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A Movie A Day: THE HOT ROCK (1972)
I’ve been shot at, peed on and robbed and worse is going to happen before it’s done

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Alright, two AMADs in one day! Whoda thunk it? If you’ve been following closely you’ll have noticed I missed a day compiling the Holiday Shopping Guide. This is my catch-up. Make sure you check out the last AMAD column, covering the awesome Elia Kazan flick PANIC IN THE STREETS! This installment will focus on the ‘70s reteaming of Robert Redford and screenwriter William Goldman… in fact, this is the first credited screenplay from Goldman after their incredibly iconic and entertaining BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Peter Yates directed this adaptation of a Donald E. Westlake story about a diamond that refuses to get robbed, despite the best efforts of a world class, if unlucky, master thief. And it doesn’t really work... It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong. There’s too much going for it to completely write it off. Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn and Zero Mostel (who we’re following over from PANIC IN THE STREETS) are all great in their roles, balancing the humor just right as to not tip the balance into ridiculous territory.

The script is also very strong and I think under different circumstances this would be a movie very well remembered to this day. It just seems to be one of those movies that has everything going for it and then something just doesn’t click right. In short, it’s missing that natural energy and confidence that you can plan for, but can’t always count on. I have to lay some of the blame at the feet of Peter Yates, who I actually like as a director, but even I have to admit that he’s hit and miss. For every BULLITT there’s a fascinating misfire like THE DEEP. Two of his films that I will unabashedly love are MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED and KRULL, but even with KRULL it’s a movie that is missed masterpiece of fantasy. He cast a very dull lead and introduced a badass weapon that ultimately does dick-all but get stuck in a giant monster at the end. This film reminded me of THE DEEP, which was a damn fun book by Peter Bencheley and had some great performances from Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset (and her see-through t-shirt skin-diving opening which is sure to have awakened puberty in many a young boy) and Nick Nolte. It had all that going for it, but it just didn’t click, ending up as a competent film, but not a particularly memorable one. Same goes here.

The flick is a little over 90 minutes long and there are 4 heists, all after the same diamond. Redford and his crew are hired by an African representative at the United Nations to steal a diamond from a museum. Apparently, the UN are debating on whether or not to give his nation back its famous and valuable diamond and he doesn’t trust them to make the right decision, so he goes ahead and looks for people to grab it. Moses Gunn plays Dr. Amusa, the African UN dude and hearing him speak in this movie sends me back to my childhood… I love, love, love THE NEVERENDING STORY and I’ll never forget his weird pointy-head spokesperson for the childlike empress who sends Atreyu on the mission to save Fantasia. I know he’s done bigger and more respectable, like his small part in ROOTS or his stage work, but that’s what nostalgia does for ya’, I guess. Robert Redford is the brains of the outfit, a crook who is great at his job, but seems to always get picked up. It’s almost a pattern with him. In fact, we meet him in jail, as he’s being released. He’s picked up by his well-meaning, but kind of bumbling brother-in-law, a locksmith played by George Segal.

Segal wants into the life of excitement he can only experience second-hand via Redford and has already set up this job. They pull in Ron Leibman, the charismatic New Yorker and getaway driver and Paul Sand, an extra set of hands to pull of the heist. The museum heist is actually really great and executed well. They cause a car accident outside to distract the guards, with Leibman planting himself, fully covered in gore make-up, a few feet from the overturned car. It’s pretty genius, actually, a perfect way to clear the museum and keep the guards occupied, thinking a man is dying outside. Of course, things go wrong at the last minute and one of the group is nabbed… unfortunately for them it’s the one with the diamond, Paul Sand. Sand swallows it and is picked up. The next act is about stealing Sand himself out of prison. It doesn’t end there, with two more heists planned to get the diamond. It spirals out of control so much that Redford becomes obsessed with it. He takes it personally. It’s not about the job anymore. He almost views the diamond as his adversary and the only way he can let it go is to finally get his hand on it.

See, it’s not a bad set-up for a crime comedy and it’s a great cast. Zero Mostel plays Sand’s father and he’s particularly great. I just find Mostel fun to watch. The man uses his face like no one else, his expressions priceless. Final Thoughts: Everyone is great in the movie (keep an eye out for an early, early appearance by Christopher Guest as a cop in the epic break-in to a police precinct), but it just doesn’t work. Shots don’t really flow together, the editing feeling awkward and uneven. I refuse to believe that’s the only problem, though. I think sometimes you can have all the right ingredients, follow the recipe to perfection and the meal just doesn’t come out right. That’s what happened to this movie. It’s okay and worth a watch for what works, just not horribly successful.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Monday, December 1st: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)

Tuesday, December 2nd: THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973)

Wednesday, December 3rd: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)

Thursday, December 4th: THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)

Friday, December 5th: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961)

Saturday, December 6th: MIKEY & NICKY (1976)

Sunday, December 7th: TWO MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Tomorrow we follow George Segal over to WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? See you then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 1, 2008, 7:20 a.m. CST

    I liked this film ...

    by Shan

    ... but I wasn't convinced by the ending. The hypnotism thing just didn't work for me.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 7:50 a.m. CST

    In my opinion, nothing really good for the next movies

    by ricarleite

    So I'll stay away from this articles for at least a week, I guess.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 7:55 a.m. CST

    you are human after all...

    by aint_it_cruel?

