Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on February 11, 2016
After winning three gold medals in the 1968 Olympics and two FIS Alpine Ski World Cups Jean-Claude Killy, the French championship skier, received international fame and acclaim due to his agility, speed and unparalleled technique on the slopes. He was also a skilled endurance sports car driver who competed in the 1967 Targa Florio and the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Besides his award worthy sportsmanship, Killy was an attractive and charming man, which helped bolster his reputation and companies as diverse as Rolex, United Airlines, Schwinn Bicycles, American Express and Chevrolet offered him lots of money to endorse their products. He appeared in printed advertisements as well as television ads and on countless magazine covers including four issues of Sports Illustrated between 1967-1969.
Naturally, Hollywood took notice and in 1971 Warner Brothers decided to produce a film that would make use of Killy’s impressive skiing talent and international appeal. The film was titled Snow Job (1972) and I recently had the opportunity to catch up with it thanks to Warner Archive Instant streaming.
The appropriately titled Snow Job is an amusing action-oriented crime caper involving a ski instructor (Jean-Claude Killy) who convinces his live-in girlfriend (Danièle Gaubert) and American pal (Cliff Potts) to steal a quarter of a million dollars from a swanky ski resort in the Italian Alps just for kicks. The three would-be thieves come up with an elaborate plan that involves seducing bankers along with dangerous snow mobile jumps and spectacular ski stunts to procure their loot but things don’t go as smoothly as they had anticipated. Hot on their trail is an unscrupulous insurance investigator played with much aplomb by Vittorio De Sica, the Italian film director and actor, who is determined to outwit the amateur criminals. The film hits a few speed bumps on its way to the finish line but ends with a sophisticated twist that I didn’t see coming.
Snow Job was filmed on location in the Italian and Swiss Alps by American director George Englund (The Ugly American; 1963, Zachariah; 1971, etc.) and Hungarian cinematographer Gábor Pogány (Two Women; 1960, Bluebeard; 1972, Night Train Murders; 1975, etc.). According to interviews, they used helicopters extensively throughout the shoot, which allowed them to capture all the action on the slopes. The camerawork is occasionally breathtaking as we watch Jean-Claude Killy jump and drift across the alpine landscape like an agile bird while risking serious injury or even death. Killy insisted on doing all his own stunts and it’s remarkable that he got through filming unscathed. If you appreciate seventies heist films with dynamic action sequences or the kind of risky professional skiing typically reserved for Warren Miller documentaries, you should find Snow Job a particularly rewarding and enjoyable watch.
The film was not well received by American critics when it was initially released and that’s understandable. Warner’s publicity department had worked hard to promote the film and in the process, they oversold its star as the new “Brando” or “McQueen.” But Jean-Claude Killy is no actor and his singsong line delivery is too often one-note and not terribly convincing but he does have a natural charm that makes him very watchable. He also has an interesting screen chemistry with his female costar and real-life spouse, Danièle Gaubert (Camille 2000; 1969, Underground; 1970, etc.).
The truth is that Jean-Claude Killy is not the films only problem. It suffers from the lackluster performances of everyone involved besides the scene-stealing Vittorio De Sica, who blinds you with his toothy grin, while the script is so slight it threatens to dissolve at any moment but time has been kind to Snow Job. 44-years after its release, it’s easy to overlook the film’s faults and appreciate the excellent jazz score by French composer Jacques Loussier along with the awe-inspiring location photography and daredevil ski stunts performed by a world-class Olympian. This international production is no lost masterpiece but it is a whole lot of fun and a fascinating time capsule that recalls an era when charismatic athletic figures such as Jim Brown, Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson and Jean-Claude Killy began to frequently utilize their sports star status to become stars of the silver screen.
It’s unfortunate that the lackluster reviews singled out Jean-Claude Killy’s acting performance or lack thereof and overlooked the film’s other assets. It quickly disappeared from theaters only to reappear on TV as The Great Ski Caper with a few cuts to its original 90-minute running time. Killy’s film career ended abruptly and he never made another movie. Killy also stopped skiing and focused his attention on selling sportswear while his wife, costar Danièle Gaubert, retired from acting following the film’s release to take care of their three children. The glamorous globetrotting couple remained married until Gaubert’s unfortunate early death in 1987 due to cancer.
Snow Job is the kind of forgotten film that I commend Warner Archive for releasing. It has never been made available on video or DVD before but it’s currently streaming on Warner Archive Instant and at Amazon. I strongly suspect it inspired such popular hits as Point Break (1995) as well as its recent sequel and as more people discover it, I think it will find an appreciative audience among fans of clever seventies crime capers and atypical action films from the same period such as Le Cercle Rouge (1970), The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Hot Rock (1972), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and Sky Riders (1976).
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