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Sunday, December 22, 2013

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1978)

The poster to the right tells the tale on this near-miss Michael Crichton pseudo-historical caper pic. Based on his own fact-inspired novel, it’s got Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down attempting what amounts to a moving bank robbery on a speeding train. But in trying for the larky tone & got’cha twists of THE STING/’74, Crichton fails to make us believe in the stakes, leaving a poisonous residue of the incurable cutes. At least, it’s elegant to look at under lenser Geoffrey Unsworth, a past master of train stations and Connery hairpieces (see MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS/’74). But the first two acts go nowhere which feels like a cheat since Crichton hasn’t the action chops to make all the circular motion much fun. Fortunately, the plot switches gears for a seemingly improvised third act that boils down to a single extended stunt sequence as Connery risks life & limb on the roof of a train. And, yes, that’s really Sean up there, doing major death-defying stuff and forcing Crichton into the best ‘shot choices’ in the pic. Nothing like ‘planned improvisation.’ Then back to too cute for words for the epilogue.

DOUBLE-BILL: Crichton was an even clunkier director in his debut pic, WESTWORLD/’73, but it works for that revenge-of-the-robots comic horror.

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