All aboard for runaway action and suspense in this riveting masterpiece from writer and director Michael Crichton (Coma)! Sean Connery (Meteor), Donald Sutherland (Klute) and Lesley Anne-Down (Sphinx) star in this "spine-tingling and suavely performed" adventure (The Hollywood Reporter) based on history's first train robbery. Stunningly shot by legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey), this "ingenious" (Variety) and wonderful crime caper delivers mile-a-minute thrills and breathtaking excitement. Connery is Edward Pierce, a master thief who conceives a brilliant plan to steal a fortune in gold bars from a railroad payroll car. But to pull off the most daring heist in history, Pierce must join forces with a safecracker (Sutherland) and his own beautiful girlfriend (Down) in a series of intricately plotted thefts that will test all of their nerve, camaraderie and larcenous skill.
Michael Crichton's 'The Great Train Robbery' (1978), not to be confused with the legendary silent western 'The Great Train Robbery' (1903), is adapted from his 1975 novel. The film presents an entertaining story about England's Great Gold Robbery of 1855, not to be confused with England's Great Train Robbery of 1963, when some criminals tried to steal a shipment of gold meant for the soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.
The film opens in 1854. Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) is a conman, who has devised a scheme to steal England's monthly gold shipment for the war effort. He has inserted himself among London's elites to learn who is involved in protecting the gold, which is locked up in two safes aboard the train, each requiring two keys to open them. The trick is he can’t steal the keys before the gold gets on the train, so copies of them have to be made, a skill of his associate Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland), who he finds working the streets picking pockets.
Edward crosses paths with Edgar Trent (Alan Webb) at a ratting event; a gruesome "sport" where people bet on the number of rats a dog could kill in a set amount of time. Edward gets himself invited over to Edgar's. While at the estate, there's a very funny scene of seductive bantering between Edward and Edgar's much younger wife Emily (Pamela Salem) that is reminiscent of Connery's work as James Bond. But it's Edgar's daughter Elizabeth (Gabrielle Lloyd), who Edward courts in the hopes of learning about her father's key.
Obtaining a copy of Henry Fowler's (Malcolm Terris) key seems to be tougher to access because the man wears it around his neck. But because Henry has a weakness for women, Edward is able to incorporate the acting skills of his attractive companion, Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down), who poses as a prostitute in a brothel. The challenge becomes how to get a copy of the key while keeping Henry from getting too far with Miriam.
The last two keys are kept at the station. Robert has calculated he needs to 75 seconds to sneak in and out of the office while the guard on duty performs his rounds. Crichton and his editor David Bretherton have created a suspenseful scene. Having the characters do a countdown adds to the tension.
Crichton makes other good choices in terms of the plot as believable complications arise as Edward's plan progresses, and the end offers an unexpected twist. Unless one was rooting for the Russians in the Crimean War, stealing from the British soldiers was a bad thing, yet Connery's charisma gets the viewer to root for him to succeed. While Connery plays Connery, Sutherland seems to be having a ball with his role as a seedy crook. As the viewer likely will because 'The Great Train Robbery' is a fun historical heist.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents 'The Great Train Robbery' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard bluecase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video for 'The Great Train Robbery' has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. To help set the 19th Century time period, the film opens in a sepia tone, which diminishes clarity of focus and depth, contributes to black crush, and bright lights slightly blow out the image.
Unfortunately, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth's style was to use a lot of diffusion so even when the sepia stops at the opening credits, the image is frequently blown out from bright sunlight shining on objects and through the train station skylights. Even light reflecting off a white t-shirt causes problems. This results in many scenes having a weak contrast.
Otherwise colors appear in strong hues. The opening credits are done in a vivid red and the green landscape, yellow train cars, and black engine come through nicely. The sky looks very grainy during this sequence but otherwise the grain provides a natural film look. A variety of brown shades can be seen in the horses and the furniture in gentleman's club. There's a spectrum of color on display during a scene with fireworks. Black frequently appear rich.
Black and white specks do crop up on occasion. When not overly diffused, which also happens when there's too much fog, the image delivers satisfying sharpness and depth. Texture detail is hit or miss.
The audio is available in Digital Dolby 5.1 and 2.0. On the 5.1 track, the dialogue is clear and balanced well with the music and effects. Jerry Goldsmith's score fills the surrounds and ambiance can be heard in them, such as the crowd watching the ratting.
Objects are properly positioned within the soundfield, such as the train whistle blowing, and move through channels, such as the train panning across the screen and sounds moving from front to back as the train passes under bridges during the heist. The subwoofer is called into action to augment the power of the train The 5.1 track sounds free of any wear or damage and offers a good dynamic range, best demonstrated with the fireworks which deliver both high-pitched whistles and booming explosions.
'The Great Train Robbery' is a very good movie thanks to Crichton's script and its lead actors. I would recommend people watch it. I found the cinematography distracting, but the Blu-ray presents the source material accurately. This Blu-ray is worth a look.