“Who’s Minding the Mint?” is the funniest caper movie that you’ve never heard of before now.
This was one of those movies that happened to me by accident. It was running on a local independent television station, a Sunday morning ten o’clock movie that aired right after the televised Sunday morning services. There weren’t any specialty movie channels back in those days, so movie selections were at the whim of a program director whose only criteria was how much it cost to air any particular movie. They probably didn’t pay much for this one.
Who’s Minding the Mint is a 1967 comedy starring Jim Hutton (father of Timothy, the Academy-award winning actor from the heist drama Leverage on TNT from 2008-2012) and came on the tail end of such all-star comedies like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966). Fairly well ignored on its release, Who’s Minding the Mint isn’t brought up when discussing the great comedies from this era. But for pure laughs, Who’s Minding the Mint, directed by the timeless Howard Morris, is hard to beat.
Smooth-talking Harry Lucas (Hutton) has a great life. He’s got a swinging-60’s bachelor pad, nightly invitations to “din-din” from the free-loving smokeshow across the hall, and a private car service that picks him up and drops him off to his 9-5 job at the U.S. Mint. His lifestyle appears excessive for someone with his job, and a supervisor suspects that Harry is up to something.
He is; Harry is a smooth talker who uses his gift of gab to improve his life. He runs legal, legitimate scams, but they’re scams nonetheless. It’s nothing he would want his bosses at the Mint to find out about, especially with an upcoming financial audit on the horizon.
Trying to cover his tracks, Harry unknowingly and inadvertently destroys $50,000 in U.S. currency. Already under suspicion from his supervisor, Harry devises a plan to break into the Mint at night, reprint the money that he destroyed, and replace the money before anyone notices that it’s missing. (This was 1967, remember. No video. No motion detectors. No Mission: Impossible type alarms)
Harry can’t do this by himself. He needs a partner to run the presses and enlists Pop, (Walter Brennan) an old friend who has been unceremoniously retired from his job at the Mint. Pop needs the plates for the presses, which are locked in a safe, so they engage Avery (Jack Gilford) to open the safe. To open the safe, Avery needs a hearing aid, which they trade in another partnership with Luther (Milton Berle) to get. Every direction they turn, Harry seems to need another partner.
His plan is to access the Mint through the sewer tunnels underneath, for which they need a guide, played by problem gambler Ralph (Joey Bishop). They need a watercraft to traverse the flooded sewers, so they acquire the services of the hysterical Captain (Victor Buono). Add to that the lookout Willie (Bob Denver), the non-English speaking Mario (Jamie Farr) and their paper cutter/moral compass Verna (Dorothy Provine), and this ragtag group of misfits is complete.
The plan gets bigger and bigger, with each “partner” wanting one million dollars each for their participation. Their timeline gets pushed up and they end up going in as is, leading to hysterical complications since nothing they plan on this job goes right. With a short window of opportunity, they need to print the money and get out undetected.
This movie is nothing flashy. There are no special effects, no quick-cut martial arts action scenes in the dark so you can never tell who is fighting who, and there are no global implications for the events taking place. As long as you can look past the whole grand-theft, stealing from the government thing, Who’s Minding the Mint is a good-natured family comedy.
There’s no bad language, no sex, and little to no violence in Who’s Minding the Mint, but please don’t let that prevent you from seeing this movie. Caper stories like this are often derided as fluff entertainment, but there is a real skill to making comedy look this easy. Howard Morris moves the story along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of a lunatic cast of actors like Berle and Buono who turn in some of their best cinematic work.
Legitimately funny movies that an entire family can watch together without offending anyone are nearly impossible to find. That Sunday morning when I first saw this movie, I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of Who’s Minding the Mint. That was thirty years ago. Most movies I forget about the following week. Take that for what it’s worth.