There was a time when it looked like the Hungarian outlaw folk hero the Whiskey Robber was set to conquer the world. A highly regarded book, The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, was published about him in English in America and Great Britain, and the film rights to that book were optioned by none other than Johnny Depp. The pic was developed to the point where a screenplay was completed. But sometime after that the project stalled, and the American Whiskey Robber film has yet to see light of day.
The world has always been fascinated by criminals with style, from Robin Hood to John Dillinger. But who is this swarthy outlaw, whose real name is Attila Ambrus, and how did he go from living on a one-street village in Transylvania to international notoriety, if not fame? Ambrus got his start being criminally bad as an ice hockey goaltender, then, in January 1993, when he needed money to bribe an official in order to emigrate to Hungary, he put on a wig, downed a shot of Johnnie Walker, and robbed a local bank. And then, like shots of whiskey, one bank followed another. This went on for years, and 10 banks in total, with the gentlemanly robber always enjoying a whiskey before his caper and behaving respectfully, even courtly towards the bank clerks, leaving behind bouquets of roses, while mocking the bumbling police who sought him by gifting them bottles of wine. He was a media sensation and became a symbol for the common man’s struggle against the accruement of pillaged wealth in the immediate years that followed the change from Socialism to capitalism in Hungary. As Magyar Hírlap – one of Hungary’s most prominent newspapers – put it, "He didn't rob banks. He merely performed a peculiar redistribution of the wealth that differed from the elites only in its method." According to the Whiskey Robber book, however, such funds were in fact redistributed to swanky casinos and high-end brothels.
His story might have died away once Ambrus was caught in 1999, except that he pulled off a daring escape from a Budapest jail with the classic ‘using bed-sheets as rope’ method, and evaded capture long enough to swing three more heists and trigger an international manhunt, the biggest in Eastern Europe at the time. After that, his reputation was sealed, even though he wouldn’t much enjoy it from the high-security prison cell that he called home after being re-apprehended.
Despite the Hollywood film version sitting on the sidelines, this month sees the release of a hometown take on Ambrus, A Viszkis, written and directed by Nimród Antal, known for his art-house classic Kontroll and big budget Hollywood films Predators and Vacancy. The highly anticipated film will be released in Hungarian in mid November.
As for Ambrus himself, he is now out of prison, middle-aged and flying straight, and apparently into crafting ceramics. The last remaining unsolved crime is why such a lively and inherently filmable story was shelved by Depp and the rest.
Below you can find the trailer for A Viszkis (in Hungarian)
Source: USA Today and Salon.com
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