Review of "Robbery (Blu-ray)"

published 24/09/2015 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
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Pro Enjoyable film, great blu-ray
Cons None, really, if you like the genre
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"Who says crime doesn't pay?"

Sixties tough guys: George Sewell, Stanley Baker, Barry Foster

Sixties tough guys: George Sewell, Stanley Baker, Barry Foster

This blu-ray is currently £15 on amazon.

Probably the most famous British crime of the Sixities, the Great Train Robbery saw a gang of robbers hold up the mail train and steal around £2 million from it – the largest haul from any robbery at the time. With prison breaks and criminals fleeing to South America, it managed to achieve a certain sordid glamour – Ronnie Biggs became an unlikely folk hero. The vague sense of fondness, even admiration, people seem to feel towards the crime is slightly baffling. Although no one died in the robbery, the train driver was left with permanent brain damage after being beaten by one of the gang.

Various attempts at making a film about the robbery were made, with very few actually getting into production. This 1967 effort is the first serious attempt to make a film of the case, although it makes it all safely fictional in case anyone was looking to sue.

Year: 1967
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Stanley Baker
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IMDB user rating: 6.9

Paul Clifton is a criminal mastermind who plans his operations with military precision. After a successful diamond heist, he plans an immensely ambitious train robbery. But the police, aided by informants and already having one of the gang in their clutches, are closing in fast...

This is a surprisingly enjoyable film. Despite having a gangster as protagonist, it doesn’t glamorise criminals or try to make heroes out of them. It’s very obvious who the weak links are in the gang, and what it is that will bring things crashing down around their ears. The police are given almost equal screen time, with the wily Inspector Langdon slowly piecing together what’s going on.

I don’t know how closely it follows the facts of the real case – certainly everything seems to get wrapped up at the end a lot more quickly than it was in real life. But that uncertainty makes the film more dramatic than a straight-up recreation would have done. Consequently there’s real suspense to the robbery sequence and afterwards – we think we know what’s going to happen, but we don’t know exactly how it will happen. There are impressively tense scenes in a police line-up, a car chase, a prison break – this film fits plenty into its running time.

There’s a lot going for this film. The diamond heist at the start includes a great car chase which does almost everything you’d want to see in a car chase (the only thing missing is that it doesn’t smash through a market stall). The director later made Bullitt, so he was getting good practice here. There’s some really great footage of London in the 60s. Some of the locations are so evocative you can practically smell them. There’s an old fashioned football match, where everyone in the crowd stands and people use those big rattle things. And the film has a great action-y jazz soundtrack.

Placing equal emphasis on the gang’s meticulous planning and the police procedural stuff allows the audience to identify with both sides, but it’s careful not to try to make the crooks out to be too sympathetic. In fact, most characters get no real characterisation at all. This isn’t a film that cares much about why its characters have turned to a life of crime, so if you’re looking for psychological realism then you’ll want to look elsewhere. We don’t learn much about their home lives. There are only a couple of exceptions to this. One character has a wife who will very obviously be his downfall. And Clifton, the gang leader, also has a wife, who wants him to go straight and who drinks too much. Sadly their scenes slow the film down and are rather unnecessary – they were presumably included because the main character had to have some kind of love interest.

Clifton is played by Stanley Baker, a Welsh tough guy actor whose films are usually worth checking out. (His most famous is probably Zulu, although he was more at home in modern dress). He’s great here, doing everything you’d expect a ruthless criminal mastermind to do. He doesn’t sound even remotely cockney, though – in fact the gang are all remarkably well spoken, certainly compared to the real-life robbers.

The supporting cast is littered with faces you’ll recognise. Frank Finlay is a rather unlikely accomplice, and the gang includes Barry Foster (Van der Valk) and George Sewell. The cops are led by James Booth (excellent as the detective) and Glynn Edwards (later Minder, among many other things). Robert Powell turns up briefly, looking about 12, and even the vicar from Dad’s Army is in it, as a hard-bitten prisoner, a profoundly odd bit of casting.

Robbery is a surprising film, as it looks forward to the gritty 70s British crime films (it has the same slightly murky look to it, and a few actors – Glyn Edwards, George Sewell – who would turn up in more of the same). I didn’t know films like this were being made in the mid-60s. It lacks the grittiness of something like Get Carter – it’s a PG now (mild swearing, mild violence), but astoundingly was a U when first released. But don’t let that put you off, it’s a film with a lot of charm that still works as a thriller. You don’t have to throw someone off a multi-storey car park to make a good British crime film.

This looks pretty damn good. Network have been quietly impressive in their Blu-ray releases, and this one is no exception. The clarity of the image is fabulous, especially in the many night-time scenes. And there’s plenty of detail visible (like the dried horseshit visible on one of the roads during the car chase). It’s not a particularly brightly coloured film, but the colours are stable and rich-looking.

The extras are mostly very good as well, although the badly edited montage of clips from British films that opens it is terrible. There’s a good leaflet, which explains a lot about the various attempts to make a film of the Great Train Robbery (most of which fell through because of the UK’s libel laws).

There’s a ‘making of’ which has contributions from a couple of the actors and various of the crew. This is very good. The screenwriter is still miffed that his script was changed all these years later, and there are some amusing anecdotes. Everyone seems to agree that Stanley Baker was quite an unpleasant man to work with.

There’s also an interview with the producer, separate to the making of. He has rather fonder memories of Baker than the others. And there’s a good archive interview with Baker (carried out by an offscreen Clive James). Baker chats happily away, often puffing on a cheroot, although it’s a career overview rather than being about Robbery. They touch on Robbery briefly (Baker seems slightly ambivalent), but it’s worth watching anyway.

And the disk is rounded off with a complete second movie… The Great Train Robbery was a West German re-telling of the crime made a few years before Robbery. It’s in black and white, and standard definition (the picture quality is poor and the sound quality worse). It was originally made for TV. It’s very, very low budget, and completely lacks the suspense of Robbery. The actors are German, and the dubbing is often appalling. The English voices the characters have been given are even posher than the ones in Robbery itself.

But for all that, it’s an interesting curio. It think it’s great that it was included as an extra, even though I suspect that very few people will watch it. (West Germany made an awful lot of crime thrillers in the 60s, very few of which ever seem to have been released in English-friendly formats. I’d love for someone to release more sometime.)

This is a great release of a film I’d never heard of until it turned up in my amazon recommendations. Network don’t get the kind of attention that companies like Arrow or Eureka get, but they release a huge variety of old British films in what are often very good packages. This is good stuff.

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Comments on this review

  • anonymili published 22/02/2016
  • Dentolux published 04/10/2015
    Excellent review
  • spanielize published 04/10/2015
    fab - fond memories of Van der Valk!
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Product Information : Robbery (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Genre: Thriller

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Classification: Parental Guidance

Video Category: Feature Film

Production Year: 1967

Actor(s): Stanley Baker, James Booth, Frank Finlay, Joanna Pettet, Barry Foster

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Yates, Peter

EAN: 5027626802349


Listed on Ciao since: 20/09/2015