MAY IS KINO-LORBER MONTH
On August 8, 1963, an event took place that startled, thrilled and even delighted the world (and certainly the Fourth Estate). Called the Crime of the Century, the incident in question involved a group of highly-trained (no pun) professionals who robbed the Glasgow to London Royal Mail Train of more than two and a half million pounds (or approximately $3.25M in today’s American dollars).
While authorities thought this most unsavory display of lawlessness would shock the nation, it pretty much had an opposite effect. Since the credo of these Bond-era criminals was “no violence (indeed, no guns were used),” this band of bandits became modern Robin Hoods (“they’re insured, they can afford it” was the everyman’s cry). All of this is fastidiously chronicled in the superb 1967 heist flick, ROBBERY, now (at last!) on U.S. Blu-Ray from the gang at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal.
The above tense proceedings were expertly produced by Joseph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures, in conjunction with the British Oakhurst Productions, a company formed by producer Michael Deeley and ROBBERY star, the great Stanley Baker.
What makes ROBBERY a quintessential crime pic and 1960s landmark movie comprises a myriad of elements. The movie, while dealing with the facts already gleaned in the case, took to (and brilliantly so) surmising what might have happened to the still-then remaining unapprehended felons and unrecovered millions. In short, this was still an on-going case when the cameras started to turn in late 1966.
The crime itself was a work of genius. It was to be an operation, more than a theft. In order to finance the carefully planned maneuver, a smaller test run was arranged – a mini-robbery of priceless jewels. It is this exciting car chase through actual Paddington and St. John’s Woods road locations that opens the movie with a bang.
The actual caper required a nimble army of technicians, electricians, drivers, railway scholars, movers, flyers and scores of others. It is here that the chink in the armor first appeared. Trust, in ANY relationship is the foundation for success. The greed and wariness of some of the farmed-out cohorts ultimately would bring everyone down. Had the bond been steel-strong (if not steal-strong), the robbery probably would still be unsolved.
The picture presents the duality of the “train” of events. The head manipulator Paul Clifton (a fake moniker for the real-life Bruce Reynolds), played by Baker, recruits the troops, so to speak, to work under his core command, key being Frank (Barry Foster), Jack (Clifton Greyn) and Dave (William Marlowe).
On the other side of the fence are the police, led by the smarter-than-the-average-DI George Langton (a wonderful James Booth, a big favorite from Baker’s smash hit Zulu). Booth’s Langton is the tag given to real-life Tommy Butler; in ROBBERY, the names weren’t just changed to protect the innocent, they had to cover their legal asses for the not-so-innocent as well. This was especially true since, as indicated, much of the wrap-up was supposition (a lot of it eventually and startlingly turning out to be fact – another fascinating aspect of this thriller). The script and sharp dialog is nearly flawless, and ably written by Edward Boyd, George Markstein, and director Peter Yates (from a story by Gerald Wilson). Yates is the most important denizen of ROBBERY, as he shopped the project to Baker (after Tony Richardson’s Woodfall Productions gave it the thumbs down). It was a fortuitous choice; Stanley Baker loved fast cars and action; this movie required both. Earlier in his career, he had costarred in the 1956 auto race/burglary pic Checkpoint followed by the starring role in the fantastic 1957 noir Hell Drivers (directed by his oft/Zulu collaborator Cy Endfield). Cars had to play an integral part of the ROBBERY equation. Yates concurred, and delivered the goods – in spades. The chase sequences were like a rollercoaster ride for moviegoers in 1967. And not just in the UK. Americans, who saw ROBBERY in its original release, ate up the lightning, hair-raising stunt work. Steve McQueen especially loved the picture and hired Yates to direct his upcoming crime drama, Bullitt. The rest is history. If anyone genuinely made out like a bandit in ROBBERY, it was definitely Yates.
Likewise, making sure he held all the aces, was Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine, whose Embassy Pictures shared properties with Paramount. In one of his rare faux pas, Levine, bowled over by Zulu, gave Paramount the world rights, holding the American distribution for himself. The movie was an international blockbuster everywhere BUT in the U.S., where few were familiar with the battle of Rorke’s Drift. The pic, while critically acclaimed, only performed “respectfully” in America, coded industry speak for flop. The 1963 bank heist was world news. EVERYBODY knew about it, so this time Levine’s mogul ass was aptly covered. Nevertheless, Embassy didn’t quite have the distribution juice of Paramount, and ROBBERY initially only performed moderately well in the States. For the next decade, however, it would remain a grindhouse staple.
