The Great Train Robbery (1978) – Rated PG
Victorian rogue Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) crafts an ambitious plan to stage England’s first hold-up of a moving train. To get to the 25,000 pounds of gold bars on board — which are well-guarded by a complex key system — Pierce enlists a bedmate (Lesley Anne Down), a safecracker (Donald Sutherland) and a tough guy (Wayne Sleep). Director Michael Crichton adapted the script from his novel by the same name, which is based on actual events.
“Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?” – “I wanted the money.”
In addition to directing, Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay based on his own novel. He has a fine eye for detail without bogging things down. The film feels fun and Geoffrey Unsworth’s Victorian cinematography is gorgeous. This film is dedicated to Unsworth’s memory.
Sean Connery is delightful (and clearly having fun) as Edward Pierce. Yes he really does run on top of the train while it is moving at 40-50 mph. Lesley-Anne Downe is quite good as Miriam, his love interest and accomplice.
Donald Sutherland gets to play his normal delightfully goofy 70s self, the robber Agar – thankfully reined in just a bit by Crichton. Wayne Sleep plays the fourth robber, Clean Willy and was a member of the Royal Ballet Company.
This is first and foremost a caper film and follows the standard tropes associated with that subgenre, even though it takes place in the mid-19th century. Crichton delights in both the details and language of the 19th century criminal underclass. You can learn quite a bit simply by paying attention to this film and yet it doesn’t come off as preachy. Crichton also manages to throw in a wonderful double entendre conversation for Connery and a fun ending to bring the film together.
People Watch: This was the last film of Hammer regular Andre Morell. He plays the Judge.