It finally has made its DVD debut thanks to the Sony Pictures Choice Collection.
Jim Hutton (TV’s Ellery Queen) is one huge reason. An unheralded Everyman of comedy (because he died too young to get the respect he deserves), he plays Harry Lucas, a U.S. Mint inspector whose boss suspects he’s on the take. He’s not, but when he accidentally takes home $50,000 in a bag of fudge that he shreds in a sink disposal (just go with it), he faces not only losing his job, but his freedom.
Desperate and fearful of prison, Harry devises sort of a heist in reverse: If he can infiltrate the mint through a sewer one night, just to run the presses for the minute he needs, he can put the money back. It’s not stealing; it’s replacing — or so he reasons to recruit the aid of his old press pal Pop (Walter Brennan, Rio Bravo).
Pop agrees, but the plan becomes so complicated, it soon requires the aid of a semi-deaf safecracker (Jack Gilford), a pawn shop owner (Milton Berle), a sewer expert (Joey Bishop), a boat builder (Victor Buono), an ice cream vendor (Bob Denver) and a money cutter (Dorothy Provine). The latter doubles as a romantic interest.
When Harry learns the presses are to be replaced with automated ones, they must to enact their plan immediately, before they’re ready. This allows director Howard Morris to force his characters to pull the caper while wearing a Scouts uniform, a ballet tutu, George Washington garb, etc. (Again, just go with it.) Pop even brings his pregnant dog.
If Murphy’s Law hadn’t been invented, Who’s Minding the Mint? would have had to. Most of its jokes come from how Harry and the gang react to and/or cope with what goes wrong, which is everything. Comedies of this era are often charming and pleasant to sit through; this one actually made me laugh out loud more than once.
It’s rife with slapstick, but it’s smart. It’s preposterous, yet wholly ingratiating. It’s far from subtle, but it’s an absolute joy. —Rod Lott