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Great Train Robbery, The

Kino // PG // September 16, 2014
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted September 17, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Written and directed by Michael Crichton and based on his own novel, 1978's The Great Train Robbery is a period piece set in the England of 1855 and like the book, it's (somewhat loosely) based on actual events. The film revolves around a con man named Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) who learns of a shipment of gold bullion being carried on the Folkstone Express, a train that obviously travels from London to Folkstone. He decides he's going to rob it and to help him out, he puts together a team made up of a disguise expert named Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down), a safecracker named Agar (Donald Sutherland) and burglar named Clean Willy (Wayne Sleep).

In order to make this work, he'll need duplicates of four specific keys, each in its own location. He finds the first in the wine cellar of a bank official named Edgar Trent (Alan Webb), the second around the neck of a bank manager named Henry Fowler (Malcom Terris) and the last two inside a safe at the train dispatcher's headquarters. It takes a bit of time and a bit of team work but Pierce gets his duplicate keys and soon enough, he and his crew are off to get the gold, but of course, even if they pull it off, there's no guarantee they won't get caught at some point…

Very nicely shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (who passed away just before the film was released), The Great Train Robbery is a decent enough watch though it does fall prey to more than a few pacing issues. The reason most will be drawn to this one will be to watch Connery and Sutherland do their thing and the two actors do make for a great team here. Connery has a knack for very natural feeling comedy so even when he's essentially playing a bad guy as he is here, he's still quite charming and likeable. Sutherland plays his Agar as a bit of a dimwit but his skills are essential to the success of Pierce's scheme. They share quite a bit of screen time together and have a good onscreen chemistry. Lesley-Anne Down as Miriam doesn't get quite as much to do but she sure looks beautiful here and she handles the part fine, as does Wayne Sleep in his role.

If Crichton proves not to be a master of pacing and suspense with this picture, he does show a strong sense of witty, natural dialogue. With the entirety of the film set in Victorian times this affords him the chance to write his characters in that vein and as such, there's some good comedy throughout the different discussions that occur in the film. Additionally, complimenting that is the film's sense of style and costuming, all of which is quite detailed and frequently very ornate and impressive (save for a few crowd scenes where you can see people in modern attire). Of course, the film's major set piece would have to be the train itself, and here we're treated to a pretty great robbery scene that takes place aboard the cars being pulled by a fantastic looking old steam engine, again, in keeping with the technology of the era in which the picture is set.

As they say, the devil is in the details and here Crichton also shows some skill. The film has just as much, if not more, to do with the planning of Pierce's robbery as it does with the robbery itself. Pierce decides to get those who hold the keys into positions of socially unacceptable status in hopes that once he gets the keys, they'll be reluctant to go into too much detail as to how they were obtained. This again allows for a bit more humor to be injected into the script. If this one doesn't always fire on all cylinders at the same time it's a nicely made and pretty entertaining mix of criminality and comedy peppered with interesting characters and fun locations.

The Blu-ray:


The Great Train Robbery debuts on Blu-ray from Kino framed at 1.85.1 and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Aside from a few scenes that look a little bit noisy this is otherwise quite a strong transfer. Detail is nice and strong as is texture, both qualities clearly advancing over standard definition in pretty much every frame. Colors are reproduced very accurately and skin tones are natural and warm without looking too hot or too pink. Black levels are good and shadow detail quite strong. The elements used for the transfer were evidently in very nice shape as aside from a few tiny white specks here and there the picture is quite clean throughout.


The disc includes a DTS-HD Mono track and a DTS-HD 5.1 track, both in English, with no alternate language options and only English subtitles provided. Both tracks sound quite good, with the 5.1 mix spreading out some of the effects and often times the score to the surround channels rather well. Regardless of which option you choose dialogue remains clean, clear and properly balanced and neither mix has any issues with hiss or distortion.


Aside from a theatrical trailer, a static menu and chapter selection the disc also contains a fairly mellow audio commentary track with writer/director Michael Crichton. Here he speaks about what influenced him to write the story, some of the more intense set pieces featured in the film and the stunts that were involved in making those happen, which it was like working with the different cast members on the picture and quite a bit more. He occasionally gets a bit quiet but never to the point where it brings the talk to a screeching halt. A moderator might have got him more involved, but as it stands this is a decent enough track.

Final Thoughts:

The Great Train Robbery isn't a masterpiece but it is a well-made picture that is impressive with its camerawork and which does a fine job of taking advantage of its talented cast. It's a picture that works better as light entertainment than serious suspense but there's no harm in that, the movie proves to be a lot of fun. The Blu-ray release from Kino is light on extras but it does look and sound quite good. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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