Cat burglar Harry Dean (Michael Caine) has a plan for a really big job and he needs the help of Hong Kong dancer Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine) to pull it off.
The Arab Shahbandar (Herbert Lom) is the world’s richest man. He has been in mourning for twenty years after the death of his wife and has never even looked at another woman. But Dean is betting once he sees Nicole’s striking resemblance to his late wife he will be so mesmerized by her it will give Harry plenty of time to make off with a priceless statuette that is in Shahbandar’s possession.
Planning everything to the tiniest detail, Harry envisions a caper that will be flawless in its execution and he’s confident it will end with great success. But once the plan actually begins nothing runs in the clockwork fashion Harry dreamt up.
Gambit is a somewhat forgotten small comedy/thriller. Which I think is somewhat strange since it has two big stars as its leads and although it’s not the greatest of its genre, it’s still innocuously enjoyable.
The first thirty minutes is a setup to what Harry’s plan is meant to be. It’s a very well orchestrated plan and we watch what he hopes to happen. We see how all the components and scenarios are designed to come together, how they are meant to successfully trick Shahbandar, grab the statuette and make it out of the country before anyone is the wiser.
It’s an unusual extended way to begin the movie, but I was gripped the whole time. It’s compelling to watch as Caine plays the sophisticated role of an aristocrat and MacLaine is by his side as the docile wife as they put on the charade. The most interesting thing in this first part of the film is that MacLaine doesn’t say one word! In Harry’s mind she will be just another tool to accomplish this caper, will obey his every instruction and he will have no trouble from her.
Well, then we get back to reality and of course Nicole isn’t the most quiet and unassuming partner Harry could have chosen. Plus, Shahbandar isn’t as gullible as Harry had hoped.
Caine and MacLaine make a surprisingly good onscreen team. There are of course sparks that begin to ignite between the characters, despite Caine’s growing frustrations with his partner in crime. I thought things started to slow down in the middle portion of the film and the tension and comedy wasn’t really there, but things got back on track towards the end.
It’s not a great a film. It’s somewhat predictable and drags in that middle portion, but it has it’s moments and it’s worth checking out once. There’s some nice photography, MacLaine’s outfits look beautiful, Caine gives one of his early non-blinking performances that I always enjoy watching. I thought Lom was particularly good. I’ve grown so used to seeing him twitching his eye and wearing bandages in the Pink Panther films that seeing him play a different character and doing some subtle comedy was refreshing.
When I watched this I had no idea a remake was made recently with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. I only watched the trailer, so I might be going out on a limb here and I’ll venture a guess that the original film is more worth your time. Honestly, the remake looks like a horrible movie and I have zero interest in it.
I have a fondness for those one word title caper movies of the mid-1960s: Gambit, Charade, Arabesque, Topkapi. Very witty, chic, good plots etc. This is the movie, in my opinion, where Caine establishes himself as an international movie star. Zulu showed his potential as a star, The Ipcress File and Alfie were solidly British movies that managed to do well in the US but Gambit is the one where he's partnered opposite an A list Hollywood star, he manages to hold his own and show he's got what it takes for movie stardom.
You're right about his early, unblinking roles and he also does this thing of entering a room, pausing to size it up and look around. You don't mess with this guy. The pinnacle of this style of Caine's can be found in Get Carter; a movie you should do a remake recon of.
Then there's that classic Caine, almost monotone delivery which isn't wooden at all…just monotone in places. MacLaine has just done her thing and got past the security and he says something like "I love you, now let's go" and she is so overjoyed, she sets off the alarms. I love the way he delivers his line.
If you like Michael Caine's acting, then here's a great clip of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing a Caine-off! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFIQIpC5_wY