Mike’s Take on Stanley Baker Movies ….. Part 2
Based on a true life incident, this Stanley Baker thriller was also one of those titles that he scored a producer credit on. Having now seen it for the first time, I’m going to look at the film strictly as entertainment and have no intention of making any comparisons to the real life incident known as The Great Train Robbery which took place in England on August 8th, 1963. For more on the actual robbery, here’s a link to Wikipedia.
As if he’s in training for directing Bullitt the following year, Peter Yates takes on camera duties here and opens the film with a high speed chase through English streets foreshadowing his next feature with McQueen in San Francisco. It’s a marvellously edited opening that sees a carefully plotted heist go bad resulting in local police almost catching our diamond thieves and underworld friends of Stanley Baker. Baker and his commanding presence doesn’t actually appear on camera until the 18 minute mark is himself planning a much more ambitious endeavor that could make millionaires of all of them.
Introduced early on in the film to run parallel to the Baker heist is a local police inspector played by James Booth who had joined Baker back in 1963’s smash hit, Zulu. Booth has a pretty good idea who pulled the opening heist and begins to pressure the one player, Clinton Greyn which in turn leads him to suspect something much bigger is coming down in the underworld of crime. In order to help pull the heist, Baker needs a man sprung from prison. A money laundering expert played by the meek and bookwormish Frank Finlay. Assigned to this prison escape caper, Booth suspicions only increase. Why would anyone possibly want Finlay out unless his talents were needed for an upcoming job?
Baker begins to run his heist like that of a military operation and brings in other underworld gangs at a steep price to pull off an ingenious, well timed train robbery. NO GUNS! Such a different world compared to the gangsters of North American films. No one would think to pull off a major heist without brandishing a firearm. Or two or three….. you get the picture. The heist goes off smoothly and then it’s all about the hunt. Officer Booth is hot on the trail of the money that amounts to about 3 million pounds. Road blocks, police helicopters and countless patrolman are in the fields searching for clues. It’s all going to culminate in an abandoned airfield from the war where our gang of crooks have taken over a bomb shelter to count there booty and literally stay underground till the heat is off.
If only that meek money launderer hadn’t tried to place a phone call to his wife.
This is a very methodical operation put together by Baker and by extension, director Yates. Based on fact, I’m sure certain liberties were taken and according to an interview with Baker as a bonus feature in the blu ray I had flown in from the UK, they had to as the film was out and there were still men on the lamb. An interesting bit of trivia is that Oscar winner Jason Robards was brought in to film what amounted to an epilogue in hopes of adding a name to the proceedings that American audiences would be familiar with, thus strengthening the chances for a bigger cash flow at the box office. He wound up on the cutting room floor and the footage is probably lost.
Being a leading man of note, Baker gets a leading lady for the film’s token female role in what amounts to an extended cameo. This is primarily an all male cast. The role of Baker’s wife goes to Joanna Pettet who at this time was just getting started in the movie business coming from a few assorted TV guest shots. As the lead character, Baker comes across strong. He has that “don’t cross me” attitude working for him and when one looks at him you can’t help but think, “no, he doesn’t need a gun.” Baker looks ready to handle any tough situation that comes his way and does.
Still there is that pesky copper, Booth.
As part of the blu ray edition from Network/Studio Canal, there is the wonderful 30 minute interview I spoke of with Baker from 1972. First time I’ve actually heard him speak outside of a movie role. He’s informative on his career and very entertaining. Also included is a current interview with Baker’s partner and co-producer, Michael Deeley and while I haven’t watched it yet, an earlier version of the story by way of German television from the previous year. There’s also a documentary on the film and a 32 page booklet that comes with it. A nice edition to the library here at home for both my love of a good heist film and for all things Stanley Baker.
Can’t say I’ve ever had the chance to see this one till now so like The Man Who Finally Died, us movie buffs in North America might have to get this one mailed in from abroad.