    I had my doubts. And I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see how you handle AMAD during BNAT. You've proved the doubters wrong tenfold by now. I'd go ahead and take the rest of the year off if I were you. (after Cincinnati Kid)

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 7:56 a.m. CST

    Great flick!

    by NeilF

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 8:13 a.m. CST

    Cincinnati Kid is Great

    by Aquatarkusman

    Cab Calloway! Ann-Margret! Edward G.! As for this movie, I don't think we have the ability to really do heist movies as well as the French (Rififi, Le Cercle Rouge), but then again those movies are pretty humorless. Props to Ron Leibman who doesn't get that much to do in The Hot Rock, but was an absolutely great Paul Lazzaro in Slaughterhouse-Five.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 8:13 a.m. CST

    I hope you move onto a Cassavetes-DIRECTED movie next

    by seppukudkurosawa

    His real forte was behind the camera.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Afghanistan banana-stand

    by ManEatingFish

    How can you not like a film that can make that phrase integral to the plot

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 10:58 a.m. CST

    Am I right, Chicken?

    by BGDAWES

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 10:59 a.m. CST

    Couldn't you have just kept swallowing it?

    by BGDAWES

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 11:04 a.m. CST

    Sorry Quint - gotta disagree.

    by BGDAWES

    The Hot Rock is an overlooked gem, however most people agree with your opinion; that the film didn't really work. <br> <br> I couldn't like this movie more though and think it's outstanding. It's one of those movies that you kind of have to let grow on you. Watch it one morning after a long night of drinking or play it in the background if you're up working late; the film gets better each time you watch it.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 11:26 a.m. CST

    another bad dortmunder movie!

    by taff

    Given all the great material to be found in the Dortmunder series of books by Westlake it is amazing to me that there has yet to be a good movie made from the sources. Redford is a great actor and I like nearly all his movies but he is not, nor could he every be John Dortmunder. The perfect actor to portray Dortmunder is John Hedeya. Read the books, you'll agree!

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 11:38 a.m. CST

    A very interesting line up coming up

    by Continentalop

    While I think the majority of the movies coming up will be considered disappointing (Day of the Dolphin; Mickey and Nicky) at least they are "interesting" disappointments, and they were trying something. I always appreciate when someone fails by reaching to far then someone who fails because he doesn't even try. <p> Two of the films coming up are true classics: Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf and Carnal Knowledge. Love the part in Virginia Wolf when Taylor channels Bette Davis, “What a dump.” <p> I noticed that almost all of the films coming up come from my favorite period of filmmaking, the New Hollywood movement (1967-1980). Hopefully this stretch will continue and you’ll have some of the other underrated gems from that period: Hicky and Boggs, the Long Goodbye, Elektra Glide in Blue, Friends of Eddie Coyle, Panic in Needle Park, etc.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 12:07 p.m. CST


    by Major Hockshtetter

    Easily our greatest crime writer next to Elmore Leonard. Like Leonard, his work seldom translates well to film. I believe they did the next book as a film too, Bank Shot, with equally mixed results. There's probably a great Dortmunder film to be made one day but it hasn't happened yet. This book was particularly unfilmable, I felt, because of its episodic nature. A Dortmunder TV series would probably be much more effective.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 12:15 p.m. CST

    Best Westlake adaptation...

    by Continentalop easily Point Blank. Not saying it is faithful to the book, but it is a great movie in its own right.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 12:38 p.m. CST

    Man, they gotta release THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE

    by Vern

    Same director, never on video, based on the book that Elmore Leonard considers the greatest crime novel of all time. Of course, that means it's not exactly a tight story, huge chunks of the book are literally nothing but conversation, and the movie is fairly faithful. Robert Mitchum plays this small timer and you keep expecting him to turn into a badass, but he's just a small timer. I really like it and think it was probaly an influence on RESERVOIR DOGS.<p> I like THE HOT ROCK though. Not an all time great crime movie, but a fun comedy sort of in the vein of the OCEAN'S movies. I like to imagine that Christopher Guest's cop character is the same guy from the end of DEATH WISH.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 12:47 p.m. CST

    Vern if you like the Friends of Eddie Coyle

    by Continentalop

    You would love Straight Time, the most realistic crime movie about West Coast crime ever (I should know, I went to jail for being about as dumb as Hoffman in that movie). Have you seen that film?

