Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, Lesley-Anne Down, Alan Webb, Malcolm Terris, Robert Lang, Michael Elphick, Wayne Sleep, Pamela Salem, Gabrielle Lloyd, George Downing, James Cossins
Written by: Michael Crichton, based on his novel
Directed by: Michael Crichton
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 110
Date: 02/02/1979

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Loco Motives

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery has nothing to do with Edwin S. Porter's landmark The Great Train Robbery of 1903. It's not a Western, and it takes place in 1855, where men in top hats prepare the first robbery of a moving train in history.

This type of heist film had been done before, in The Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, The Killing, The Italian Job (1969) and its remake, Ocean's 11 and its remake (and the remake's sequels), and The Brink's Job made the same year. But when it's done well, like The Great Train Robbery is, it's always entertaining.

These movies almost always follow the three-part formula: the preparation of the robbery, the robbery itself, and the downfall (or, sometimes, the successful getaway). The preparation always begins with a description of just how impossible the job will be, followed by the criminals solving each problem. In this case, the robbers, Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) and Agar (Donald Sutherland), must obtain four keys, kept in four locations, in order to even open the safe containing the gold. Then, there are a few wrinkles during the robbery itself that must be cracked.

As with all good heist movies, Crichton keeps this one moving at a decent pace, but also moves it slow enough to allow all the delicious details to sink in. By the time the robbery takes place, we know all the parts, and we know what's supposed to happen. Clearly, he was attracted to the language in this one, and all the criminal slang of the era, with lines like "If you've turned nose on me, I'll see you in lavender." But he also gives Connery and Sutherland plenty of room to have fun. The lovely Lesley-Anne Down is here to give Connery a chance to say some of his appealingly manly stuff.

In other words, if you're looking for something surprising or different or artistic, you should probably look elsewhere, but The Great Train Robbery is everything it's supposed to be, and it's completely satisfying for that. Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition, with a commentary track by Mr. Crichton.

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