfectly encapsulates why so many people enjoy stories about criminals on screen. We crave that excitement of being in their presence, fictional or not.

The Disc

The Anderson Tapes is given a Dual Format edition release by Powerhouse's Indicator series. It's region-free and the limited edition is numbered at 3,000 units.

The 1.85:1 image looks outstanding, warm and sharp. There was a quick instance of a vertical scratch during the opening titles, which generally look slightly worse than the rest of the film, but otherwise it's magnificent. Detail is almost embarrassingly crisp. Pores, wrinkles, pocks, stray hairs and various other imperfections finally see the light of day. Still, grain is present and we're saved from anything looking waxy or artificial.

English language LPCM mono audio emerges without a hitch. The Quincy Jones score is one of the picture's highlights. It could be an acquired taste but the funky, electronic sounds in the context of the movie are never less than sharp and on point here. Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired are accessible.

Extra features boast a new audio commentary by critic Glenn Kenny. He doesn't seem to have any special fondness for this particular film as whole, instead placing it more in the context of its director's and star's careers. Kenny frequently uhhs and umms when he's not reading from Lumet's book, but there's still plenty of information relayed in the track. (I'll be emailing about that promised prize, Mr. Kenny.)

There's also the unusual inclusion of a standard, Academy ratio Super 8 version of the movie that goes for just over 16 minutes.  Add to that a trailer and a generous image gallery.

Inside the case is a valuable booklet that begins with a new essay by Thirza Wakefield. That's followed by Richard Combs' 1971 review in Monthly Film Bulletin and a short excerpt from Sidney Lumet's Making Movies featuring an antecdote on the making of the film. Especially helpful is the inclusion of an exchange from Lawrence Sanders' novel which shows just how the author stylistically used the idea of transcripts and such instead of traditional narrative methods. The 24-page booklet is otherwise dotted with promotional stills and credits for both the film and Indicator's release.


7 out of 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10

Flawed but interesting film given an unexpected and loving edition by Indicator. Seems doubtful this particular movie will ever be treated better on the home market.


out of 10

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