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 12:57 p.m. CST

    Also a big fan of The Hot Rock...

    by Billyeveryteen

    Quint's just lazy, but so what? He's digesting A LOT of movies.<p>Keep 'em coming.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 1:04 p.m. CST


    by Major Hockshtetter

    Good point on Point Blank, forgot about that one... of course, it was written by "Richard Stark" but, y'know, why quibble... Of course, now you are my new hero because you share the name of the greatest character in crime fiction history, are well versed in Westlake, and have done time like Eddie Bunker. As a fledgeling crime novelist, you are living the life I fantasize about daily!!!!

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 1:31 p.m. CST


    by SamBluestone

    The mention of Moses Gunn reminded me of one film I would like to request/suggestion, if you're taking requests or suggestions: William Peter Blatty's official "sequel" to THE EXORCIST and his directorial debut, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. That film has sorta become my personal little cult movie, the one I subject others to at one time or another. It's weird in a way that no other film before or since has ever been weird, and filled with a who's-who of character actors (Stacy Keach, Jason Miller, Moses Gunn, Scott Wilson, Robert Loggia, Ed Flanders, and more). Definitely the sort of film that I think would fit in very well in this excellent series.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 1:37 p.m. CST

    If that is your life's fantasy...

    by Continentalop

    You better get some better fantasies. I am probably the most pathetic criminal in LA County history. Talk about scared straight! <p> And Ninth Configuration! Good call Sam Bluestone.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 1:44 p.m. CST

    Better than both The Rock and The Hot Chick

    by Jedibobster

    Geez, the more I read these the more I think - crikey, what films HAD you seen Quint? Why were we ever reading the opinions of a man who had apparently seen Jaws a few times and very little else? I recall enjoying The Hot Rock quite a bit when I caught it one afternoon on TV many moons back. It's one of those that surely they are going to remake pretty soon.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 2:09 p.m. CST

    Yeah, Ninth Configuration is on DVD

    by Continentalop

    But I don't know how good of quality version it is. <p> Man, this AMAD is really bringing up some good memories of great, forgotten action & tough guy flicks of the 70s. I mean, I am thinking about Joe, Hardcore and even Cockfighter.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 2:24 p.m. CST

    Emperor of the North Pole

    by Continentalop

    Another good tough guy movie.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 2:33 p.m. CST

    Joe Don Baker

    by Continentalop

    Was great in Charly Varrick. I don't think I have seen Framed. Going to have to check it out, especially seeing how it was directed by Phil Karlson.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 3:22 p.m. CST

    9th Config

    by Darthkrusty

    Yes, it's on dvd (and they chose a very cool shot for the cover). But it's a different cut of the film than the one I have on vhs. I beleive I read, or there's commentaty on the dvd where Blatty explains the many cuts the film had over the years and, in his opinion, the dvd is his favorite version of the film. I actually prefer my old vhs cut. I can't think of any scenes that were added or removed, just scenes cut in a different order. And it just flowed in a different way. I also remember seeing it on cable many moons ago with the title: "Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane."

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 3:28 p.m. CST

    Actually, the best Westlake adaptation

    by danofan59

    A Slight Case of Murder, starring William H. Macy. Captured the Westlake feel beautifully. The Hot Rock was the book that introduced me to Westlake, and it's a shame that the movie made so many compromises, including eliminating the funniest scene in the book (the breakout of the attorney from the asylum). Also agree that the casting was wrong and skewed too young for the principals.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 3:59 p.m. CST

    Sorry, Quint

    by captaincosmos

    But I too have to disagree with you about The Hot Rock. It has such a sense of effortless fun, and anarchic humor that seems to only be found in certain movies of this era. And while maybe the sum of its parts don't add up to as much of a whole as you'd expect -- there are so many great parts that who care? I mean, come on... the scene in the upper-floor of the warehouse with the elevator shaft?! Awesome moment. But to each his own. I'm just saying you should give it another shot sometime without any expectations. You might warm to it a bit more.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 4:18 p.m. CST

    CaptainCosmos - exactly!

    by BGDAWES

    Another great scene was at the lake when they were testing the explosives. <br> <br> "...I liked school."

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 4:26 p.m. CST

    Awesome Shot

    by TinkerTIW

    The movie is worth seeing just for the awesome fly-by shot of the Twin Towers which were under construction at the time.

  • Dec. 1, 2008, 8:40 p.m. CST

    Man, they gotta release: part 2

    by Raymond Shaw

    They gotta release "Robbery". I've never seen it so I don't know how good it is, but with Peter Yates and Stanley Baker it must be better than a lot of the stuff released on DVD.

  • Dec. 2, 2008, 10:28 a.m. CST

    watched it this morning on AMC at 5 a.m.

    by jrags1138

    worthy, keep digging for others I worked in a video store throughout the nineties and remember taking this home but never watched it or could not get into it for some reason, maybe it was a bad copy. was that Christopher Guest as a cop with a line or two telling the captain they were under attack?