Grade: B-/C+
Not rated (would be PG)
Crime comedy-drama

Heist or “caper” movies surged during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, with no fewer than 40 of them made. The Thomas Crown Affair, The Italian Job, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Ocean’s 11 and The Pink Panther inspired remakes, and films like The Sting and How to Steal a Million continue to get a lot of love. But a forgotten heist film, The Caper of the Golden Bulls, deserves at least a little love.

Unlike today’s heist movies, there’s practically no violence in this 1967 entry that’s just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Shot during the decade James Bond debuted on the big screen, Caper was made at a time when keeping it suave and clever was a priority. Russell Rouse had written the screenplay for Pillow Talk, and as director he brought a light touch to Caper, bolstered by a bright and cheery Vic Mizy soundtrack that came out of the “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” era but would be just as at home in an Austin Powers score.

Stephen Boyd (best known for playing Ben-Hur’s chariot-racing nemesis in the 1959 epic) stars as Peter Churchman, who’s no choirboy. But he’s still a heck of a nice guy. He and his fellow flyboys got into the bank robbery business after the war, but they’ve been retired and waiting out the statute of limitations so they can carry on with their lives without fear of discovery. Churchman owns a club in a small Spanish town and has a relationship with local law enforcement that will remind viewers of Casablanca. His old military pals are married, as Peter hopes to be. Then one of the gang—a “waif” the group enlisted because she had certain skills (Giovanna Ralli)—blackmails Peter so that he’ll agree to get the group together for one last job: to steal the jewels of the statues of the Virgins that have been brought to Pamplona for the Feast of San Fermin.

For many, extended footage of the famous festival—the riao riao bands, the parades, the singing crowds, and, of course, the daily running of the bulls (with most of the route shown)—will be a highlight. So will details of dress and custom that pretty faithfully capture the feeling of the ‘60s. Caper is a light drama that aims for the same tongue-in-cheek level as the Bond films, but with intended comic relief (and I use the word “intended” for a reason) provided by a couple of bumbling men on a vendetta, an overzealous policeman, and one of the gang who’s prone to laughter. But comic relief isn’t one of the film’s strengths. Like a pun at a dinner party it draws a brief smile somewhere deep inside you at best, and at worst it feels more like heartburn.

The strength of this film is the caper itself, and the way that heist films were written and directed back in the day. Now it’s all about the planning, and viewers pretty much know everything that’s going to go down. What they don’t know is if there will be any unexpected hiccups to disrupt the plan. Back in the ‘60s, though, viewers were given less information about the plan, so that when it finally unfolded it created an honestly suspenseful third act. Watching the caper unfold is more fun than you’d suspect because you don’t know the plan OR what might go wrong.

As for the acting, none of them would win any notice, much less notice. Boyd is amiable enough as the ringleader, but the others are pretty generic—including an “Irishman” who sounds nothing at all like a native of Eire. When the film was first released, the actor that would have delighted audiences was Leon Askin, famous at the time for playing the humorless Gen. Burkhalter on Hogan’s Heroes. Here, cast against type, he turns up as one of the regulars at Peter’s club, someone who “stays fit” with isometrics. Fans of classic Hollywood films will also recognize character actor Walter Slezak in a role that evokes Louie in Casablanca.

Ultimately, though, as viewers might guess from the “groovy” cover/poster, it’s the way this film reflects the ‘60s and ‘60s caper films that makes it worthy of a little love . . . or at least a brief hug. The extensive Pamplona footage is just a nice bonus. But here’s a disclaimer: I might have been prone to enjoy this film more because I grew up with caper films and in the early ’90s I ran with the bulls. Those who aren’t as engaged with location filming or charmed by ’60s caper film nostalgia might flip the grade to a C+/B-, or a straight C+.

Entire family: No (smaller children will be bored)
Run time: 106 min., Color
Studio/Distributor: Kino Lorber/Studio Canal
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS 2.0
Bonus features: C+
Film clip (a dull scene–slim pickings on YouTube)
Amazon link
Not rated (would be PG for adult situations)

Language: 2/10—I didn’t hear anything at all, which means there’s probably one or two mild swearwords somewhere

Sex: 3/10—A woman shown under the covers appears to be nude (but is revealed not to be); men’s bare torsos are also shown; some kissing, but no making out

Violence: 2/10—A man wrestles with three attackers, but that’s about it

Adult situations: 3/10—Polite social drinking and occasional smoking; the inside of a club is shown

Takeaway: ‘60s caper films are still fun to watch, and this one is no exception; they’re also a fairly mild way to introduce younger family members to the genre