My recent post The heist always goes wrong – ten of the best heist movies ever made, generated some great reader feedback. The best thing about the response was that it pointed me in the direction of a number heist films I hadn’t seen or that I need to revisit.
Based on your comments and the thoughts I’ve had on the subject since the original post, here are follow up list of other films that could be included in a best of heist films list (and my shameless editorialising regarding what I think about the merits of not of them).
Straight Time (1978)
A huge thanks to West Australian crime writer David Whish Wilson for alerting me to Straight Time, which I’d seen previously but forgotten. Dustin Hoffman plays a career criminal just out of prison, trying to stay on the right side of his ball breaking parole officer, masterfully played by one of my screen heroes, M. Emmet Walsh, and avoid the temptation of re-offending.
Straight Time is based on the book No Best So Fierce, by real life con Edward Bunker (who has a small role in the film). Everything about this film works, the script, the down at heel late seventies feel, the cast, which includes Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Kathy Bates and Harry Dean Stanton. It’s also got a jewellery store heist towards the end that is so tense it’s almost unbearable.
Several readers mentioned the 1972 version of The Getaway as worthy of inclusion in a list of best heist films and they were spot on. Written by Walter Hill, directed by Sam Peckinpah, based on the book by Jim Thompson, and starring Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens, I ask you, what is not to like about this film?
A number of readers nominated Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film, The Killing. While it certainly has a great cast, including Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr, Coleen Grey, Timothy Carey and Vince Edwards, there’s something about it I’ve never liked. It feels too studied, too much like Kubrick ‘doing’ a classic noir. That’s a criticism I’d also level at another film suggested by several readers, David Mamet’s 2001 effort, Heist.
Several of you mentioned this film. It stars Sean Connery as Duke Anderson, a criminal fresh out of jail who decided to rob an entire building, unaware his every move is being recorded and filmed. I won’t pass judgement either way on this one, as it has been too long since I’ve seen it. Definitely warrants a re-watch.
Crime film and book blogger Cary Wilson suggested They Came to Rob Las Vegas, which I’d not previously heard of. A group of criminals plot to hijack an armoured car carrying seven million dollars as it travels from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Shot in the US but financed by European money it stars Gary Lockwood, Elke Sommer, Lee J Cobb and Jack Palance. You can check out Cary’s review of They Came to Rob Las Vegas here. My copy is on order.
No argument from me about the merits The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s got McQeen, Faye Dunaway, a jazz score and some wonderful split screen photography. A rare example of a heist film where the criminal does get away with it, that does not suck.
The chorus of support for Jules’ Dassin’s Rififi was loud and strong and right. I’d put down the 1972 movie Un Flic as my favourite French heist film, but thinking about, Rififi is much a better pick, in, if only on the grounds of the 32-minute long silent heist scene.
My friend and film expert Dean Brandum threw this one into the mix and it’s a good one. A gang of US soldiers sneak behind enemy lines to steal a stash of Nazi gold. I have fond memories of first watching this film with my parents and have enjoyed viewing it many times since. A hard boiled heist film meets an almost counter cultural take on the horror of war with a lot of laugh out loud moments. It stars Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland and, of course, Gavin MacLeod as Moriarty.
This one nearly got included in my original list. Milano Calibre 9 was the first in a trilogy of films by Italian director Fernando Di Leo. It focuses on a low-level mafia foot soldier, Ugo Piazzo. Released after three years in jail, Ugo is braced by Rocco (Mario Adorf), a clownish but lethal mob associate working for a Milanese crime boss known as The Americano. Still smarting from losing $300,000 several years earlier (a breath taking series of scenes in the film’s first few minutes), The Americano thinks Ugo took the money and stashed it away while he was in jail. So does everyone else, including the cops, his friends and his ambitious stripper girlfriend (Euro-crime regular, Barbara Bouchet).Ugo denies the allegation. All he wants to do is blow town for Beirut with his girlfriend and never see Milan again. Instead he’s forced to re-join the mafia, setting in train an elaborate game of ‘did-he-do-it-didn’t-he-do-it’.
Another Euro-heist film mentioned as being worth looking at is Caper of the Golden Bulls released in 1967. The story centres on a former robber living in Spain who comes out of retirement to rob the country’s national bank, although to my knowledge it’s not available anywhere on DVD.
Trust New York film noir expert Jake Hinkson to suggest a film that, as far as I know is not available anywhere. Five men steal five tonnes of gold and then try and transport it across the country in three trucks. Of course, things end badly. I’d love to see this film. Jake, if I ever make it to New York you have to screen me your copy.
Another one I almost included in my original top 10. Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifa star in this tale of four working class black women who are sick of being fucked over by their bosses and society in general decide to turn their hand at robbing banks. To their surprise, they are quite good at it, leading to the growing attention on them by the police and increasing tensions within the previously solid group. It’s been a while I’ve seen this film but I remember liking it as a different take on the heist film.
Another one I thought about including in the original list. Director Paul Schrader takes no prisoners in this incredibly hard-boiled story of three Detroit steel workers (Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Pryor) who decide to deal with the economic pressures facing them by robbing the safe in their union local. Unbeknownst to them, the union is bed with the local syndicate who don’t take kindly to their funds being appropriated. One of my favourite films and definitely my favourite of Schrader’s work
Based on the book of the same name by Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake, it features Robert Duvall as Macklin, a cold-blooded career criminal out to avenge the murder of his bank robber brother by the syndicate, after the brother knocks over a bank under their control. The cast also includes Joe Don Baker, Karen Black and Robert Ryan and it was directed by John Flynn who also did the must underrated (in my book anyway) 1987 film Best Seller with James Woods.