Best of the Heist: Capers on Film
Annotation:1950. Directed by John Huston. Based on the eponymous novel by W. R. Burnett and starring an ensemble cast including Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, and Marilyn Monroe, an relative unknown at the time. The film tells the story of a group of men planning and executing a jewel robbery. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.
Annotation:1954. Touchez pas au grisbi (French for "Don't touch the loot"). Directed by Jacques Becker. Starring Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, Lino Ventura, Dora Doll, Delia Scala, René Dary, and Miss America 1946, Marilyn Buferd. An aging gangster is unwillingly brought out of retirement after one of his associates unwittingly betrays him to a rival.
Annotation:1955. Rififi (French: Du rififi chez les hommes). Directed by Jules Dassin. Starring Jean Servais as aging gangster Tony le Stéphanois, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel as Mario Farrati, and Jules Dassin as César le Milanais. The plot revolves around a burglary at a jewelry shop in the Rue de Rivoli. Tony, Jo, Mario, and César band together to commit the almost impossible theft. The centerpiece of the film is an intricate heist scene depicting the crime in detail, shot in near silence, without dialogue or music.
Annotation:1962. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Based on a novel by Pierre Lesou. Exhibits several of Melville’s trademark techniques which would be on full display in Melville's later masterpieces, Le Samourai (1967) and Le Cercle Rouge (1970). Through shadowy back streets on the edge of Paris, an ingenious cat and mouse game is played as two underworld characters, seemingly working against each other, find themselves in a deadly entanglement of their own making but infinitely larger than both of them. Faugel, a thief recently released from prison, and Silien, Faugel's best friend and all-around suspicious character, are up against shady nightclub owner Nuttheccio, and the police's Capt. Clain, ruthless as any criminal.
Annotation:1963 American. Directed by Blake Edwards. Starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner,Capucine, and Claudia Cardinale. The film introduced the cartoon character of the same name, in an animated opening credits sequence. Synopsis: As a young girl, Princess Dala is given the largest diamond in the world by her father. If you stare into it, you can see a 'Pink Panther.' Now she is a young woman. Rebels in her home country have seized power and are demanding the return of the jewel. Dala relaxes at an exclusive skiing resort. Noted British playboy, Sir Charles Lytton is in town. He is secretly 'The Phantom, ' an infamous jewel thief who has eyes on the Pink Panther. Charles's playboy nephew, George, follows him to the resort in an attempt to steal the diamond and blame it on 'The Phantom, ' not knowing that it's his uncle. Hot on the Phantom's trail is Inspector Jacques Clouseau. His wife is the lover of Charles and helps in the Phantom's crimes. Jacques tries to stop the attempts, but he is completely clueless. When several attempts are made at a dress formal party, Jacques looks everywhere but the right place.
Annotation:1964. Bande à part (French pronunciation: [bɑ̃d a paʁ]). Directed by Jean-Luc Godard.Two bumbling burglars plan a robbery with a young woman they just met. Problems begin immediately when they both fall for the girl and the plan goes haywire. The jewel-heist plot is merely a jumping off point for Godard's fast-paced mix of fantasy and spoof of Hollywood crime films.
Annotation:1964. Directed by Jules Dassin. Based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day (1962). Starring Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley, and Peter Ustinov. A small-time con-man with passport problems gets mixed up with a gang of world-class jewelry thieves plotting to rob the Topkapi museum in Istanbul. Turkish intelligence, suspecting arms smuggling, gets involved, and under pressure the con-man rises to heights he'd never dreamed of.
Annotation:1967. Grand Slam (Ad ogni costo). Directed by Giuliano Montaldo. A jaded teacher (Edward G. Robinson) is ready to leave his career behind and help himself to a piece of the pie from a jewelry broker across the street. In need of help, he meets up with an old buddy (Adolfo Celi) to compile a strategic crew who will perform the heist. During the job, they're surprised to find that the store has installed a new high-tech security system and that an employee (Janet Leigh) has quickly become privy to their plan. Also features the ever-frenetic Klaus Kinski.
Annotation:1969. Directed by Peter Collinson. Fresh from prison, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) begins to work on a heist that will either set him up for life or send him up forever. Charlie and his unruly lot of thieves take on the mob, the police and the gridlocked traffic of Turin to rob a heavily armed shipment of gold bullion.
Annotation:1970. Le Cercle rouge (French pronunciation: [lə sɛʁkl ʁuʒ], The Red Circle). Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. stars Alain Delon, Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté and Yves Montand. A master thief is fresh out of prison, but, instead of toeing the line, he finds his steps leading back to the shadowy world of crime. With an alcoholic ex-cop plan a jewel heist, while being pursued by a police superintendent. Le Cercle rouge is one of most acclaimed films of the genre, and is perhaps best known for its final heist sequence, which is about half an hour in length.
Annotation:1970. Le Voyou, also known as The Crook. Directed by Claude Lelouch. A highly stylized French action movie which follows Simon the Swiss during his largest heist.
Annotation:1972. Un flic (English: A Cop, also known as Dirty Money). Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, and Richard Crenna. Paris police Commissaire Edouard Coleman (Delon) discovers that his nightclub-owner friend, Simon, also leads a group of bank robbers. When he's tipped off that the same robbers are planning a drug heist, Edouard means to defeat his two-faced friend.
