The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Cinematography Arthur J. Ornitz

The Anderson Tapes is a Technicolor 1971 American crime film in Panavision directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Sean Connery and featuring Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, and comedian Alan King. The screenplay was written by Frank Pierson, based upon a best-selling 1970 novel of the same name by Lawrence Sanders. The film is scored by Quincy Jones and marks the feature film debut of Christopher Walken.


It was the first major film to focus on the pervasiveness of electronic surveillance, from security cameras in public places to hidden recording devices.  Following the Watergate scandal a few years later, covert surveillance, and who is listening, became the themes of several 1970s films such as The Conversation and The Parallax View.

The Anderson Tapes was filmed on location in New York City, on Fifth Avenue, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rikers Island Prison, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Luxor Health Club and on the Lower East Side. Interiors scenes were filmed at Hi Brown Studio[4] and ABC-Pathé Studio, both in New York City. The production was on a tight budget, and filming was completed in the short period of six weeks, from mid-August to October 16, 1970. The film was the first for producer Robert M. Weitman as an independent producer.


Columbia Pictures was not happy with the planned ending of the film, in which Connery escaped to be pursued by police helicopters, fearing that it would hurt sales to television, which generally required that bad deeds not go unpunished.

Great little gem, sadly forgotten

20 September 2004 | by MovieAddict2016 (UK) – See all my reviews

Sean Connery plays a jail bird who’s let out and decides to pull another heist with the help of a team of experienced crooks; little does he know the cops are monitoring everything.


What’s so unique about this film by Sidney Lumet, in superb form as director, is that heist films rarely mount the tension by showing us the cops’ side — here it’s like a ticking time bomb, we’re just waiting for Connery and his crew to be arrested and we know that they don’t know that the cops know (err…) and the result is pretty tense.

No fault found in the acting: Connery and a very young Christopher Walken (in his film debut) are great, particularly Walken who shows extensive range very early on. After seeing this I was reminded of his recent role in the “Stepford Wives” remake and had to wonder why he’s resorting to such trash, because he’s just as talented (almost, anyway) as De Niro and Pacino and the difference is he wasted a lot of this during the ’80s and ’90s by taking on small bits in horrible films. I mean, in 2003 he starred in KANGAROO JACK. C’mon!


Overall THE ANDERSON TAPES is a tense and unique crime thriller that, although very “70s-ish” is entertaining, if a bit outdated in terms of technology. I’m sure it will be remade some day, there’s a lot of potential, however I doubt it’ll ever come close to the original.


The Man Who Was There! As weird as realism can get.

Author: manuel-pestalozzi from Zurich, Switzerland
7 August 2003
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Forget about the tapes and the surveillance business, they are not the main issue here. At best they are used as a smoke screen to hide the real purpose of this movie: To show us what extents human stupidity can reach.


For Sidney Lumet this must have been the dress rehearsal for the more famous Dog Day Afternoon. Most of it is shot in a realistic style. But there is more to it, the absurdity of it all is pushed much further and converts realism into surrealism. This is the story of Anderson, a guy who gets out of prison after having served a long spell behind bars. Before he leaves he makes a short speech in which he declaims his philosophy. The essence of it: Everybody steals and therefore everybody has a right to steal. He steps into freedom, gets directly to his former lover’s elegant apartment house off Central Park, looks around a bit and instantly makes the big decision concerning his future life: He will burglarise all apartments in this house in one big sweep and live on what the fence will pay him for the loot for the rest of his life.


Anderson seems to be a direct descendant of the Coen Brother’s Ed Crane in The Man Who Wasn’t There. And Sean Connery gives a performance as convincing as Billy Bob Thornton. Anderson made a decision – period. He will bear all the consequences, however bloody they will get. And, funny enough, there are people who think the idiotic scheme might be a success. Anderson has authority and leader qualities; he gets financial backing from an oddball son of a big time mobster and can form a team of more oddballs for the burglary (including a very young Christopher Walken). So eventually Anderson drives up to the apartment house with a huge removal truck (remember: this is not filmed in the style of a comedy!).


