From The Criminal Element
The Five Best Heist Films You’ve Never Seen
You may know the classics of the heist genre—John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, Stanley Kubrick’sThe Killing, Jules Dassin’s Rififi, etc.(for an overview of the essentials, check out Jake Hinkson’s entries in “The Art of the Steal”). But there are plenty of other excellent heist films you may have missed. Take a look at five under-appreciated heist films that are nonetheless gems of the form, all available on DVD:
1.) Armored Car Robbery(1950): A taut, violent action-melodrama that clocks in at a cracking 67 minutes. Richard Fleischer’s low-budget noir classic may have an unimaginative title, but it delivers on all fronts. A great lineup of character actors (including William Talman, Gene Evans, and Steve Brodie) play the heisters. On their trail is standby Charles McGraw as Lt. Jim Cordell, a cop so tough that his idea of comforting the wife of a newly slain partner is to utter this immortal line.
With a suspenseful airport-set finale (predating The Killing by five years), wry humor, and great L.A. locations circa 1949 (including the original Wrigley Field and environs), Armored Car Robbery is one of the best Bs ever. Fleischer directed a handful of noirs (including The Narrow Marginand the similarly themed Violent Saturday), but this is his masterpiece.
2.) Payroll (1961) aka I Promised To Pay: Another armored car robbery, this one of a factory payroll in Britain’s gritty, industrial Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. After the heist goes sour and the driver is killed, his widow (Billie Whitelaw) plots revenge, eventually turning the gang members against each other. Veteran director Sidney Hayers helms a formidable cast of British stage actors, including Whitelaw (Hell is a City), and the great Tom Bell (Prime Suspect). Hayers directed the equally effective 1962 horror film Night of the Eagle (aka Burn Witch Burn), as well as several Avengersepisodes, before crossing the Atlantic for a long career in American TV. The 1960s were the Golden Decade of British heist movies, which also includedThe League of Gentlemen, A Prize of Arms, Robbery, and, of course, The Italian Job. One caveat for those on this side of the pond: the Region 2 Optimum DVD has no subtitles, and those faux-Geordie accents and rapid-fire slang can be hard to decipher.
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