The Hot Rock (film)

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The Hot Rock
Hot rock2.jpg
Directed by Peter Yates
Produced by Hal Landers
Bobby Roberts
Screenplay by William Goldman
Based on novel by
Donald E. Westlake
Starring Robert Redford
George Segal
Ron Leibman
Paul Sand
Moses Gunn
Zero Mostel
Music by Quincy Jones
Cinematography Edward R. Brown
Edited by Frank P. Keller
Fred W. Berger
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • January 26, 1972 (1972-01-26)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4,895,000[1]
Box office $3.5 million (US/Canada rentals)[2]

The Hot Rock is a 1972 comedy-drama caper film directed by Peter Yates from a screenplay by William Goldman, based on Donald E. Westlake's novel of the same name, which introduced his long-running John Dortmunder character. The film stars Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn and Zero Mostel.


After John Dortmunder (Redford) is released from his latest stint in prison, he is approached by his brother-in-law, Andy Kelp (Segal), about another job. Dr. Amusa (Gunn) seeks a valuable gem in the Brooklyn Museum that is of great significance to his people in his country in Africa, stolen during colonial times and then re-stolen by various African nations.

Dortmunder and Kelp are joined by driver Stan Murch (Leibman) and explosives expert Allan Greenberg (Sand), concocting an elaborate plan to steal the gem. Although the scheme (and each subsequent one) is carefully planned—and keeps increasing in cost—something always goes awry, and the quartet has to steal the diamond again and again.

First off, the diamond is swallowed by Greenberg when he alone gets caught by the museum guards during the initial heist. Dortmunder, Kelp, and Murch, at the urging of Greenberg's rotund father Abe (Zero Mostel), a lawyer, help Greenberg escape from state prison, but they then find he does not have the diamond. After Greenberg tells his partners he hid the rock in the police station (after bodily evacuating it), the quartet break into the precinct jail by helicopter, but the rock is not where Greenberg hid it. Greenberg discloses that his father Abe was the only other person who knew where it was.

It isn't until Murch, disguised as the grunting muscle man "Chicken," threatens Abe with being thrown down an elevator shaft, that Abe gives up the location of the diamond—his safe deposit box, and he also gives up the key to it. However, Dortmunder cannot access the box because of bank vault security, and the gang leaves Abe in Dr. Amusa's office while they come up with a plan.

With the help of a hypnotist by the name of Miasmo, Dortmunder sets up his own safe deposit box to get access to the vault and then plans to invoke the predetermined hypnotic trigger word "Afghanistan banana stand" to the vault guard. He would then be able to gain access to Abe's safe deposit box and retrieve the gem just after the bank opens in the morning.

While Dortmunder is waiting for the bank to open, the rest of the group meets with Dr. Amusa at his request. Dr. Amusa fires them for incompetence, and reveals that Abe Greenberg has made his own deal to sell him the gem, which will leave Dortmunder's gang with nothing.

Dortmunder finally retrieves the gem while Dr. Amusa and Abe are driving to the bank by limousine. He exits the bank and walks away just before they arrive. Dortmunder climbs into Kelp's car where the others are waiting, and a rousing cheer erupts as they drive off.

Partial cast[edit]


The script was written by William Goldman who called Westlake's book "wonderful, very funny... I was a Westlake fan."[3]

The opening scene, depicting a conversation between Dortmunder and the warden upon Dortmunder's release, is based on a scene edited out of Goldman's screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The origin was a real discussion between Butch Cassidy and the governor of Wyoming when Cassidy was released from prison, which Goldman uncovered when he was researching the prior screenplay.

One scene depicts the gang flying by helicopter through Manhattan to break into a police station. During this footage, the helicopter flies by the World Trade Center. The south tower was still under construction when this film was shot.

Actor and director Christopher Guest makes his first film appearance in a small part as a police officer.

The music was composed by Quincy Jones.

For the UK cinematic release the film was entitled 'How to Steal a Diamond (In Four Uneasy Lessons)'. During the film a caption appears with the words "Lesson One", followed by 3 further captions for each subsequent lesson.

Four more of the Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder series have been filmed (with the character renamed in most instances), beginning with Bank Shot (1974) starring George C. Scott, and followed by Jimmy the Kid (1982) starring Paul Le Mat (followed by a 1999 German remake); Why Me? (1990) starring Christopher Lambert; and What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001) starring Martin Lawrence.


Frank P. Keller and Fred W. Berger were nominated for the best film editing Academy Award. William Goldman was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for his screenplay.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p256
  2. ^ Solomon p232. Please note figures are rentals not total gross.
  3. ^ Egan p 101
  • Egan, Sean, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, Bear Manor Media 2014

External links[edit]