Barney Lincoln and his not-so-guardian Angel.
Barney Lincoln is a high-life playboy who makes a practice of breaking the banks (and the hearts of fellow card players) at a string of swank casinos throughout Europe. His secret? He cheats. Exhibiting the skills of a cat burglar, Lincoln has broken into Kaleidoscope, card manufacturer to the best gaming houses, and marked the plates used to print the playing cards. While raking in the chips thanks to his ingenious and illegal edge, Barney becomes involved with a beautiful English rose named Angel — who just happens to be the daughter of Scotland Yard Inspector Emmanuel “Manny” McGinnis. She quickly intuits that Barney is onto something more than a run of luck, and drops a few suggestive words into Daddy’s ear. The latter keeps Lincoln under surveillance until he figures out the ruse, then threatens him with jail unless he applies his card-sharping talents in a high-stakes poker game against British crime boss Harry Dominion, whose financial empire McGinnis hopes to destroy.
It helps to have an edge.
From its flashy Maurice Binder titles to its New Wave-inspired camerawork to its jazzy, sitar-accented soundtrack, Kaleidoscope maintains a frenetic visual style and tone of hip irreverence. Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington’s script is chock-full of sophisticated, sardonic repartee replete with double meaning and veiled menace. Mirroring the gaming theme that drives the narrative, all the lead characters are game players of one kind or another. Barney plays a game with the casinos, Angel plays at love and sex, Dominion plays mind games with his minions, and he and McGinnis play cat and mouse with each other.
Jack Smight’s direction is equally crisp and assured. He elicits excellent performances from everyone in the (mostly English) cast, getting them to strike a consistent note of ironic detachment. And he maintains a fine balance between comedy and suspense, often transitioning from one to the other within the same scene. Abetted by cinematographer Christopher Challis, he weaves a visual kaleidoscope, if you will, of brilliantly conceived primary colors and inventive camera angles. As he did for the Paul Newman film Harper released that same year, Smight evokes the sixties’ casual hedonism along with the decadence and violence percolating beneath the decade’s shiny surface.
Card counting is conspicuously frowned upon.
Warren Beatty was a year away from the superstardom conferred by Bonnie and Clyde (1967),
yet he’s even better cast in this film. His slightly smug yet somehow likeable persona suits Barney Lincoln like a well-fitting tuxedo. Beatty repeatedly sends up his romantic stallion image, humanizing his character through an emphasis on his failings and vulnerability. Lincoln is an uncommon criminal, one with no criminal record and enough legally earned wealth to last a lifetime. Asked by McGinnis why he went to so much trouble just to win at cards, he replies: “Well, once the idea occurred to me, it was absolutely irresistible.”
Good as Beatty is, Eric Porter pockets the picture with his dipped-in-vitriol-and-etched-in-acid portrayal of Harry Dominion, the charismatic-creepy underworld figure with a nice line in sadism. He’s introduced in a memorable sequence taunting his assembled crime lieutenants about the informer in their midst. “Oh, what wicked gossip. Tongues will wag. Wait until you hear, gentlemen. It’s too good. I really should save it for the brandy.” Dominion loves to take the Mickey, but deals retribution with impressive wrath. With his hawk-like visage and Napoleon complex, he’s one of the sixties’ most original and compelling villains.
Harry Dominion — a figure cut from the most urbane and disreputable cloth.
As Inspector Emmanuel “Manny” McGinnis, Clive Revill invests his character with disconcerting intensity and a kind of demented charm that tends to keep people off balance. McGinnis takes full advantage of this in his dealings with the criminals and other characters within his orbit. Revill brings his character to life in other ways, too, including cheating his assistant at cards using one of Lincoln’s marked decks, and playing with the miniature steam engines that decorate his office. His daughter Angel is incarnated by Susannah York, whose gamin beauty was at its height, and whose intelligent personality and quicksilver temperament make Angel much more than the usual bedroom appendage to the leading man. In subtle ways, her character is responsible for some of the film’s more enigmatic narrative directions.
The impenetrable cool of Inspector McGinnis.
Mention must also be made of McGinnis’ over-enthusiastic assistant Aimes (Murray Melvin). When ordered to pick up Lincoln “quietly,” Aimes has him roughly grabbed off the street and carted to headquarters with siren blaring. Aimes’ eccentric nature makes him the perfect complement to his even odder superior, and also masks a rather cold-blooded nature. He’s Scotland Yard’s best marksman, a fact he proves with barely repressed satisfaction during the film’s denouement.
Upon his discovery of a police informer among his gang, Dominion pulls the man out of a meeting and escorts him to the cellar, where, with a mocking “What’s the matter, Johnny? Feeling cold?” signals his chauffeur/bodyguard — bedecked in a flame-retardant suit — to bring the Judas’ temperature down a few degrees with the aid of a flamethrower. Also noteworthy is Dominion’s manservant Billy, played by the estimable George Sewell (below), who gives Lincoln a right pasting on the grounds of Dominion’s moated manse.
Nemesis arrives in the person of Billy, underworld manservant.
Barney Lincoln: “I’m gonna be away a couple of weeks, but when I get back I’d take it kindly, Miss McGinnis, if you’d let me call.”
Angel McGinnis: “Oh, I couldn’t do that. You came out of nowhere in a bright red sports car with no mummy and no daddy. I’d hate to learn that you were real.”
Barney Lincoln: “We can take it in stages.”
Angel McGinnis: “That would spoil everything.”
Inspector McGinnis: “My interests are not primarily concerned with gambling. The department I’m in charge of here deals with homicide, extortion, narcotics and related pastimes as practiced by Britons at home and abroad. It’s a constant irritant to my national pride to realize how busy this keeps me.”
Angel McGinnis [as she and Barney flee Dominion’s henchman]: “I hate guns. And I don’t like fighting.”
Barney Lincoln: “How does livin’ grab ya?”
Harry Dominion [as his driver is about to run down the fleeing Barney and Angel]: “How powerful is our car, Eddie?”
Eddie: “About 350 horsepower.”
Harry Dominion: “350 horses against two breathless children. 350 horses! Well! Eddie, feed those horses — now!”
Giving Dominion a run for his money.
The End Titles
Director: Jack Smight; writers: Robert Carrington, Jane-Howard Carrington; producer: Elliott Kastner; cinematography: Christopher Challis; music: Stanley Myers; editing: John Jympson
Warren Beatty (Barney Lincoln); Susannah York (Angel McGinnis); Clive Revill (Inspector McGinnis); Eric Porter (Harry Dominion); Murray Melvin (Aimes); George Sewell (Billy); Stanley Meadows (casino captain); John Junkin (casino porter); Larry Taylor (Eddie); George Murcell (Johnny); Anthony Newlands (Leeds); Yootha Joyce (museum administrator); Jane Birkin (Exquisite Thing)
To the wicked go the spoils.