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GREAT BANK HOAX, THE(director/writer: Joseph Jacoby; cinematographer: Walter Lassally; editor: Ralph Rosenbaum; music: Arthur B. Rubinstein; cast: Richard Basehart (Emanuel Benchley), Burgess Meredith (Jack Stutz), Paul Sand (Richard Smedley), Ned Beatty (Julius Taggart), Michael Murphy (Rev. Peter Manigma), Arthur Godfrey (Major Bryer), Charlene Dallas (Cathy Bonnano), Constance Forslund (Patricia Potter); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Joseph Jacoby/Ralph Rosenbaum; Warner Bros.; 1977)
“It works best if you don’t take it too seriously.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joseph Jacoby (“Hurry Up, or I’ll Be 30″/”Davy Jones’ Locker”/”Shame, Shame, Everybody Knows Her Name”) is the writer-director of this sometimes too clever for its own good lighthearted comedy that has fun spoofing coverups, with a nod and a wink to the Watergate scandal, false piety among church officials and hypocritical business ethics among bankers. Burgess Meredith is terrific as a randy bank officer who becomes a schemer out of self-defense. There are also plenty of twists in the shenanigans pulled by the reputable bank officials to keep you guessing until the end how it turns out. It works best if you don’t take it too seriously and go along with its diverting but hardly profound allegorical take on the questionable behavior among the ruling class in a small town in Georgia.

Shortly before the bank examiner is expected, Julius Taggart (Ned Beatty), the bank controller of the Pewter Bank, informs the vice president Jack Stutz (Burgess Meredith) and the president Manny Benchley (Richard Basehart) that someone has embezzled $100,000. Stutz figures such a scandal could cause a panic in town and cause the bank to collapse, so he suggests that the three bank higher-ups fake a robbery as the public would not blame them for that and the insurance would repay their loss and there would be no scandal as the embezzlement would be covered up when Taggart cooks the books. They pull off the robbery and discover $100,000 in the vault, in which Stutz talks the reluctant other two into sharing. Meanwhile the chief clerk, Richard Smedley (Paul Sand), confesses to the town reverend, Peter Manigma (Michael Murphy), that he embezzled the money with his system to prove a point of how vulnerable the bank is to an insider ripping them off because of a bookkeeping flaw and always intended to give back the money after his point was made. Things get more complicated when Smedley after the robbery tells Stutz he’s the embezzler and wants to return the money, and the reverend’s daughter (Charlene Dallas) who works as a teller in the same bank puts the squeeze on Smedley for half the booty after finding out he’s an embezzler while snooping around dad’s office. Also Taggart finds religion and confesses to the reverend the robbery pulled off by the three bank officers was to coverup for the embezzlement.

The point made is that some pillars of the community see this bank misfortune as an opportunity for gain and others want to help save the bank’s reputation, as the vice president points out to his fellow bank officers how intertwined is the town with the bank: “What’s good for the bank is good for the town.”

This cynical look at how untrustworthy are those in power, rings true back then as well as in today’s current collapsed economy due largely to bad banking practices.

Though the pic was a sturdy achievement, it only did a fair ticket sale at the box office—it’s just not the heads up comedy the masses are looking for, as it had no car chases, no pratfalls, no violence, no action and no one gets laid onscreen. Popular radio host Arthur Godfrey has a cameo as a retired army major helping the local band organize for an upcoming town celebration.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”