Monday, August 06, 2007

Grand Slam

Grand Slam posterThere are a number of mysteries left unresolved at the end of Grand Slam (Ad ogni costo), an enjoyable 1967 heist movie set largely in Rio de Janeiro.

First, and no doubt most important, following a number of twists it’s not immediately obvious who finally takes possession of the diamonds that the top team of international experts have stolen from a Brazilian diamond exchange. Inevitably enough, the gang-members themselves don’t get to profit (and each suffers a rather sticky end). But perhaps I’m just being obtuse when I say that I’m not sure whether the final scene presents us with yet another double cross, or simply a rather unfortunate accident. And in the final shot one of the central characters, played a Janet Leigh, has a look on her face as though she can’t quite work it out, either. The moral of a heist movie is often that crime doesn’t pay. (Think for instance of the famous ending to The Italian Job.) It’s not clear whether Grand Slam break with this pattern or not.

But second, and still more mysteriously, there’s the strange case of the unfortunate woman who goes by the name of Stetuaka and is played by one “Jussara” in what the IMDB tells us is her sole cinematic credit. And as a commenter at the IMDB puts it, “believe me, I have been born, raised and lived a good part of my life in Rio and have never, ever known anyone by the name of Stetuaka.”

Stetuaka is unfortunate in that it emerges that she is absolutely destitute of clothing. She lives on a yacht (the “Sea Wolf”) in the Rio marina, unable to go ashore because all she owns is underwear, and just a single pair of knickers and bra at that. So when she washes the bra and it is drying in the sun, the poor creature is forced to go topless.

It’s at one of these awkward moments that Stetuaka first catches the eye of Agostino, an Italian electrician and handyman whose job is (literally) to grease the wheels of the operation to open up the safe containing the diamonds. Despite the fact that Agostino and Stetuaka have no language in common, our man takes a shine to her and seems determined to save her from her life of unclothed isolation and indecency. He buys her a dress. And while it’s true that the lacy number he’s picked up still hardly leaves much to the imagination (it’s more a translucent nightgown than anything else), at least presumably she’s now able to pop on shore and buy a pint of milk from time to time. Sadly, in the film’s closing minutes Agostino is shot down before Stetuaka’s eyes as he tries to make a run from the law. But she gets to keep the dress.

So what fate has brought this charming creature to such a pretty pass? Has she been imprisoned on her yacht by some gangland boss or criminal mastermind? Is she doing penance for some scandal or some heinous family secret? Or is it the curse of her unusual name? The movie never resolves the mystery of Stetuaka. Rather, we have to assume that such oddities are what make Rio what it is.

For every world city, it seems, has an iconic building plus some strange idiosyncrasy. The movie opens with a retired teacher flying into New York, looking pensively out of a helicopter window. He sees the Statue of Liberty, so confirming for his benefit and ours that this is really New York. Later, he turns up at a mansion in which there’s a secret striptease club. Only in America! Similarly, then, as he travels the world to assemble his criminal gang, when in London we see first the Houses of Parliament and then a butler adding a delicate cream topping to a cake for his aristocratic master. It helps for the plot that the butler is also a master safe-cracker, but again the main point seems to be that this odd way of life is somehow typically English.

Similarly, then, Italy has the Coliseum as well as a matronly scold who runs a toyshop, and though in France we’re strangely deprived of a view of the Eiffel Tower, we have a jealous and dependent French mistress (perhaps wife). And in Rio? Rio has the Sugarloaf mountain with its statue of Christ the Redeemer, it has its characteristic undulating mosaic on the sidewalks, it has Copacabana (viewed from the balcony of the same penthouse hotel room rented by every visitor to the city, if the movies are to be believed), it has Carnaval. And it has Stetuaka.

Strangely enough, then, this character’s oddity and unbelievability functions as a mark of realism and particularity. An unclothed, bizarrely named beauty confined to the marina? Only in Rio!

YouTube link: the film's trailer.

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