The balance of ROBBERY’s participating rogue’s gallery is, I must add, quite remarkable, and includes Frank Finlay, George Sewell, Patrick Jordan, Glynn Edwards, Ivor Dean, and, in an early screen appearance, future Hammer goddess Julie Ege. Joanna Pettet, the stunning beauty (who that same year would star in the WTF out-of-control first filmed version of Casino Royale) has a basically thankless role as Baker’s long-suffering, neglected wife. This, she does well, and her few scenes are scripted to always give her “bedroom” dialog, no doubt to spice up the trailers (which they do). Casting a female of note for ROBBERY did prove a chore, and Yates originally inked Vanessa Redgrave, who bowed out before production for Oakhurst commenced.
The superb cinematography of ROBBERY was achieved by no less than Douglas Slocombe (Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, The Blue Max, etc.). Thankfully, the long-faded, problematic Eastmancolor is no more; this new Kino-Lorber/Studio Canal 1080p remaster now pops with the vibrance needed to recreate the pre-Carnaby Street era. Additionally notable is the cool, jazzy score by Johnny Keating, absolutely wonderful and beautifully accompanying the movie’s “oh, shit!” moments, of which there are many.
Previously, the only way to own a copy of this Sixties time capsule was a pan-and-scanned PAL DVD from the UK, so it’s a revelation to be able to enjoy this terrific Blu-Ray in the correct widescreen aspect ratio. Kino-Lorber has further enhanced the presentation by including a trailer gallery of other crime flicks, a number of which were also directed by Yates.
ROBBERY holds a particularly dear spot for my good friend Glyn Baker, who also just happens to be Sir Stanley’s son. I asked him about it, in regards to this home video release, and he was as enthusiastic as I.
“I believe ROBBERY was the second film produced by Stanley’s production company Oakhurst, Zulu being its debut. Both have an implicitly audacious theme, with a fizzing sense of jeopardy and a defying-the-odds outcome. In a pre-digital age, the successful stopping of a speeding mail train AND then making your escape with all those grubby bank notes was rightly seen as seriously daring and dangerous.
“I must tell you that when the train approaches the heist scene, the line “She’s coming, she’s coming” sent a shiver through my 10-yearold self, and still does. The anticipation and threat is made hyper real for me, as I’d visited the location on the day of filming…, so the holding up a train, a great steel, oil-burning, behemoth of a thing (that I’d been allowed to clamber up into from the track side), still works its magic on me when viewing the film now.
“For me, and perhaps above all the many films Stanley made, there’s a huge resonance to the shrewd and charismatic arch villain, Paul Clifton, played by my father (and his professional self). Dauntless and leading-from-the-front, the camaraderie within his and Michael Deeley’s company of film makers and actors, and with another story drawn from real life, is absolutely fascinating to me; I see so much of Stanley’s nature mirrored in this film. In addition, the actor (and close friend of Stanley’s), James Booth, who without his sharp 1960’s sarcasm and wit would have left Zulu searching to find the vital dissenter’s voice, is constantly playing catchup as the hapless Police Inspector Langdon with a weariness that I’d imagine is very close to actual policing. ”Cheeky bastards!” becomes Langdon’s refrain, and that is carried through to Clifton’s escape, outwitting Langdon again in the closing stages.
‘I know my father was never happier than when making his own films, surpassed only by a cracking good tee-shot or chip or putt. Stanley’s beloved pastime insured that a full set of clubs was always part of his location luggage. A morning or afternoon relieved from the set, would find him at the nearest golf course; wherever we were, that would be his next preferred location: ”I can get 9 holes in and only pay half the green fee!” Playing between a 3 and 7 handicap and recounting profound and funny stories from his early life in Wales was the actor in repose. John Merriott Chard [his character in Zulu] and Paul Clifton was his motivating and organised public face, a meaningful counterpoint to the responsibly of heading a production company with projects such as The Italian Job [the original 1969 version] and others which followed.
“I’m immensely proud of what Stanley and Michael achieved with Oakhurst. Collectively the films stand the test of time and remain great viewing, Not least for that 10-year-old who viewed them in awe then, and the great pleasure I have in re-living them today.
“Always with an eye to utilising available assets, Stanley’s own films, shot in London and Europe, are peppered with scenes using the properties he owned: our driveways, bedrooms, kitchens, and Stanley’s office suite make numerous appearances [indeed the Clifton home in ROBBERY is the actual Baker Wimbledon Park residence]. So in retro-viewing, divining a line between the public and private becomes a further game of what’s real and make believe and all the more enjoyable.”
In closing, a masterpiece of flawless precision derailed by the human factor, ROBBERY admirably stands the test of time, copied (an admittedly excellent 2013 BBC mini-series), but never equaled.
ROBBERY. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber/Studio Canal. CAT # K23757. SRP: $29.95.