Annotation:1973. Directed by Peter Yates. Screenplay adapted from the novel by George V. Higgins. crime film starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. World-weary and living hand to mouth, small-time gunrunner Eddie 'Fingers' Coyle (Mitchum) works on the sidelines of the seedy Boston underworld. When he finds himself facing a second stretch of hard time, he's forced to weigh loyalty to his criminal colleagues against snitching to stay free.
Annotation:1973. Directed by George Roy Hill. This comedy is set in September 1936 and involves a complicated plot by two professional grifters (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) to con a mob boss (Robert Shaw). The Sting was hugely successful at the 46th Academy Awards, being nominated for 10 Oscars and winning seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
Annotation:1974. Directed by Michael Cimino. Starring Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, and Geoffrey Lewis. Seven years after a daring bank robbery, a veteran thief and a leader of a remarkable gang of bank robbers puts aside their mutual suspicions to repeat the crime when they can’t find the loot from the original heist.
Annotation:1981. Directed by Michael Mann. Based on the novel The Home Invaders by "Frank Hohimer" (the pen name of real-life jewel thief John Seybold). Starring James Caan, and featuringTuesday Weld, James Belushi, Robert Prosky and Willie Nelson. A professional thief (Caan) is caught between Chicago organized crime families and corrupt police. After having spent many years in prison, he has a very concrete picture of what he wants out of life--including a nice home, a wife, and kids, intending to retire and become a model citizen. To make that happen, he signs on to take down a huge score for a big-time gangster.
Annotation:1988. Written and co-directed b by John Cleese and Charles Crichton. Starring Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. "Sexy American diamonds lover Wanda and her boyfriend Otto are in England to plot alongside George and Ken the robbery of a diamond collection. Wanda and Otto want the stolen diamonds for themselves, and inform the police about George, not knowing that he has already moved the diamonds to another secret place. Wanda thinks the best way to find out is by getting close to George's lawyer, Archie Leach." Often ranked among the funniest movies of all time.
Annotation:1992. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. This e-heist film (?), starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier and David Strathairn, is a complex but lighthearted thriller about computers and cryptography, government and espionage, secrets, deception, and betrayal.
Annotation:1997. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda and Michael Keaton.Adapted from the novel Rum Punch by American novelist Elmore Leonard and a stylistic tribute to 1970s blaxploitation films, particularly "Foxy Brown". Tarantino's third film, following Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, in which a female flight attendant (Grier) becomes a key figure in a plot between the police and an arms dealer.
Annotation:2000. Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Starring Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, and Ian McShane. A savage gangster named Don Logan (Kingsley) is met with resistance when he tries to recruit a retired pal for "one last job".
Annotation:2001. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. A comedy-crime caper and remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name. Features an ensemble cast--George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts--who play a handpicked squad of grifters and cons vying for a chance at $150 million by executing simultaneous heists at three major Las Vegas casinos.
Annotation:2004. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Based on the eponymous novel by J. J. Connolly. Starring Daniel Craig. A successful cocaine dealer (Craig) gets two tough assignments from his boss on the eve of his planned early retirement. However, big boss Jimmy Price hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy's old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. Complicating matters are two million pounds' worth of ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect and a series of double crossings.
Annotation:2006. Directed by Spike Lee. An NYPD Detective struggles to outsmart a high-stakes bank robber who, along with a well-trained crew of accomplices, has seized control of a Wall Street bank. The robbers turn what initially looks like a hostage crisis into a personal crusade to expose some mysterious evil secret. As the cat-and-mouse game unfolds, Madaline, a power broker with her own agenda emerges and injects even more instability into an already volatile situation.
Annotation:2007. Directed by Michael Radford. An executive at the London Diamond Corporation (Demi Moore) finds herself routinely stifled on the corporate ladder. An equally overlooked nighttime janitor with an intimate knowledge of the security system and a score to settle with the Corporation. Sensing his superior's frustration, the janitor (Michael Caine) convinces the executive to help him pull off an ingenious heist.
Annotation:2009. Directed by Michael Mann.. An adaptation of Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34. Set during the Great Depression, the film chronicles the final years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) as he is pursued by Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), and his relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), as well as Purvis' pursuit of Dillinger associates and fellow criminals Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) andBaby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).
Annotation:2010. Directed by Ben Affleck. Adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel, Prince of Thieves. Four lifelong friends from the dangerous Boston neighborhood of Charlestown—Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), James "Jem" Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert "Gloansy" Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond "Dez" Elden (Owen Burke)—rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. After escaping, they release Claire, who has seen a distinctive tattoo on one of the robbers. Doug follows Claire to prevent Jem from eliminating her as a witness, but a romance grows between them, which he hides from the gang. Drama ensues.
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The heist movie is as old as cinema itself, beginning with The Great Train Robbery in 1903. Perhaps because the archetype of the outlaw was so ingrained in the American imagination, and because the American film industry would become the prototype for global genre filmmaking, the idea of "the perfect crime" became an enduring trope. With the maturing of crime noir in the late forties and early fifties, a gritty realism was introduced and inspired some of the most psychologically challenging—and exciting—cinema to date. As filming techniques became more advanced, so to would the plots and visual effects used to convey the tale. Interestingly, one of the subjects of heist films is often technology itself: how it is used by the criminals to extract loot, or as an object to be figured out, struggled with, and conquered (Impenetrable safe! Advanced security alarm! Three feet of concrete and reinforced steel!). As all enduring forms do, the heist film has criss-crossed genres—spoof, sci-fi, art film—and continued to attract and compel audiences.