❉ Peter Yates’ crime thriller Brit-flick cleans up on Blu-Ray.
Released in 1967, The Robbery, a cracking British suspense thriller which was directed by eclectic journeyman Peter Yates (Bullit, The Hot Rock, Krull, John and Mary, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Deep, Mother, Jugs, & Speed, Year of the Comet), is one of those time-capsule genre pieces that takes a streamlined narrative approach and applies an icy-cool visual style to the proceedings, resulting in an extremely successful motion picture. The tight screenplay, which was based on true events and served as an adaptation of Peta Fordham’s novel The Robber’s Tale, was co-written by Yates along with prolific TV-writers Edward Boyd and George Markstein, and features a strong cast, including Stanley Baker, Joanna Pettet, James Booth, Frank Finlay, and Barry Foster. Various books have been written about UK crime films, and yet it seems that Robbery has maintained a solid, yet somewhat under-discussed profile; it’s the type of film that makes for a dynamite first-discovery.
Robbery, which was a heavily fictionalised version of the infamous Great Train Robbery, revolves around a thief named Paul Clifton (Baker), as he assembles a team to carry out a dangerous and ambitious cash-heist from a government mail trail, which is en route from Scotland to London. Clifton organises a jailbreak so that a famed money expert (Finlay) can escape and join the crew, and after the job has been completed, the remainder of the film charts the efforts of a Scotland Yard detective named Langdon (Booth), who is hot on the trail of the crooks. Reginald Beck’s swift editing keeps a tidy pace, and Johnny Keating’s period-flavoured music and nervy compositions sets an appropriately ominous tone. The shifty finale is in keeping with the morally ambiguous attitudes of the time.
Robbery was produced by Joseph E. Levine, Stanley Baker, and Michael Deeley, and carries that distinct whiff of the swinging-sixties, underground London crime milieu, with the hand-held aesthetic favored by Yates and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Rollerball, The Lion in Winter, the Indiana Jones trilogy) bringing the audience into the action in a vérité/doc-styled manner. During production, Levine apparently requested that the story be changed to include an American mastermind behind the robbery, which would help to entice American audiences to check out the film. Three days of footage was shot on Long Island, featuring Jason Robards in the role, and using Levine’s own yacht; in the end, the footage with Robards was scrapped and not included.
In Robbery, there’s just enough suspense and action to balance out the intelligence of the scripting and plotting, and there’s a fantastic car chase sequence in the first act which consistently reminds the viewer how cool it was when these things were done entirely for real and without the aid of computers. It’s been reported that when acting icon Steve McQueen and legendary producer Philip D’Antoni saw the car chase in Robbery, they lobbied hard for Yates to get the director’s job on Bullit. Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray visual presentation is reliably sharp, while special features on the disc include an audio commentary track from film critic Nick Pinkerton, and theatrical trailers.
❉ ‘Robbery’ (1967) (Blu-Ray) Directed by Peter Yates. Cast: Stanley Baker, Joanna Pettet, James Booth, Barry Foster, Frank Finlay, William Marlowe. Running Time: 110. UPC: 7 38329 23757 8. $29.95 USD. Click here to buy (Only ships to US & Canada)
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.