MOVIE REVIEW | The Great Train Robbery (1978)

the-first-great-train-robbery

“All anyone ever thinks about is money.”

I have an aversion to generic movie titles.  If you were to see the title alone, with no idea who was in it or who made it or what was it about, would there be a single reason to see something blandly called As Good As it Gets, or Enough Said or It’s Complicated?  I have the same problem with titles that are too literal.  Do I really want to see a movie where the people behind it were so creatively bankrupt, they called a movie about a great train robbery, The Great Train Robbery?


It’s the mid 19th century, and every month, a train full of gold heads from London to pay soldiers fighting in the Crimean.  With four keys, each guarded by a different person and a break neck speed across England, it’s impossible to rob.  Or is it?  No, no it’s not.  Because the gold catches the attention of master thief Pierce (Sean Connery).  Along with his saucy missus (Lesley-Ann Dowd as Miriam), Pierce recruits master pick pocket Agar (Donald Sutherland).  Then it’s time for half a movie of intricate planning, the odd preparation caper and a pretty amazing prison escape.

The question with this movie is never will they rob the train.  It’s how will they rob the train.  And close to half of the running time is dedicated to that robbery.  Sure, the planning is entertaining enough in its intricacies, but it’s the execution that makes The Great Train Robbery so compelling.

The Oceans 11 style machinations are great, and Connery and Sutherland are both really entertaining their roles, but it’s the big set piece of the second half that really delivers.  Made in 1978, you know there’s no CGI or fakery.  So when you see a wide shot of Sean Connery running across the roof of a train, jumping from carriage to carriage, even almost falling, you know that is really Sean Conner, running across the roof of a train, jumping from carriage to carriage, even almost falling.  The stunt work is impressive enough on its own.  Seeing Connery do so much of it himself is just amazing.

There was one thing though that really stood out.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but just in a kind of weird way.  The Great Train Robbery is set in England, old timey England.  Connery has never been one to try to hide his accent, and a Scottish accent fits into old timey England easily enough anyway.  The weird bit is Donald Sutherland.  He’s a cockney pick pocket, he uses English phrases like, “not bloody likely”.  Yet, at no point, does he ever even attempt an English accent.


The Great Train Robbery is an 1850s story with a 1970s film making aesthetic and that’s the key to its charm.  The juxtaposition of buttoned down coat and ties, with a frenetic style of something like The French Connection works a lot better than I would have assumed if I ever heard it described before seeing this movie.  Connery is kind of sleep walking through it, but he has the charisma to pull it off.  It’s the kind of movie that I assume was a hit at the time, but was more than likely immediately forgotten.  Or maybe that’s just how I feel about it.  It was fun to watch and more than a good movie.  But I can’t imagine it will stay with me for very long.

The Great Train Robbery
Directed By – Michael Crichton
Written By – Michael Crichton

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