Throwback Thursday: The Great Train Robbery
Throwback Thursday: The (First) Great Train Robbery (1979)
Released in February, 1979, The Great Train Robbery follows two men who attempt to pull off the first train robbery by stealing a large sum of gold. The film was written and directed by Michael Crichton, who also wrote the book in which the film is based. Though the book very loosely follows the actual events of the first train robbery. The film has titled The “First” Great Train Robbery in the UK, which is funny because there was a Great Train Robbery in 1941. But apparently there was an actual “Great Train Robbery” in 1963, thus the title change…
If you haven’t seen The Great Train Robbery, which based on its box office numbers I’m guessing is a probability, you absolutely should! The film is made in the same vein as 1973’s The Sting, which is a really fun grifter film that you should check out! Obviously this adventure film takes a more ‘heist’ approach, but the structure of the two films is not dissimilar. (Obviously there were heist films before The Sting like 1960’s Oceans Eleven, but this film feels like The Sting in all the best ways.)
Now if I had to start with a gripe, it would be the treatment of the protagonist. When we first meet Pierce, he’s a fun, likable thief who is stealing from the class which he seems to be a part of. That’s a strong way to set up your protagonist. Yet as the film goes on, we find out that he’s a liar and overall despicable person. This doesn’t change by the end of the film. So What makes him redeemable? Well he’s played by the late but great Sean Connery. Connery did a wonderful job in this film with the character he was given, bringing an unparalleled layer of charm to a man whom, on paper, you would normally hate. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of role handled so well either! James Bond is a womanizer, John Patrick Mason is a jerk at first, and Jim Malone is a bit of a racist. But such is the nature of flawed characters, and Mr. Connery managed to keep them perfectly charming until they had some to grow on us. It’s one of many things that I admired so much about him.
Well as far as the rest of the film goes, it’s pretty straight forward! Now by that I mean in the same way The Sting is. You don’t really get that out-of-order heist feel that came in the 90s and early 2000s. No instead you get problem solving, and it’s really fun to watch! Thanks to a clever lack of explanation at times and hilarious overexploitation at other times, the film gets to play with its pacing in ways we the audience aren’t quite expecting. Some challenges take time, some take A TON of time, all leading to a finale that we just know won’t go as smoothly as it should. And gosh, what a finale it is! There’s a stunt near the end of the film that has gone so unrecognized that it makes the entire film worth watching.
Of course it helps that it’s a super enjoyable film anyway. For one, the supporting performances from Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down are both really great! Sutherland had me laughing way more than I thought I would, crafting one of the most amusing but suspenseful sequences I’ve seen in the genre! On top of that you’ve got a perfect score accompaniment from Jerry Goldsmith. His music might be the most significant deviation from The Sting, as he opts for a downright adventure score! It gives the film more life than it already had through its almost constantly entertaining pacing.
Now we won’t lie, the film doesn’t reinvent the genre. It is very much a product of The Sting’s success. Plus you have a protagonist that is a bit more disreputable than most if the genre. But thanks to the always dedicated Sean Connery, the strong supporting performances, brisk pacing and light tone aided by a whimsical soundtrack from Goldsmith (for most of the film that is), and a nail-biting third act, you’ve got yourself one heck of a heist movie! At worst it’s a ton of fun, and we’d highly recommend it! Strong 7/10.
So The First Great Train Robbery? Have you seen it? What do you think? And what is your all-time favorite Sean Connery performance and why? Ne sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, be sure to let us know what else you’d like us to review for out Throwback Thursdays!
-review by Ryan Prince