Saturday, April 18, 2015

Another Great Train Robbery

The 1903 short The Great Train Robbery is generally considered a groundbreaking film in cinema histoty. 75 years later, another movie called The Great Train Robbery, with a completely different story, was released. That late 1970s movie is airing on TCM this afternoon at 5:45 PM. I briefly mentioned it when it last aired in January, but haven't done a full-length post on it, so now would be a good time to do so.

The scene is England in the 1850s. Trains are a relatively new technology, only having been in use for about a generation, and they transport government gold. Needless to say, there are criminals out there who would love the opportunity to get their hands on that gold, but for obvious reasons, there are a whole lot of technical difficulties inherent in trying to rob a moving train. You can't just stop it the way you would stop a carriage or old west stagecoach, and getting on and off the train to carry off that robbery is another problem. Edward Pierce (Sean Connery), however, thinks he's figured out a way to solve all these problems.

In this particular instance, though, there's a further problem, which is that the gold shipments are protected by several keys, which are held by multiple men in various locations. The first thing that Pierce has to do is to get duplicates of all these keys made. To help him, Pierce uses his girlfriend Miriam (Lesley Ann Down) to get to know one of the men while he and his accomplice Agar (Donald Sutherland) can make the wax impression that will allow them to duplicate the key. But that's only one of the keys, and the others present equal challenges. Indeed, getting the keys takes up a good half of the movie. Not to say that this half isn't entertaining; it's just that you might be surprised by how long it takes before they actually get to the train robbery part of the movie.

The actual robbery itself is just as difficult as getting the keys. The gold is kept in its own car, and the authorities have sealed that car from the outside in a further attempt to prevent anybody from getting into the car. Pierce gets Agar in by having him play a dead man in a coffin, the stench of death being provided by a dead cat. Pierce, for his part, has to go over the top of the train and do it within a certain amount of time so that he can abandon the gold where his other accomplice will be able to pick it up, and so he can get back to his seat on the train in time before the train stops at the next station where he'd be noticed. The plan is carried off perfectly, except foe one thing....

I'm not going to give away what that thing is, and what happens next. You'll have to watch to find out for yourself, and this is a film I'd thoroughly recommend watching. The first half involving the keys may seem a bit slow at times, but it entertains and sets up the more fast-paced and exciting second half. Connery is good as always as an antihero. In theory we're supposed to want him to get caught since he's stealing government gold, but dammit if he isn't so charming that we'd rather he windup with the money and not the soldiers for whom it's intended. The movie is also gorgeous to look at. Irish locales substituted for the English rail lines, since Ireland was still not built-up enough that it would spoil the period effect. The London scenes, however, are sumptuous and as far as I can tell suitably Victorian. The whole thing adds up to a film that's a blast to watch.

This version of The Great Train Robbery is apparently another of the movies that's fallen out-of-print on DVD, although Amazon says it's available for instant download. Note that there are other movies with the same title, so don't get them confused.

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