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  Hot Rock, The Diamond Geezers
Year: 1972
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn, Zero Mostel, William Redfield, Topo Swope, Charlotte Rae, Graham Jarvis, Harry Bellaver, Seth Allen, Robert Levine, Lee Wallace, Robert Weil, Lynne Gordon
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Dortmunder (Robert Redford) has just been released from prison where it has been made perfectly clear to him that if he is caught breaking the law one more time he should expect to find himself back behind bars - permanently. But you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, a leopard cannot change his spots, and all those clich├ęs apply to him, so when he gets out and is walking the streets he's not planning to adopt the plumbing career that was opened up to him during his time inside. Yet as he strolls through New York relishing his newfound freedom, he becomes aware of a car following him, and breaks out in a run...

Not to worry, folks, it's only his co-star George Segal, here playing Dortmunder's brother-in-law and after getting punched out for harrassing him unintentionally, welcomes him home with a surefire scheme for making a lot of cash in a short amount of time. Or that's the idea, but the pleasure of The Hot Rock is that nothing goes easily, and if you're turning away from the straight and narrow then you should expect no end of hassle rather than a simple method of making your ill-gotten fortune. This was based on expert crime writer Donald Westlake's novel, and unlike his grittier works was intended as a comedy.

Just as well, then, that screenwriter William Goldman mined exactly the right amount of humour from the situations that Dortmunder finds himself in the middle of. It's his own fault really, and he's suffering for it as his doctor tells him that he has gastritis and is well on his way to a stomach ulcer, so the whole adventure that he now is headed on is both a test of his mettle, and his health for that matter, and a way out of his dour mood. Redford, in one of his most underrated performances, is superb as the unsmiling thief, and makes a great double act with the more easygoing but not as efficient Segal, who is equally well cast and equally able to divine the tension as well as the laughs out of the material.

So what was their big plan? Well, it sounds simple enough: steal a diamond - a big, expensive one - from a museum where it has been loaned from an African state. But some of the members of an opposing nation are wanting to claim the stone for themselves and hire Dortmunder and Segal's Kelp, along with their two cohorts Ron Leibman and Paul Sand, to get it, something that sounds easier than it is. In effect this is a heist movie with the target the same every time: that damned rock, which acts as if it were cursed. This could easily have been a British crime caper starring Peter Sellers or Sid James back in the sixties, but given the American sheen it becomes very suited to that country.

And the city of New York, for that matter, as in one scene our anti-heroes travel by helicopter to their latest rendez-vous and do a fly past of the then-in construction World Trade Center, looking almost finished and an unconscious reminder of tragedy in the future. If that sequence takes the mood down unintentionally, then the rest of this will likely cheer you up as the production is as professional as the thieves are bumbling. They don't mean to bungle, it's just that whenever their like clockwork schemes go awry yet again it seems that fate itself is against them. From little asides like the old lady who interrupts the park meeting with contact Moses Gunn to feed pigeons, to more important, like Kelp getting trapped under the glass case in the museum, to the absolutely awful, like the diamond being swallowed by one of the gang to keep it out of the hands of the authorities, hindrance is the name of the game, and this may not be earth-shattering, but has the pleasing air of a job well done - very well done. Music by Quincy Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Peter Yates  (1929 - 2011)

British director with some range, originally from theatre and television. After Summer Holiday and Robbery, he moved to Hollywood to direct Bullitt, with its car chase making waves. There followed The Hot Rock, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Mother, Jugs & Speed, The Deep and touching teen drama Breaking Away before he returned to Britain for the fantasy Krull and The Dresser. Spent most of his final years working back in America.

 
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