Robbery (1967 film)
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Yates|
|Produced by||Stanley Baker|
|Written by||Edward Boyd|
|Based on||The Robber's Tale by Peta Fordham|
|Music by||Johnny Keating|
|Edited by||Reginald Beck|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Robbery is a 1967 British crime film directed by Peter Yates and starring Stanley Baker. The story is a heavily fictionalised version of the 1963 Great Train Robbery. The film was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley, for Baker's company Oakhurst Productions.
A criminal gang uses a gas canister to knock out the occupant of a car and then bundle him into a stolen ambulance. There they cut free a briefcase full of jewellery. Shortly after, when changing vehicles, the criminals are spotted by the police and a high-speed chase develops with the criminals getting away.
Using the money from this job, crime boss Paul Clifton (Stanley Baker) builds up a team to hit a Royal Mail train coming south from Glasgow. A meticulous plan is put in place, but there are obstacles: the driver of the getaway car identified in an identity parade and arrested (but refuses to name accomplices to police); gang member Robinson (Frank Finlay) has to be broken out of prison, and Inspector George Langdon (James Booth) is hot on the trail of the jewel robbers, and finds out through informers about plans for an even bigger heist.
The gang gathers to do the job and change the signals to stop the train and escape with the cash. In the morning, Langdon and the police investigate the crime scene and explore possible local hideouts, including a disused airbase where the robbers are hiding in the basement, but are not found.
The cash is divided up and the getaway vehicles hidden at a scrapyard. Members wait in turn to take their share to Switzerland. However, the paid-off scrapyard man is arrested at an airport and found with banknotes from the raid and confesses. Police then arrest some of gang as they retrieve cars at the scrapyard. This leads the police back to the airfield, where they arrest further gang members.
Clifton evades capture. He places his cut of the money on a private plane and is last seen disembarking at New York with a different identity.
Michael Deeley bought the rights to Peta Fordham's book based on the "Great Train Robbery" of 1963. He and director Peter Yates offered the project to Woodfall Film Productions where he worked but the company did not want to make it. Deeley and Yates then approached Stanley Baker to star in the film. Baker had a good relationship with Joseph E. Levine whose Embassy Pictures agreed to fund the movie.
To avoid legal problems, it was decided to write a script where the details in the 25-minute robbery sequence were taken entirely from court evidence, but the remainder of the film would be fictitious speculation. "We had to make sure there was no risk of accidental identification with anyone," said Baker. "The characters involved in the film are in no way based on the characters who took part in the great train robbery."
Vanessa Redgrave was approached to play Stanley Baker's wife but turned down the role. Joseph E. Levine requested that the story be changed to include an American mastermind behind the robbery, to ensure the movie would appeal to American audiences. Three days of scenes were shot featuring Jason Robards in this role on Long Island, using Levine's own yacht. However, after this was done it was decided not to use the scenes.
The movie was shot entirely on location in early 1967 and contains much period footage of central London including shots of Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Little Venice and Kensal Green. Scenes of the gang meeting up prior to the robbery were also filmed at Leyton Orient Football Club, during a match with Swindon Town. The gang's airfield hideout was filmed at RAF Graveley. Filming was even done at New York Harbour and Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin. The robbery itself was shot to the east of Theddingworth.
The film includes a dramatic car chase, realistic portrayal of police procedure as well as crime preparations and scenes shot entirely on location. These creative aspects attracted the attention of actor Steve McQueen and producer Philip D'Antoni, who hired director Peter Yates to direct Bullitt (1968).
According to Michael Deeley the film did "good business" on release. It was not a big hit in the US; Peter Yates called it "very poorly exploited". The film won the best original British screenplay award (Edward Boyd, Peter Yates, George Markstein) from the Writers Guild of Great Britain.
The critical response to Robbery over the years was summarized by Peter Elliott in 2014: "Robbery was praised by a number of critics upon its release. ... However, time and culture have not been kind to Yates' film, and it has, to a very large extent, been relegated to a footnote in British crime cinema." Beyond critical opinion, the car chase at the beginning of the film has been very influential. It was seen by Steve McQueen, and led him to approve Yates as the director of Bullitt (1968). The car chase in Bullitt has been called "revolutionary" and "one of the most exciting car chases in film history".
In 2008 Robbery was released on DVD for the first time. Previous to this, the only copies in circulation were from a VHS release in the 1980s.
In August 2015 a Remastered version was released on Blu-ray and DVD. Scanned at 2K and fully restored to its original aspect Ratio, along with a good selection of Special Features.
- Fordham, Peta (1965). The robbers' tale; the real story of the great train robbery. Hodder and Stoughton. OCLC 3453300.
- Deeley p35
- "Film Makers Chase Mail Raid Millions." Times [London, England] 10 April 1967: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
- Deeley p 39
- "Robbery Winds Up on Long Island Sound". The Pittsburgh Press. June 1, 1967. p. 18.
- Weiler, A.H. (28 May 1967). "They Seek Out Saul Bellow". New York Times. p. D9. (Subscription required (help)).
- 'Raft Lost Part in British Film', The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959–1973) [Washington, D.C] 16 March 1967: D24.
- Webb, Jonathan (January 2018). "Focus on Rugby". Today's Railways. No. 193. Sheffield: Platform 5. p. 46. ISSN 1475-9713.
- Deeley p39
- Lesner, Sam (9 Feb 1968). "British Director to Film U.S. Dilemma". Los Angeles Times. p. c14.
- Elliott, Paul (2014). Studying the British Crime Film. Columbia University Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780993071775.
- Turner, Kent. "2011 Film Comment Selects". Retrieved 2015-11-29.
Yates made Robbery (1967) a year before he shot Bullitt. It’s a no-brainer why Steve McQueen wanted him as his director. Far from just a test run, Robbery’s opening chase scene through London set the stage for the action/crime thrillers The French Connection and The Seven-Ups in the ’70s.
- Levy, Emanuel (2008). "Bullitt". emanuellevy.com. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood's standards.
- Deeley, Michael (2009). Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies. Pegasus Books. ISBN 9781605980386. OCLC 286439266.