Best-selling novelist Michael Crichton had already directed Westworld
when he tackled the ambitious production of The Great Train Robbery
in 1978. Adapting his own novel (which was inspired by the facts of the first known train robbery), Crichton sets this attractive, highly enjoyable film in London in 1855, where Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) and Agar (Donald Sutherland) plot to steal £25,000 in gold that is being transported by train to pay British troops in the Crimean War. Lesley-Anne Down plays Miriam, Pierce's sophisticated paramour and the third partner in the scheme; while Pierce and Agar make copies of four keys for the train's closely guarded safes, she uses her feminine wiles to distract a variety of officials and businessmen with connections to the gold.
A lively, humorous caper film of the first order, The Great Train Robbery also boasts a vividly authentic recreation of mid-Victorian England, all the more remarkable since the production was filmed primarily in Ireland on a budget of $6 million--a miraculously modest sum (even in 1978) for such a lavish-looking film. Although Crichton's directorial style seems somewhat detached and bloodless, he maintains a vivid respect for place and time, and his three leads are splendid in their charismatic roles. Meticulous attention to details of costuming and production design enhance the breezy fun of the heist, which climaxes with an exciting sequence on the rushing train, with Connery performing his own stunt work. While the later hit Mission: Impossible would take a similar sequence to its high-tech, high-velocity extreme, The Great Train Robbbery remains an entertaining study of crime in a less hectic age, allowing Crichton to emphasize ingenuity over special effects. --Jeff Shannon
The DVD edition of The Great Train Robbery
includes an informative, intelligent, and observant commentary (recorded in 1996) by writer-director Michael Crichton, whose memories of the 1978 production provide valuable insights into the economy, diplomacy, and ingenuity required to get any film finished. Interestingly, Crichton notes that one of his motivations in making films lies in the fact that he's rarely satisfied with the finished film, as it typically fails to compare to his idealistic hopes before starting the project. However, he does go on to observe that making The Great Train Robbery
was very satisfying in terms of collaborating with cast and crew, and saves particular praise for Sean Connery, whom he describes as an underrated actor who actively participates in the filmmaking process.