Category Archives: Heist films

The Big Nowhere #3: Plunder Road

Plunder Road lobby

The Big Nowhere is a series of columns I’ve been doing for the 4:3 site, in which I look at the best film noir you’ve never heard of. This week, it’s Hubert Cornfield’s obscure 1957 heist noir, PLUNDER ROAD. Clocking in at just 72 minutes, this cheaply made little heist story achieves an atmosphere of suspense and level of thrills not seen in many films twice its length.

You can read the piece in full here on the 4:3 site.

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Richard Burton and the face of a Villain

Villain_USHSRichard Burton has been on my mind ever since I watched him a couple of weeks ago in the strange 1971 British film, Villain.

Burton was a regular fixture on the TV screen in our house when I was young. Like a lot of women of her generation, my mother loved him ever since he played Mark Anthony opposite Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 classic, Cleopatra (the film on which the two met for the first time).

Dad liked his war films, of which there were a few, including Where Eagles Dare (1968), Raid on Rommel (1971), The Wild Geese (1978) and The Longest Day (1962). Burton only had a very brief role in the later, as an RAF pilot shot down over Normandy. A US marine cut off from his outfit stumbles across him lying in the bushes next to a dead German soldier, and Burton gets to utter the immortal line: “He’s dead. I’m crippled. You’re lost. Do you suppose it’s always like that? I mean war.”

Only recently have I come to discover and appreciate some Burton’s other films. His turn as Alec Leamas in the incredibly bleak and noirish 1965 spy thriller, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold still stands as the best and most realistic screen depiction of the Cold War.… Read more

The Don Siegel Rule


I had to give it a name, so I called it the Don Siegel Rule.

I was watching Charley Varrick recently, the 1973 heist film directed by Siegel, starring Walter Matthau as an ex-crop duster and stunt pilot turned bank who, along with his long suffering girlfriend, Nadine, and unreliable partner, robs a small bank in New Mexico. Unbeknownst to Varrick, the bank in question is actually a front for the mob. In response, the mob sends a hit man (played by Joe Don Baker) after him.

It’s a terrific little heist film. Tough in all the right places, just enough action and suspense to keep you interested, without the kind of over the top action gimmicks similar films exhibit these days. Matthau is terrific as the hangdog loner, Varrick.

Anyway, it got me thinking. There may be bad Siegel films out there, but I haven’t seen them.

Siegel was the king of the intelligent B movie (a title he shares with directors such as Walter Hill). His films have enormous energy and pace, but they also have an economy. Watching Siegel’s films, time and again he’s been able to get above obvious budget and script limitations to tell a gripping story.

The journeyman director cut his teeth making Westerns and noirs in the late forties and early fifties, and then pretty much excelled at whatever genre he tried.… Read more

The Silent Partner


Earlier this year I did a series of posts on my love of heist films, what my favourite ones are, and how they differ from caper films.

The number one rule of a solid heist film is the heist always, always goes wrong, whereas caper films put more emphasis on comedy and the criminals often get away with it.

What to make, then, of the 1978 Canadian film, The Silent Partner?

I’d heard about this film around the traps, never prioritised viewing it because of the star, Elliot Gould, an actor I’ve never much cared for, and what I perceived to be its caper feel.

Wow, was I wrong.

Gould plays Miles Cullen, a teller in a small bank in a large Toronto shopping mall. He’s a boring nobody who secretly lusts after another teller, Julie (played by Susannah York), and whose only passion is collecting tropical fish.

That all changes the day he learns the bank is about to be robbed after finding a discarded note on one the bank’s counters. He quickly deduces that the culprit is a guy in a Santa suit whose working the crowd outside the bank and whose ‘give to charity sign’ is done in the same hand writing as the discarded note.

But instead of telling his boss or going to the cops Miles devises a plan to keep most of the cash from his transactions, thus ensuring that when Santa robs the bank he’ll get far less money.… Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies

ST 2My 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.… Read more