I do not want to give away the whole story. Only this much: The viewer sees people on both sides of the law engaged in heavy duty physical exertion. You can laugh and at the same time feel sorry for the poor fellows. The whole enterprise ends in utter disaster for the burglars. Towards the end of the story there is much police present on the street around the apartment house. You can observe ambulance personnel relaxedly unfolding bed linen for their stretchers in front of the Guggenheim. Then some of the gangsters try to make a getaway in a car. The engine roars and the car crashes and overturns after a few yards. This is all filmed very undramatically from a distance, in a matter of fact way, without musical soundtrack. It could almost be a documentary.


The low key style of the movie heightens the absurdity of the story, strengthens the message and make The Anderson Tapes a memorable experience. There is a very good electronic musical score by Quincy Jones which to my ears still sounds modern, funky and futuristic.

A Bold And Audacious Caper

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 May 2009

The Anderson Tapes occupies a great place in the career of Sean Connery, it is one of the films he likes best in his career. And with good reason, it was the first film for which he both drew good reviews and clicked with the public not playing James Bond. Connery could finally be taken seriously as an actor, not just an international sex symbol.


The film itself draws from elements found in The Asphalt Jungle and The Desperate Hours. There’s no planner character in this film, Connery himself is both the planner and enforcer in the crew he’s put together for a job. But he does need a backer and that’s where organized crime boss Alan King comes in.

Connery is a Duke Anderson, a con just recently released from prison and he’s got some attitudes similar to that other Connery character from Family Business has Jesse McMullen. Not surprising since both films were directed by Sidney Lumet. Like McMullen he feels that stealing is the most honorable profession going if you’re not a hypocrite since all successful people engage in some kind of crookedness. And since he’s done the full ten year bit with no parole and no strings attached to him, there isn’t anything that the criminal justice system can do to him.


When he sees how well former girl friend Dyan Cannon is doing as someone’s kept woman in a very ritzy apartment on New York’s Upper East Side, Connery conceives a plan to take down the whole building. And bit by bit he assembles his crew.

Young Christopher Walken gets his first big screen role of notice as a young convict released with Connery from the joint. Another con released at the same time is Stan Gottlieb who’s spent most of his life in stir and is thoroughly institutionalized. With his character, Lumet makes a powerful statement about institutional acclamation, in Gottlieb’s case, it’s an act of cruelty almost to let him out in society, he knows no other way of life.


Since there’s a lot of merchandise to move from these rich folk’s apartments, Connery needs someone along who knows the value and how to get the best value when fencing. Martin Balsam who’s an antique dealer and fence on the side gets brought in on the job itself. Balsam has one of the earliest post Stonewall portrayals of a gay man and while sadly he does conform to stereotype, still it’s a fine piece of work. And he’s crushing out on Connery big time.

Alan King makes an unusual condition on Connery. He wants the crew to take along mob hood Val Avery on the job and arrange for his demise on same. Avery is something of a loose cannon, the powers that be want him eliminated without their fingerprints on it. When Avery arrives you can see why he’s such a liability. He’s an out and out racist and drivers Garrett Morris and Dick Williams would gladly do it for nothing.


Connery and his crew take the entire exclusive apartment building hostage, just like the family in The Desperate Hours. And the film itself has an Asphalt Jungle feel to it, both in the planning stage and in how it all turns out.

The title comes from the fact that several government agencies are actually taping this whole proceeding from many different angles, the FBI, the IRS, Immigration, etc. But since it’s all quite illegal, none of them can really step in to put a halt to the criminal enterprise. It’s a nice touch, but quite superfluous, the film works beautifully as a straight out caper film.


Sean Connery and the rest of the cast play this thing to perfection. Two of the best performances are from a pair of little old ladies, the shocked Margaret Hamilton and feisty Judith Lowry who just loves being taken hostage and robbed, it’s the most excitement she’s had in years.

As for Connery he could finally put James Bond to rest, after just one more film. His next role, 007 in Diamonds Are Forever.

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