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The Great Bank Hoax
(1978)

Director: Joseph Jacoby
Cast:
Richard Basehart, Ned Beatty, Burgess Meredith


Being a working person, I think I can say with complete confidence that it is sure great to have a job. Not only do you earn enough money to help you to support your lifestyle, a job can make you feel needed and wanted. But there are some working people that aren't satisfied with that, so unsatisfied that they can fall into temptation to do something bad on the job. Though you might not think it, you can have a close brush with theft at your job. It happened to me once in one of the jobs I had in the past. No, I did not do any stealing at my job, nor did I directly witness it. I learned about it after the fact. One day I came into work, and one of my managers called me into his office, telling me he had something to report to me. It seemed the previous day, a female customer had come into the store to buy something. A short time later, the customer returned to the store and told the manager she was missing her wallet, and wondered if she had left it in the store by accident. The manager looked for the wallet up at the cashier desks, but could not find it. So he went into his office to look at the security camera footage. Reviewing the footage, he saw one of the cashiers, after completing the transaction she had with the customer, had spotted the wallet the customer had left behind. The cashier proceeded to pocket the wallet. Of course, my manager was pretty upset by this, especially since the customer was a recently arrived refugee from Iraq. My manager called in the cashier, immediately fired her, and called in the police to arrest the cashier for theft.

What ultimately happened to the cashier after her arrest I do not know, but the incident did make me realize that the old saying, "It can happen here," was very true indeed. Of course, at the same time one has to agree that there are some jobs where the idea of stealing on the job coming into the mind of a worker is unlikely to nil. For example, I don't think it's very likely that a librarian would steal books or audio/video material in their workplace, since they could simply borrow the material just like the patrons that that assist during the day. At the same time, there are certainly some jobs where I can imagine that the idea of stealing on the job can be very very tempting. One of the most obvious such jobs - if not the most obvious of all - is working in some kind of position at a bank. That's because such institutions are full of money, which just about every person on earth would like to have a large amount of in their possession. There have been times in the past where the prospect alone of working at a bank would be great, but even then I know that the idea of stealing from my workplace would occasionally come to mind. Fortunately, I am pretty confident that even if I worked at a bank and the temptation would come into my mind, a little thought and common sense would stop me from doing something stupid. For one thing, every bank today, even a small town financial institution, is filled with a lot of security measures. There are vaults locked up most of the time with the majority of the banks' money, and there are security camera keeping an eye on not only the customers, but the employees. And I know banks keep strict accounting measures on a regular basis, so that even if a small amount of money went missing, there would be an immediate and in depth investigation.

So as you can see from what I have mentioned about what possibly can stop a bank employee from stealing on the job, you would have to be really stupid to want to rob a bank. Or really really smart to think of every security measure and plan how to counter each and every one. The Great Bank HoaxNaturally, the idea of a bank employee robbing his workplace at first sounds like serious stuff. But when I came across the comedy The Great Bank Hoax, it instead promised to look at the comic side of the idea. And I was open to the idea. After all, it has been said by many people over the years that just about any idea can be portrayed in an amusing manner - at least as long as it's done right. Some premises do need a lot more work than others to make them into amusing movies. I was uncertain if this premise needed more work than usual, but I was certain I was curious enough to view the results. The events of the story take place in a small town in the southern United States. There is a bank in the town, the Pewter Bank & Trust, which is run by two prominent citizens, Manny (Basehart, Mansion Of The Doomed) and Jack (Meredith, Oddball Hall). A bank examiner is scheduled to soon come to the bank for accounting purposes, but shortly before the examiner is to come, bank employee Julius (Beatty, Time Trackers) does some accounting on his own and discovers to his horror that some unidentified party has embezzled $109,675.70 from the bank. Naturally, Manny and Jack are equally as upset when they are informed of this. So the three put on their thinking caps, and soon come up with a desperate plan: They will stage a robbery, claim that the $109,675.70 was what was stolen, and regain the money via the insurance the bank has on its assets. It sounds like the perfect plan... but of course, things along the way don't go as smoothly as the three men would like them to go.

