The Great Train Robbery


1h 51m 1979
The Great Train Robbery

Brief Synopsis

Three crooks plot to steal a fortune in gold from a moving train.

Film Details

Also Known As
Det stora tågrånet, First Great Train Robbery, Great Train Robbery, The
MPAA Rating
Genre
Action
Crime
Thriller
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
1979
Location
County Wicklow, Ireland; London, England, United Kingdom; Glencree, Ireland; Cork, Ireland; Naas, Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Sutherland and Connery wish to rob a moving train's safe in Victorian England. They need wax impressions of keys, coffins, dead cats, and a great deal of planning in order to pull it off.

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Film Details

Also Known As
Det stora tågrånet, First Great Train Robbery, Great Train Robbery, The
MPAA Rating
Genre
Action
Crime
Thriller
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
1979
Location
County Wicklow, Ireland; London, England, United Kingdom; Glencree, Ireland; Cork, Ireland; Naas, Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

The Great Train Robbery (1979)


Here's proof that an exciting, entertaining heist movie doesn't have to depend on modern high-tech wizardry on the part of either the filmmakers or the characters in the story. Set in Victorian England, the charming band of thieves in Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery (1979) pull off the Big Job using nothing more technologically advanced than wax impressions of keys, ingenious disguises - even a dead cat. And for the thrilling climax, ace cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (It was his last feature) filmed star Sean Connery on top of a speeding train barely escaping decapitation as he ducks under low bridges with no stunt double, back projection or the computer-generated effects we're used to today.

Crichton, of course, is the man behind such blockbusters as Westworld (1973), Coma (1978), Jurassic Park (1993) and Twister (1996), so he knows a thing or two about putting audiences at the edge of their seats. He adapted the screenplay for The Great Train Robbery from his novel, based on the real-life 1855 theft of a shipment of gold bound for the Crimean War. The heist has become legendary among the British, who lay claim to it as history's first robbery from a moving train. In fact, in the U.K. the film was released as The First Great Train Robbery, perhaps to distinguish it from Edwin S. Porter's identically titled 1903 silent movie, usually considered the first full-scale Western on the American screen.

Connery made this picture eight years after swearing off the James Bond series with Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and four years before returning to the franchise that made him world famous in his last shot as 007, the aptly titled Never Say Never Again (1983). Here as clever, endlessly resourceful gentleman thief Edwin Pierce, he departs from the role that almost typecast him forever while showcasing the qualities that made him such a hit as the master spy: a dashing, danger-loving virility tempered by a sardonic humor that lets audiences in on the joke. There's even a hint of Bond's smooth ladies man image in Pierce's relationship with his mistress (Lesley-Ann Down, who rose to prominence in the popular TV series Upstairs, Downstairs). As the spirited Miriam, Down is almost a Bond Girl in Bustles Ð a beautiful woman who can hold her own as an accomplice in the bold and risky theft.

Of course, no heist story is complete without the near-obligatory henchmen, master criminals of singular skill and charming quirkiness like safecracker Agar (Donald Sutherland) and cat burglar Clean Willy (Wayne Sleep). A master of intricate plotting, Crichton follows the four thieves through the planning of the minutest details of the elaborate scheme, creating suspense with the unexpected and seemingly unbeatable difficulties thrown in their path. The script earned Crichton a 1980 Edgar Allen Poe Best Picture Award from the Mystery Writers of America. But in adapting his novel, he expanded its scope beyond the basic heist plot to give audiences both a healthy dose of comedy and rich period detail. The most expensive film Crichton had directed to date, nearly 10 percent of the budget went to a single set, a 19th century recreation of London's Strand down to the cobblestone street, ale houses and that pinnacle of British Empire opulence and folly, Queen Victoria's Crystal Palace.

Director: Michael Crichton
Producer: John Foreman
Screenplay: Michael Crichton
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Art Direction: Bert Davey
Principle Cast: Sean Connery (Edward Pierce), Donald Sutherland (Agar), Lesley-Anne Down (Miriam), Alan Webb (Edgar Trent), Malcom Terris (Henry Fowler), Robert Lang (Inspector Sharp), Michael Elphick (Burgess), Wayne Sleep (Clean Willy, Pamela Salem (Emily Trent)
C-111m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon
The Great Train Robbery (1979)

