johnlink ranks THE HOT ROCK (1972)

THE HOT ROCK is a Dortmunder story, a thief created in novels by Donald Westlake. His other major property, Parker, is hitting theaters for the first time next year with Jason Statham filling the role. Westlake is an author I have not dug into, but about whom I’ve heard wonderful things. THE HOT ROCK is the first of a bunch of minor films over the years which had different actors playing Dortmunder in unconnected films. Perhaps that is why Westlake (who wrote Parker under the pen name Richard Stark) was reluctant to have the Parker character turned into a film unless a series was committed to. Regardless, THE HOT ROCK is a nice introduction to Dortmunder, with Robert Redford playing the thief.

I watched THE HOT ROCK (1972) on 7.24.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This movie has a nice pedigree. With Westlake providing the source material, all-time great screenwriter William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY, PRINCESS BRIDE) creating the script, Redford playing Dortmunder, and Peter Yates (BULLITT) directing. Unfortunately, it does not all translate on screen.

This is not a bad movie. But, on the other hand, there aren’t too many Redford movies which I hadn’t even heard of, and there is a reason for that. This is a mediocre and less-than-memorable film with some absolutely great moments. The story has Dortmunder getting out of prison to immediately be recruited into a job by his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal). They are going to rob a museum of a diamond for an African diplomat (Moses Gunn). They recruit a driver named Murch (Ron Leibman) and a moderately stable explosives expert named Greenberg (Paul Sand). The theft keeps going wrong, and the jewel moves around New York City, resulting in a series of escalating break-ins.

The story isn’t bad, and it really just serves as an excuse to show these guys getting into (and out of) a variety of sticky situations. Westlake is a character and dialogue guy, much like Elmore Leonard, and Goldman (surprisingly) doesn’t always get the tone right. Dortmunder seems above the guys he’s working with. He’s a better thief, a smarter guy, a more likable character. Some of the dialogue between he and Kelp snaps, but much of it feels unconnected. The chemistry between Redford and Segal is never really there. The most interesting character is Greenberg, and Sand’s portrayal of that character is inspired. It led me to immediately IMDB Greenberg (yep, using IMDB as a verb now), only to find he was mired in minor character and TV guest spot appearances his whole career. Too bad, because Sand is really the only major character who is on par with Redford here. Additionally, Hall of Fame comedian Zero Mostel gives a nice supporting turn as Greenberg’s dishonest lawyer Dad.

Because this is a 70s movie, it is not as streamlined as modern narrative. I appreciate that. The guys acquire a helicopter for a job that has them breaking into a police station. The filmmakers don’t waste their daily helicopter rental. The team goes up, and the movie takes a three-minute break, as we are privy to some beautiful shots of New York City from a helicopter viewpoint. The highlight here is some shots of one of the twin towers under construction, cranes jutting from an impossibly high building.

Another nice scene begins with Dortmunder and Greenberg fishing. Greenberg wordlessly gets up, pulls something from his bag, and tosses it into the nearby brush, detonating the device. Dortmunder replies that it needs to be bigger. This goes on for a while with ever-increasing explosions. Quality understated scene, something which does not happen enough.

The sound mixing in this film is terrible. Scenes in the park between a couple of people appear to have been recorded at different times. Volume and background noise rise and fall. Some of the low-level dialogue which start a scene is intentionally low as an apparent commentary on the inanity of the words being spoken, but the actual meat of the scene can sometimes be a mess. I didn’t notice this regularly throughout, but it caught my attention enough to be distracting.

There is certainly some humor to be found. The first heist is perfect in its chaos (even if the guards are oddly silent as they chase the thieves), and the conclusion of the heist is satisfactorily entertaining. But this movie never reached out and grabbed me. In the end, this is an average, mildly enjoyable caper flick which I’m glad I saw, is worth a distraction, but I probably wouldn’t advise others to go all out to hunt it down.

SCORES

FILM: 5; MOVIE: 6; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 4; BONUS: -1

I do have to take away a point for the awful sound mixing. Just a strangely unprofessional couple of scenes mixed in there.

5+6+5+4-1=19

FINAL SCORE: 4.75

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~ by johnlink00 on July 25, 2012.

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