Doing my usual pre-viewing research I do on any movie I plan to review for this web site, I came across several reviewers who stated that The Great Bank Hoax could be seen as an allegory to the Watergate scandal that popped up in American politics just a few years before this movie was made. That intrigued me, but also worried me a bit since my knowledge of the real life scandal is somewhat limited, due in part to not being American. This may explain why I didn't see much allegory in the movie at all. About the only allegory is when Basehart's character utters the line, "I am not a crook!" in two different scenes. But while I didn't personally see any other ties to Watergate in the movie, I did spot some other messages in the screenplay by writer/director (and producer) Joseph Jacoby. The main message that I got in the movie is that even in small town America, everyone has a corrupt side to themselves. And this corrupt side is bigger than you might think. Certainly, the three aforementioned bank officials that come up with the scheme to fake the robbery are up to no good. But practically every other character in the movie shows an unlikable side. For example, the town's Reverend Manigma (Michael Murphy, Cloak & Dagger) is seen early on turning down a woman's plea for new clothes so he can get to running his church's regular bingo game and make some needed money. Later on, when someone involved in the bank's shenanigans comes to him to confess what they did, Manigma drops a not so subtle hint, mentioning that his church was turned down for a much-needed loan from the bank not so long ago. At one point, one character pretty much sums things up by saying, "Nobody's interested in talking to someone who ain't got nothing." A pretty harsh line, but from what we see in this movie, it's truer than we might have to acknowledge.

Rereading what I just typed in the above paragraph, I realize that I might be painting The Great Bank Hoax to be a pretty cynical movie. So I have to remind you readers what I said earlier, that the movie is at heart a comedy. Though I feel I must also point out that the style of comedy in the movie is not that of wacky hijinks. In fact, there is really only one scene with that kind of feeling, when bank employee Richard Smedley (Paul Sand, Frozen Assets) brings a woman (Constance Forslund, River's Edge) home for what he hopes will give him some loving action, though it turns out that she has something else completely in mind. Instead of giving the movie a strong comic tone, writer/director Jacoby keeps the mood of the movie at a very low key almost completely throughout. As a result of this, there aren't really any moments that will provoke viewers to laugh out loud. This may give the movie a smell of doom, but that doesn't mean that viewers will not find the movie amusing. Jacoby presents the humor in a way that feels very natural and realistic. When the three bank officials break into the bank during the night to stage the robbery, the energy level may be low, but the various actions the men make (such as Meredith's character bringing along a sandwich to munch on) come off in a way that will have you thinking, "Yes, I believe that very well could happen." Seeing real human behavior coming out of situations where the people are being pressed in believable situations cannot help but bring a smile on the faces of the people who are observing this desperate behavior. And as it turns out, I had a smile on my face many times watching these characters work their way deeper and deeper into trouble, because I could always to a degree identify with them, even though I have never come close to robbing a bank.

There are occasional weaknesses to the writing of the characters in The Great Bank Hoax. Basehart's character Manny, for one thing, despite having a major position in the bank seems to be often overshadowed by Meredith's character. It wouldn't take much rewriting of the screenplay to eliminate this character completely. Also, when the embezzler is uncovered, a good explanation as to why he did what he did doesn't really get delivered. The closest I could deduce was that he did it to prove something.... though it would have made more sense to discuss with the bank officials what someone in his position could do instead of risking it all by actually doing it. On the other hand, the screenplay gives this character some definite interest by making him more sympathetic than any other character in the movie. But that's not to say that the other characters in the movie comes across as harsh and abrasive. Wisely, Jacoby makes the characters in the movie palatable to watch despite their greed and selfishness. You probably wouldn't want to be friends with these characters in real life, but they are interesting enough that you'll want to see how they will end up. The actors also have to take credit for this as well, giving low key but warm performances that coax the audience into embracing them instead of getting into the viewers' faces and screaming to be accepted. This low-key feeling found in other areas of the movie definitely does not make the movie one to choose when you just want to sit back and laugh hard and constantly. But if the idea of seeing realistic human behavior to a string of bad situations sounds interesting, you'll probably find The Great Bank Hoax to put a smile on your face just like it did for me.

(Posted March 5, 2022)

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See also: Beer, Fire Sale, Hamburger: The Motion Picture

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