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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Hot Rock (Blu-ray)
The Hot Rock (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // PG // August 21, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 4, 2018 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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A lighthearted caper film, The Hot Rock (1972) was, curiously, not a hit when it was new, this despite the popularity at the time of stars Robert Redford and George Segal, the clever wit of William Goldman's screenplay, and Peter Yates's assured direction. The $5 million production earned $3.5 million in rentals.

The story was adapted from the same-named novel by Donald E. Westlake (Point Blank, The Grifters), the first to feature the character John Dortmunder, the protagonist of various novels and seven movies to date, the most recent being What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001) with Martin Lawrence. Soon after The Hot Rock producers tried again with the character in the over-emphatically eccentric Bank Shot (1974), starring George C. Scott, which Scott disowned.

The Hot Rock is more slickly made and generally fun, if a little bit too calculating and mechanical at times. Episodic by design, it actually features four big capers because its heroes keep screwing up, an amusing premise.

Just out of prison, career thief John Dortmunder (Redford) is approached by brother-in-law locksmith Andy Kelp (Segal) to mastermind the robbery of a priceless African diamond, on temporary exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Funded by Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn), representing one of those fictitious African nations that always appear in movies and TV shows, he agrees to pay each of the four-man team $25,000 plus material expenses.

Dortmunder hires driver Stan Murch (Ron Leibman) and explosives expert Allan Greenberg (Paul Sand), and this quartet almost pulls off the daring nighttime robbery, Dortmunder creating a diversion by having Stan crash a car just outside the museum with great élan, attracting the attention of all of the security guards. But the plan goes awry and Greenberg is arrested moments after hiding the diamond by swallowing it.

Allan's shifty lawyer, Abe (Zero Mostel), also Allan's father, insists the foursome break Allan out of jail. They succeed, but it turns out he no longer has the diamond: he had to hide it while in a holding cell at a local precinct, necessitating yet another high-stakes caper: breaking into the police station to steal the diamond back.

The Hot Rock holds up well today. The movie plays to Redford's limited strengths as an actor, his Dortmunder cool and circumspect on the outside, full of doubt and suffering from stomach problems due to the enormous stress he's under, especially in terms of having to deal with his three problematic partners and their continual bad luck. Segal's brother-in-law, by contrast, is eternally optimistic and opportunistic. Even after the museum job goes south, the next morning Kelp is elated by their partial success. He lies and jostles his way through his negotiations with acerbic Dr. Amusa, Kelp coming off a bit like an antecedent to Angel Martin, the gleefully unscrupulous ex-con on The Rockford Files.

Director Yates regarded The Hot Rock superior to his earlier, greater success, Bullitt (1968) because, he felt, the later film's characters were more richly defined. That's true insofar as even lesser characters like Leibman's Murch have plenty of color, he obsessed with traffic flow issues within the city (New York), and who entertains his mother (Charlotte Rae) playing her records of roaring car engines. Zero Mostel, as the shady lawyer trying to cut in (and everybody else out) of the diamond deal, is particularly good, bringing just the right balance of comedy and drama to the film, more of which would have made the picture even stronger. The film's best realized sequence has Dortmunder threatening to kill Abe's son if he doesn't turn over a key vital to retrieving the diamond, Abe almost certain that Dortmunder is bluffing. The funny assault on the quiet Brooklyn police station features actor William Redfield (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and, instantly recognizable, Christopher Guest, his first credited film role.

For native New Yorkers, The Hot Rock is an orgy of gorgeous looking locations, including a long helicopter flyby of the World Trade Center, still under construction at the time. But more than the skyline it captures the ambience of pre-gentrified Brooklyn and other areas.

Video & Audio

Filmed in Panavision by Edward R. Brown, normally a TV guy, The Hot Rock looks gorgeous on Blu-ray, one of the cleanest, crispest transfers of an early ‘70s ‘scope title this reviewer has come across. The audio, highlighted by Quincy Jones's exceptional jazz score, sounds great, with multiple mono and 2-channel stereo options. Optional English subtitles are also included on this region-free disc, a limited edition.

Extra Features

Supplements include an isolated music track, an audio commentary featuring Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and Lem Dobbs, Kirgo's booklet liner notes, and a not-very-effective original trailer.

Parting Thoughts

Solidly entertaining and slickly-made if lightweight, The Hot Rock is Highly Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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