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The Day They Robbed the Bank of England

The Day They Robbed the Bank of England(1960)


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The opening credits contain the following statement: "The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance given them by the War Office and Her Majesty's Brigade of Guards in providing officers and men for this production. Thanks are especially due to the Scots Guards." According to the pressbook for the film, it was inspired by a number of actual incidents in the history of the Bank of England. In the 1840s, an employee of a sewer maintenance company, while repairing some brick work, discovered a ventilation shaft that went under the Bank floor from a dried-up stream.
The man subsequently wrote letters to a director of the Bank of England, boasting that he could break into the vaults, and after he stated a specific time in which he would do this, armed guards were instructed to wait inside the vault. When the man broke through the floor, he was given a bonus of 1,000 pounds for his honesty. In 1872, the Bank was robbed of five million dollars, the only time such a robbery was successful. Three Americans involved were sentenced to life imprisonment, but were pardoned by Queen Victoria after twenty years. According to New York Mirror, the story of Irish revolutionaries robbing the Bank had become an Irish legend.
       According to a September 14, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Geoffrey Tyrell and Arthur Lowe were added to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The film's pressbook relates that the Bank declined to give permission to film its vaults for security reasons, but that the sets were based on sketches and old prints from the British Museum of the vaults as they looked in 1900. The London County Council refused to give permission for the company to film in the sewers, so these were reconstructed on the studio lot. Her Majesty's Scots Guards, including the Regimental Pipers, were filmed on their nightly parade from Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace to the bank. The nightly walk had routinely taken place since the Gordon Riots of 1780. This was the first time permission was granted to a film company to have the road and footpaths fronting the Palace cleared. Other scenes were shot at Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and at dockyard locations in London.
       Although the film was not Peter O'Toole's first motion picture acting assignment, having had a small role in the Walt Disney Production Kidnapped (see below), The Day They Robbed the Bank of England marked his first major role. The London newspaper the Evening News commented on performance: "It happened again this week-that magical moment in the critic's routine when a magnetic spark seems to come out of the screen and he knows that he is seeing the birth of a great star....I have an idea that Peter O'Toole is going to blaze a fiery trail over our screens that will make some other reigning satellites look stale." According to New York Times, after David Lean saw the film at its London premiere, he called O'Toole and asked him to test for the title role in Lawrence of Arabia (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).