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

Here's proof that an exciting, entertaining heist movie doesn't have to depend on modern high-tech wizardry on the part of either the filmmakers or the characters in the story. Set in Victorian England, the charming band of thieves in Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery (1979) pull off the Big Job using nothing more technologically advanced than wax impressions of keys, ingenious disguises - even a dead cat. And for the thrilling climax, ace cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (It was his last feature) filmed star Sean Connery on top of a speeding train barely escaping decapitation as he ducks under low bridges with no stunt double, back projection or the computer-generated effects we're used to today. Crichton, of course, is the man behind such blockbusters as Westworld (1973), Coma (1978), Jurassic Park (1993) and Twister (1996), so he knows a thing or two about putting audiences at the edge of their seats. He adapted the screenplay for The Great Train Robbery from his novel, based on the real-life 1855 theft of a shipment of gold bound for the Crimean War. The heist has become legendary among the British, who lay claim to it as history's first robbery from a moving train. In fact, in the U.K. the film was released as The First Great Train Robbery, perhaps to distinguish it from Edwin S. Porter's identically titled 1903 silent movie, usually considered the first full-scale Western on the American screen. Connery made this picture eight years after swearing off the James Bond series with Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and four years before returning to the franchise that made him world famous in his last shot as 007, the aptly titled Never Say Never Again (1983). Here as clever, endlessly resourceful gentleman thief Edwin Pierce, he departs from the role that almost typecast him forever while showcasing the qualities that made him such a hit as the master spy: a dashing, danger-loving virility tempered by a sardonic humor that lets audiences in on the joke. There's even a hint of Bond's smooth ladies man image in Pierce's relationship with his mistress (Lesley-Ann Down, who rose to prominence in the popular TV series Upstairs, Downstairs). As the spirited Miriam, Down is almost a Bond Girl in Bustles Ð a beautiful woman who can hold her own as an accomplice in the bold and risky theft. Of course, no heist story is complete without the near-obligatory henchmen, master criminals of singular skill and charming quirkiness like safecracker Agar (Donald Sutherland) and cat burglar Clean Willy (Wayne Sleep). A master of intricate plotting, Crichton follows the four thieves through the planning of the minutest details of the elaborate scheme, creating suspense with the unexpected and seemingly unbeatable difficulties thrown in their path. The script earned Crichton a 1980 Edgar Allen Poe Best Picture Award from the Mystery Writers of America. But in adapting his novel, he expanded its scope beyond the basic heist plot to give audiences both a healthy dose of comedy and rich period detail. The most expensive film Crichton had directed to date, nearly 10 percent of the budget went to a single set, a 19th century recreation of London's Strand down to the cobblestone street, ale houses and that pinnacle of British Empire opulence and folly, Queen Victoria's Crystal Palace. Director: Michael Crichton Producer: John Foreman Screenplay: Michael Crichton Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth Music: Jerry Goldsmith Art Direction: Bert Davey Principle Cast: Sean Connery (Edward Pierce), Donald Sutherland (Agar), Lesley-Anne Down (Miriam), Alan Webb (Edgar Trent), Malcom Terris (Henry Fowler), Robert Lang (Inspector Sharp), Michael Elphick (Burgess), Wayne Sleep (Clean Willy, Pamela Salem (Emily Trent) C-111m. Letterboxed. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

In the year 1855, England and France were at war with Russia in the Crimea. The English troops were paid in gold. Once a month, twenty-five thousand pounds in gold was loaded into strongboxes inside the London bank of Huddleston and Bradford and taken by trusted armed guards to the railway station. The convoy followed no fixed route or timetable. At the station, the gold was loaded into the luggage van of the Folkestone train for shipment to the coast and from there to the Crimea. The strongboxes were placed into two specially-built Chubb safes constructed of three-quarter inch tempered steel. Each safe weighed five hundred and fifty pounds. Each safe was fitted with two locks, requiring two keys, or four keys altogether. For security, each key was individually protected. Two keys were entrusted to the railway dispatcher who kept them locked in his office. A third was in the custody of Mr. Edgar Trent, president of the Huddleston and Bradford. And the fourth key was given to Mr. Henry Fowler, manager of the Huddleston and Bradford. The presence of so much gold in one place naturally aroused the interest of the English criminal elements. But in 1855 there had never been a robbery from a moving railway train.
- Edward Pierce
No respectable man is that respectable.
- Edward Pierce
I've just returned from America, a country of many prominent erections.
- Edward Pierce
Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?
- Judge
I wanted the money.
- Edward Pierce

Trivia

Michael Crichton based his book and movie only loosely on the actual crime committed in 1855. In real life there were four criminals: Pierce, Agar, the railway guard Burgess, and a railway clerk named Tester. All four keys were kept on railway premises, two in London and two in Folkestone. They were stolen temporarily by Tester and Pierce respectively so that Agar could duplicate them, but it turned out that the Folkestone keys were not being used anyway. The guard's van was not locked from the outside; Pierce and Agar were let in by Burgess, and a share of the loot was handed out to Tester, at stations. None of the criminals was spotted at once; it was months before the railway conceded that the crime must have occurred on the train. The details came to light after Agar had been convicted in an unrelated crime and his accomplices decided to steal his share instead of using it, as he had asked, to provide his mistress an income. She got word to him, and he turned Queen's Evidence against the others, and told all. At no point in the case did anyone escape from custody.

Sean Connery spent several days running on top of a moving train. The train was supposed to be traveling at 35mph; Connery argued it was going faster. The train driver was counting telegraph poles to measure the speed. A helicopter pilot confirmed Connery's suspicion - the train was traveling at over 55mph.

Crichton was frustrated at the pace of filming with an Irish and British crew. They had no respect for such a young director, until he ordered a copy of his latest film, Coma (1978); after watching it, the crew decided he was a good director and they began working harder for him.

Crichton had his hair catch fire when the steam locomotive he was filming from spewed burning embers.

The steam engine originally used in the film was not powerful enough to pull the train, so a diesel locomotive was disguised as a goods van and used for extra power.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring March 1979

Released in United States on Video 1981

Original video distributor was CBS/Fox

Released in United States Spring March 1979

Released in United States on Video 1981