Where Have All The Heist Films Gone?



There’s nothing like a good robbery, so long as you’re only watching it. From the silent era onwards we’ve loved watching the fallout from a caper. A proper heist movie has to pull off a complex trick. It needs to make you care about the game-players, keep the stakes high and provide a satisfying outcome, but it should also have a level of ingenuity in the actual robbery.

Among the best capers I’d include ‘Rififi’, ‘The Killing’, ‘The Italian Job’ (original version), ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ (both versions), ‘$’, ‘How To Make A Million’, ‘Who’s Minding The Mint?’, ‘Robbery’, ‘Inside Man’, ‘Ocean’s 11’, ‘Sexy Beast’, ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Quick Change, ‘A Simple Plan’, ‘The Hot Rock’, ‘Heist’, ‘Layer Cake’, ‘The Pink Panther’, ‘Diamonds’, ‘The Town’ and that Mission Impossible film which nicked its central idea from ‘Diamonds’.

‘The Bank Job’ was a surprisingly decent heist movie involving quite a few true facts, just not in the way they really happened. Jason Statham heads a crew to break into a bank vault, not knowing that he’ll net the contents of a safety deposit box containing compromising photographs of a member of the royal family, thus getting everyone on his case.

And here’s one you won’t have seen; ‘The Greatest Robbery Never Told’ concerns a band of losers who plot to steal Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. The joke here is that the painting is the size of a football pitch and can’t be removed from its frame. So they need a crane, an acrobat, a cyber-geek and one pole-dancer, plus a crazy artist who’ll create an exact duplicate of the original to stand in its place. The look on their faces when they see his replacement painting is priceless (he’s done it in colour because it ‘needed something’), and the climax involves blowing up a jetliner.

The best crime story I’ve read is ‘Out’ by Natsuo Kirino, and although it’s not strictly a heist but about the cover-up of a murder, it has the same guiding principles.

6 comments on “Where Have All The Heist Films Gone?”

  1. Ian Smith says:

    Well, I’ve never forgiven you for your callous dismissal (in ‘Film Freak’) of the most charming and low-key heist movie of all time, Bill Forsyth’s ‘That Sinking Feeling’. Why, Mark Kermode was championing it on the telly just a few months ago!

    However, the heist film that I’m obsessed with is the mid-1960s Edgar Wallace adaptation ‘The Trygon Factor’. It’s not a particularly good movie, but it is very strange. It has a gang operating from a stately home, with a convent attached — so the villains are either criminal aristos or criminal nuns — and staging an elaborate bank robbery that requires a giant sci-fi ray-gun to blow open the vault. The film also has a wonderful cast, including Stewart Granger, Susannah York, Robert Morley and James Robertson Justice and, given its camp premise, it’s surprisingly vicious and callous. One character is drowned in a baptismal font, another is stuck in a coffin and dropped into an underground river and a third has a crucible of molten gold poured over her head.

    The scene that really freaked me out when I saw it as a kid, though, was one where a group of bank robbers get gassed to death in the back of a van. This resembled something that could have happened at a Nazi concentration camp. ‘The Trygon Factor’ was a German co-production — Germans being big fans of Edgar Wallace — but the German backers seemed not to be troubled by this…

  2. snowy says:

    The most recent foray into the genre [from memory] was ‘The Art of the Steal’, to mixed reviews. Not seen it yet, but most reviewers seemed to think it derivative.

    The Bank Job is a decent film and gives Jason Statham a chance to show he has a range greater than he is generally creditted with. Coincidentally R4 have a short doc. on the real raid this morning.

    ‘Inside Man’ is fun, it breaks the plan-prepare-execute-reversal-escape format in an interesting way. And makes the viewer constantly question who they want to succeed. Unfortunately having used a ‘Hitchcock zoom’ in the opening [where it lampshades something not revealed till the last act, and makes sense], the Director/DoP seems to fall catastrophically in love with the technique and repeats it for each character which produces some very odd shots. [Denzil Washington appears to move as if he had magically had wheels fitted to his shoes in one scene].

  3. John says:

    <Deadfall, though it has many flaws in story telling, has a great heist sequence intercut with symphony hall scenes in which composer John Barry makes a cameo as the orchestra conductor. I like heist movies that fall more into the caper subgenre like Topkapi, 11 Harrowhouse, The Anderson Tapes, Seven Thieves, and Big Deal on Madonna Street. There was one recently about a group of stage magicians who rob a Las Vegas bank called Now You See Me. I haven’t seen that one yet.

  4. admin says:

    I think I want to se ‘The Trygon Factor’ badly, especially as no two reviews can agree on its storyline! It is, of course, ‘lost’. Grrr.

  5. snowy says:

    Not quite lost, look for it as ‘Das Geheimnis der weißen Nonne See’. on any german DVD retailer.

    The German Edgar Wallace films, [for this is one], have a slightly convoluted history. But the upshot is what survived [mostly] were the versions dubbed in German.

    [There is a very slim chance that video cassettes of the english version may still exist as it was reclassified by the BBFC in 1986.]

  6. Steve2 says:

    Slightly left of field is “2 Guns” with Denzil (again) and Mark Wahlberg. Less about the heist and moreabout the aftermath. Just remember “never rob the bank across the road from the diner that has the best doughnuts in the world”. My all time favourite heist movie is the First Great Train Robbery. Donald Sutherland is brilliant.

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