Hard Cash: Looking back at 1967’s “Who’s Minding The Mint?”
The heist film is a standard of crime and action cinema. In fact, it has been with the film medium since the very beginning. 1903’s The Great Train Robbery by Edison Film, with Edwin S. Porter at the helm, is a great early example of a heist film, featuring bandits taking a train, valuables, and other goods before being chased down and brought to justice.
To say that a few others have followed is an understatement: The Killing (1956), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Point Break (1991), Heat (1995), Snatch (2000), just to name a fraction over the span of a century.
While many of the above entries played to (or even established) the now tried-and-true heist genre tropes, others have toyed with the narrative in original ways, such as 2010’s Inception, which blended the heist with surrealism, and Ant-Man (2015) applying a super-hero twist. However, before these innovative genre-benders was a unique gem that explored what hilarity could truly be had with a caper!
Set in Washington DC, 1967’s Who’s Minding the Mint? tells the story of US mint worker Harry Lucas (played by Jim Hutton), who accidentally sweeps $50K of newly minted bills into a bag of fudge given to him by an enamored co-worker, Verna Baxter (Dorothy Provine). Harry loses it down his waste disposal when an aggressively flirtatious neighbor harangues him at his apartment.
Already bad enough, Harry’s suspicious supervisor Link (David J. Stewart) has it out for him, scrutinizing his lifestyle, not realizing that the chauffeured cars and fine apartment residence that Harry enjoys are demos and trial runs that he cleverly takes advantage of.
Enter Harry’s friend and confidant Pop (Walter Brennan), who used to work at the mint up until recently having been retired because of his age, who resolves to assist Harry in replacing the money by printing a fresh new 50K of bills before the next audit, sneaking in through the sewers after hours, with Pop manning the presses.
There’s a hitch.
The printing plates are stored in a safe, and will require someone to crack it. That someone is Avery Dugan (Jack Gilford). Avery has been out of jail for only two days, and he’s more than willing to crack the safe, but there’s another hitch. He’s gone deaf while working in the prison mill for the last ten years, and is in need of a quality hearing aid in order to perceive the *clicks* from the safe.
Enter Luther Burton (Milton Berle, 1966 Batman’s Louie The Lilac), a pawn shop owner with the necessary hearing aid who catches wind of what Harry and the bunch are up to after Avery inadvertently tips the hand of his employers. It snowballs from there, picking up Ralph (Joey Bishop) from public works who knows the layout of the sewers, and a ship builder (Victor Buono, also of 1966 Batman fame – King Tut anyone?) to construct a boat small enough to fit through the manhole yet still navigate the flooded sections of the sewer.
Yet another hitch comes into play when they realize that the manhole cover they intend to enter through is potentially watched by starving artist Imogene Harris (Jackie Joseph), forcing them to recruit the ice cream vendor Willie (Bob Denver, Gilligan’s Island) who Imogene is sweet on, to distract her on the evening that they intend to pull the job.
Initially promising $2000 a piece for everyone’s part, Luther negotiates $50K per head. Harry reluctantly agrees, procuring Verna for cutting the bills after coming clean with her on what he intends to pull off. The group now prepares to move on their fully realized plan, Luther berates Harry to give everyone a larger payout, which spurs Harry to promise everyone a million dollars each.
The perfect plan encounters the ultimate snag when Harry, staying one night late at the mint to scope out the routine of the night guards, is approached by Link, who informs him that automated presses are to be installed the very next day. The spanner in the works, Harry calls up his cohorts, telling them that they have to pull off the plan tonight!
What ensues after is absolute hilarity.
A last minute lookout is added (Jamie Farr, M.A.S.H. – 1972). The boat springs a leak. Willie makes out all night with Imogene, looking intoxicated afterward. Pop brings his pregnant dog along because she’s about to (and does) have puppies. A fast ride through DC streets with a truck blaring a recorded Hell-fire and brimstone sermon with music. There’s plenty more that happens, but I won’t spoil it, nor the ending, here in this retrospective.
While the cast puts in solid performances all around, Milton Berle is the one who owns the camera and Victor Buono chews all the scenery in front of it voraciously. Dorothy Provine shines brightly here, too, making a specific scene towards the end of the film with Jim Hutton strike home as serious drama with commanding execution. All three are a treat throughout the whole movie.
Worthy of note for sci-fi fans, a young Paul Winfield (Captain Terrell – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982) in an early, brief, uncredited bit part for his career, can be found playing a garbage man that adds a fun hook towards the end!
This farce is a one-of-a-kind in the heist genre, taking out the typical violence out and replacing it with well-intended fun that is safe for most audiences. Time has certainly passed on Who’s Minding The Mint?, but R.S. Allen, and Harvey Bullock’s script has aged over the years like a fine wine. Its sly wit and absurd hysterics are rendered with sensitivity by Howard Morris (he played Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffeth Show – 1960) in his directorial debut.
It’s mint condition in any decade.