The Great Train Robbery (1978) Blu-ray Review: A Wry Money-Train Caper

England, 1855. Edward Pierce (Sean Connery), a clever thief with a thirst for daring stunts (and, yes, money), recruits his lover (Lesley-Anne Down) and a pickpocket/safecracker (Donald Sutherland) to help him rob a moving train protected by scads of security. The train has a safe that holds a fortune in gold bullion reserved for British troops in the Crimean War. A safe that no less than four keys must open. Keys each belonging to a different bank executive.

This is The Great Train Robbery (1978; dir. Michael Crichton, who adapted his book). The movie works. And it’s better than the book.

How so?

A) It’s punctuated with a wry, farcical humor.

B) The well-chosen leads lean into their roles and make a great team.

C) Crichton’s eye and ear for Victorian detail is sharp—the movie is a visual feast of a period piece (parts of Ireland sub for the English countryside).

D) The extensive set-pieces are splendid (among them, a prison escape, a railway station theft, and a climax that involves a dead cat and Connery doing his own train-top-hopping, risking decapitation several times). They’re better onscreen than on the page.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Geoffrey Unsworth (of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Superman I fame) is the cinematographer and Jerry Goldsmith (of Alien and Chinatown fame) is the composer of the soundtrack.

Ok, so Crichton cared.

But something about the movie is undercooked. I’m not sure what. Especially in the first half, the movie has a sluggish quality. It needs, I suspect, a major film stylist at the helm. Someone who could pump more life into the exposition, infuse the dialogue-heavy moments with more cinematic flair. In lieu of that, greatness eludes The Great Train Robbery, an otherwise charming and handsome caper.      

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of the film has an audio commentary by Crichton. This release also includes the theatrical trailer and TV spots.  

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Jack Cormack

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