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'An interesting lesson as to what you can and can't do'


The Great Bank Hoax
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The next film I made in the States was called finally, The Great Bank Hoax, although it's known under a number of other names as well, like The Great Georgia Bank Hoax and so on. Anyway, that was made in Georgia, in deepest Georgia, and had a very nice cast with Richard Basehart and Burgess Meredith and Paul Sand, and, the couple of girls were less known, but the men were very well known. I'll think of them in a minute, it doesn't matter. Anyway, so we were shooting in Madison, Georgia, which is a model town. People go to Madison, Georgia to see all the colonial homes there. Old colonial homes there. But there isn't much in the way of accommodation. There's one motel, which we ended up in, which was either Howard Johnson's or Holiday Inn, one of those. And you could either eat there or you could eat in the local tavern. There was a local, one place, which had been desegregated some years previously when desegregation happened, but it was still, in effect, segregated. There was a front room and a back room, and no black guy would've dared sit in the front room, which is exactly like it was before, only officially it was desegregated.

That film was... most films you get to know, sooner or later, usually upfront, who is actually putting up the money for this film. But in this particular case, there wasn't any kind of presence of the front office. It was totally lacking and the director was called Joe Jacoby and he'd also written the script, and he'd made one film previously called, I believe, Hurry Up or You'll be Forty, something like that. And he was very good. He was a very good director, very efficient and the script was very good. It was about a bank, a little rural bank in deepest Georgia where they discover a discrepancy in the books, just before an audit is due. One of the bank clerks confesses to having made a scheme where he could siphon off the money gradually from various accounts all the time, and put them in his own account. But he hadn't done it as a... as a... he didn't actually want the money, he just wanted to see if it could be done. Unfortunately, the timing of it was such that, between the discovery of the fraud and the due arrival of the bank inspectors, he hadn't yet confessed. So the bank directors devise a scheme to cover up this deficiency, this discrepancy, by staging a raid on their own bank. A bank robbery which they do. And it's very funny, they arrive on a tandem bicycle in the middle of the night, you know. Very funny scenes. Then he confesses and then they have the money twice which is a problem again, because they've just announced to the insurers that there's been a robbery, and such and such an amount is missing, and then he gives the money back so that they've actually got twice the money. They've got the money that they took from the vaults and they've got the money that he's prepared to give back to them. So he says, 'Yes, yes, but we have to think about all this'.

The movie wasn't released. No, that movie... To my best knowledge it was never released but it exists in the... on the Internet as... under various titles. Perhaps they had a very small release somewhere, but I'm not aware of it ever being released. That's why I haven't got it on cassette either because I couldn't find it. But we filmed for some seven weeks in this little Georgia town. There was one scene where we filmed in a bank in Atlanta, during which I discovered that the First... the First National Bank of Atlanta, Georgia and the First National Bank of Madison, Georgia have no connection whatsoever. I thought one would be a branch of the other, like one might expect, but it wasn't. So when I asked the bank of Madison, Georgia, the First National Bank of Madison, Georgia to transfer some of my salary to England, they said, we've never done anything like that before. I was given a cheque and it could only be cashed in that bank because it was drawn on that bank. So I had to cash the money and I said, 'I'll find a way of sending it', don't... and then I said, 'Well, at least can I have this money in 50s?' And they said, 'Oh no, we don't have any 50s. We only have 20s these days because there's no call for 50s here'.

And also, that place also had a very interesting liquor store which I found quite common in America where they had these giant jeraboams of wine and beer in enormous quantities. But to get a small bottle was quite difficult. And there was a moment when the waitress in the Howard Johnson's or the Holiday Inn, or wherever it was, came to us one day, having served us for several weeks, and seen that we were all British, she sort of said, 'Do you know, you're not like us you know'. I said, 'Why not?' She thought a bit and then she said, 'Well, you don't eat grits'. That was the first point. Well the food was a bit monotonous because there was only that place or... or the... or the desegregated tavern. So it was a bit sparse. The choice wasn't exactly brilliant. The movie's not bad. I don't know why it never made it. But, again, it was one of those independent movies. Oh yes, the finance. It turned out, finally, the reason there wasn't the presence of a front office, was that the money had been put up by some porno king. He was a porno movie king who was at present in jail. That's why there was never a producer on the set.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: The Great Georgia Bank Hoax, The Great Bank Hoax, Richard Basehart, Burgess Meredith, Paul Sand, Joe Jacoby

Duration: 6 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008