The Great Train Robbery (1978)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/24/23
Director: Michael Crichton
Writer: Michael Crichton
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, Lesley-Anne Down

"No respectable gentleman is that respectable."

A fictionalized account of The Great Gold Robbery of 1855, which was the first major train heist in history. John Sims, aka Edward Pierce (Sean Connery), is a charming and unscrupulous thief who plans to steal a shipment of gold from a moving train. The gold is kept in two safes that are locked with four keys, which are distributed among four high-ranking people. With the help of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and two other professional thieves, Pierce spends the first half of the movie trying to get duplicates of the keys made without arousing suspicion. Despite their meticulous planning, complications arise shortly before the heist, forcing the team to improvise and hope for the best.

Sean Connery is a smooth-talking scoundrel with an irresistible charm and a knack for clever wit. His scandalous double entendres with seemingly respectable Victorian women nearly made me blush. He effortlessly carries the film with dignity and grace, and sometimes brute force. He performed most of his own stunts, and the shots of him on top of the speeding train are truly harrowing and terrifying to watch. One slip or mistimed move and he would have been a goner. On top of that, the train was travelling twice as fast as it should have been, which endangered Connery even more. Donald Sutherland plays the thief and safecracker who duplicates the keys, and is often used as a hapless comedic foil to counter Connery's overflowing charisma. Lesley-Anne Down is stunningly beautiful as Miriam, and while she's hopelessly in love with Pierce, their relationship is strained and one-sided. Especially when he makes her participate in compromising ruses that she doesn't want to.

It's a great looking period piece, and the Victorian sets and costumes are gorgeous. The cinematography is excellent, apart from a handful of glaring matte paintings and rear projection shots. As I already mentioned, the train shots are breathtaking and brilliantly shot. Michael Crichton is a stickler for details and historical accuracy, and the film paints a surprisingly rich and vivid portrait of England in the mid 1800's. Unfortunately, it also includes some unpleasant and unnecessary animal cruelty, which drags the film down. The pacing is slow and tedious for the first hour, but it picks up considerably once the robbery actually begins. It's not as lighthearted and fanciful as I was hoping, but it's still a fun heist film where you hope the bad guys can actually pull it off.