- Movie Rating -

The Great Train Robbery (1979); ★★★

| February 2, 1979

Having attempted to read some of Michael Critchton’s books, I can imagine that the best way to adapt them for the screen is to first throw out the book and build the story from just the framework.  Critchton’s books are often unwieldy, complicated, overly-technical and take so many sideroads that you wonder if he didn’t forget his original point.

That said, I would imagine that the easiest to adapt was probably The Great Train Robbery since it was based on a true event.  All you really need are the intricacies of the heist, great period detail, rich cinematography (Geoffrey Unsworth), great period costumes (Anthony Mendleson), and two A-List actors having a good time – in this case Donald Sutherland and Sean Connery.  All of those things are present here and the result is exactly the kind of escapist entertainment that you might expect.

The story is based, you might want to know, on the very first train robbery which took place in 1855 and concerns two gentlemen crooks Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) and John Agar (Donald Sutherland), who get the naughty idea of robbing a train loaded with gold that is being transported by the British government and will be used to pay the bills for the military.  Edward is a gentleman crook who moves within upper society in order to scout his next job.  He loves the idea of being the first ever to rob a train in transit so he pulls in John, a fixated pickpocket and his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down).

The actual heist is kind of clever, beginning with the acquisition of four separate keys needed to open the strongbox containing the gold.  And there are the complications that are inevitable in a plan like this which require the team to improvise.  Where The Great Train Robbery falters are in the scenes in between.  Far too much of the film was spent trying to get the period details right and the dialogue to sound authentic – resulting in way too many clumsy double entendres – that the movie lacks the energy that the scenes of the actual heist itself.

Those shortcomings aside, once the movie gets on its feet, it’s a lot of fun.  Sean Connery is really the thing that pulls you through the slower passages with his patented charms and gift for dialogue (“Find me a dead cat.”)  And, again, you won’t come away from this thinking that you’ve seen a great piece of cinema, only that you’ve had a good time.  Mission accomplished.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Comedy
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