Never Have So Few Taken So Much From So Many -TopTenMM Heist Movies

Nominee #15 - The Great Train Robbery (1978)

In Victorian England, a criminal mastermind makes elaborate plans to steal gold from a moving train.


Michael Crichton Writers:

Michael Crichton Stars:

Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, Lesley-Anne Down

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Sean Connery’s wife was apparently furious with him when she learnt he had actually spent time running on top of the train. But for Connery, this movie must have been worth it. Based on Michael Crichton’s book which was loosely based on the real train robbery, the movie with its measured pace and excellent acting pushes its way onto top heist movie lists.

Sean Connery playing Edward Pierce sets the tone for his character early on. The judge asks him why he conceived, planned and executed ‘this dastardly and scandalous crime.’ “I wanted the money” quips Pierce as the spectators roared their approval. It’s this chutzpah which is at the heart of making The Great Train Robbery a great heist movie.

The target is twenty-five thousand pounds of sterling gold shipped monthly on the train from London to Folkestone. There’s the matter of stealing the gold from a moving train, there’s a matter then of getting the safes open that hold the gold and that sets the stage for the first act of the heist - the keys. The movie takes its time to build up. The planning and the run-up to the heist easily occupy more than half the movie. What this part of the movie also does is that it has us rooting for the rascals. Connery, Sutherland, Lesley Anne--Down, Wayne Sleep and the rest of the cast bring an impish charm to the whole caper.

It’s this chutzpah which is at the heart of making The Great Train Robbery a great heist movie.

In a sequence that takes its time, the keys have to be stolen and copied. Often there isn’t any music, just the taut waiting, footsteps, counting - this may stress out today’s action movie fan more used to twisting car chases and shootouts but The Great Train Robbery serves it up slow and differently.

Connery is clearly the star and he gets the chance to highlight not just his acting talent but his gift for humour. His light touch combined with some great interplay with Sutherland gives the movie some of its best moments. Sutherland is clearly enjoying himself and the coffin scene literally takes your breath away.

The other star of the movie is its setting. The Victorian era is brought to life through Director Michael Crichton’s eye for detail and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth’s camera work shows you what is possible before the era of CGI and special effects. The costumes are excellent and the beautiful Irish countryside gives the movie a stunning canvas.

There have been many movies of robberies on trains starting from the 1903 classic but somehow this one manages to mix all the ingredients to get the recipe just right.

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