Movie review: ‘The Hot Rock’

thrAs a criminal in film, Robert Redford usually brings a big scope to his crime. He was one of the con men in the Oscar-heavy “The Sting” (it won seven) and played the “Kid” to near-perfection in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” However, his crime character doesn’t always play on a big stage. Just take “The Hot Rock” in which he’s pretty much a blue collar thief. No matter, Redford is good in just about anything and “The Hot Rock” is no exception – plus he has a solid supporting cast including the versatile and talented George Segal.

‘The Hot Rock’
(1972; 101 minutes; rated GP; directed by Peter Yates and starring Robert Redford, George Segal and Ron Leibman)

NOT JUST A HABITUAL CRIMINAL

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion and trivia and updated links on Jan. 24, 2017.)

I’m sure underrated crime novelist Donald E. Westlake didn’t have Robert Redford in mind when he wrote “The Hot Rock’s” main character “John Dortmunder.” “Dortmunder” is described by Westlake as a hangdog, nearing middle age burglar who looks like one. Redford, however, gives a different vision of “Dortmunder” in the film version and I’m sure the late Westlake was pleased.

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The Hot Rock” has several of the same wonderful twists just like in the novel. The main point being, while “Dortmunder” is a habitual criminal, in “The Hot Rock” he becomes part of the habitual crime (it’s a refrain the person contracting with the thieves here dryly observes).

In “The Hot Rock,” Redford and his team of thieves is hired to steal “The Sahara Stone” (apparently a diamond) from a museum. Although it is the property of one country, the stone is also claimed by another. So, along comes the contract for a theft.

Redford and his hard-luck team then hit a streak of misfortune as they try to steal it from a museum, a police station and finally a bank. Oh, and they have to break into a prison to free a member of the gang after he’s arrested during the museum mission. As expected, the group’s banker, just like the group, gets more frustrated with each frustrating step.

The tension of the ending is nicely executed (although somewhat different from the novel – read more intricate and therefore more difficult to film).

Here’s a look at the main players:

  • Oscar winner and three-time nominee (not for this one) Redford is good here – actually, he’s nearly always terrific – but it is an effort not equal to his work in “All the President’s Men” (click here for my review), “The Sting” and “The Electric Horseman” (click here for my review). He glides through the role with aplomb and brings the necessary intelligence to the character, whose main trait is that he plans all the jobs. My personal favorites of his are “Three Days of the Condor” (click here for my review) and “Sneakers” (click here for my review). Redford won his Oscar behind the camera as director of the dreary and overrated “Ordinary People.”
  • Next in line is the terrific and prolific George Segal (he has 122 acting credits to Redford’s 69), who plays “Andy Kelp.” He likes to steal doctors’ cars since their medical license plates allow them to park anywhere, and is the public relations arm of the partnership. Segal does his usual solid turn as the affable, most-liked guy in the room. However, he’s always ready to answer whatever call Redford offers. An Oscar nominee (not for this one) Segal has also been in the original “Fun with Dick and Jane” (click here for my review), “Blume in Love” and one of my personal favorites is “Rollercoaster” (click here for my review). He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • Primetime Emmy nominee Moses Gunn plays the diplomat who contracts for the theft of the emerald. Gunn is also smooth as the urbane, educated “Dr. Amusa” and who will ultimately try to double-cross Redford and the guys. Gunn has also been in “Heartbreak Ridge” in conflict with Clint Eastwood as well as “Shaft” and “Ragtime.” He was nominated for his work in the iconic TV series “Roots.”

The rest of Redford’s team provides solid acting support:

  • Golden Globe nominee and Primetime Emmy winner (not for this one) Ron Leibman plays “Stan Murch” and is the group’s driver. Leibman is at his big-city, blustering best and likes to tell the route he drove to anywhere. Leibman has also been in “Norma Rae,” the very creepy “Auto Focus” and is the voice of “Ron Cadillac” on the animated adult TV series “Archer.”
  • Paul Sand plays “Alan Greenberg,” the utility infielder of the group (he’ll do just about any part of the job). Sand’s acting is competent but doesn’t stand out in a cast that isn’t all that packed and had an opportunity to shine, but he didn’t manage to pull it off. He has also been in “The Main Event” and a string of TV roles including “Laverne & Shirley” and “thirtysomething.”

Noted stage actor Zero (“Fiddler on the Roof”) Mostel plays “Abe Greenberg,” who is Sand’s father here. Mostel does the best single job of acting after Redford and Segal with his egotistical, high-handed manners (he’s Sand’s attorney, too). Mostel becomes part of the double-cross and loses. He was also in “The Producers” and a voice in “Watership Down” (which was released the year after his death in 1977 at the age of 62).

Director Peter Yates and his team did a good job in bringing this one to the big screen and it’s as smooth a transition from novel to film as you can find while keeping true to the author’s intent. Yates was also the director of such outstanding films as “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “Breaking Away” (click here for my review) and “Year of the Comet.”

The Hot Rock” has turned up several times on cable movie channels recently (you might check out Redford’s Sundance channel, for example) and you would be doing yourself a favor to tune in.

As to the “GP” rating for “The Hot Rock:” Until 1972 the rating system had the “M” rating (meaning for “mature” audiences). Because of confusion in what “M” meant, it was renamed to “GP” for general audience with parental guidance. The rating was revised in 1972 to “PG” (but after “The Hot Rock” was released), according to sources via the internet.

I couldn’t find the box office numbers for “The Hot Rock” but it was not in the Top 10 for 1972. However, it did have a budget of $4.9 million, according to Wiki (which oddly also reports it made $3.5 million in rental fees). The top two films of the year were “The Godfather” (no surprise) with $133.6 million and “The Poseidon Adventure” with $93.3 million. The other films I’ve reviewed from 1972 include:

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Charlotte Rae, who is best known as “Edna Garrett” on TV’s “The Facts of Life,” is enjoyable in her brief role as the irascible “Ma Murch.” Rae was also in “Hair” and TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes.”
  • Christopher Guest, who is best known for “This is Spinal Tap” and as the husband of Jamie Lee Curtis for the past 30 years, has a small role here as a policeman.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “During the helicopter scene, both towers of the World Trade Center are shown under construction.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2017.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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