Dr. Amusa approaches Dortmunder about a valuable gem in a museum that is of great significance to his people in Africa, stolen during colonial times. Dortmunder assembles a crack team of cat burglars and hatches an elaborate plan for stealing the gem. Despite their care and experience, circumstances and plain bad luck keep the gem just out of their reach.
Robert Redford ... Dortmunder
George Segal ... Kelp
Ron Leibman ... Murch
Paul Sand ... Greenberg
Moses Gunn ... Dr. Amusa
William Redfield ... Lt. Hoover
Topo Swope ... Sis
Charlotte Rae ... Ma Murch
Graham Jarvis ... Warden (as Graham P. Jarvis)
Harry Bellaver ... Rollo the Bartender
Seth Allen ... Happy Hippie
The story is simple. Redford, Segal, Liebman, and Sands work on various criminal activities with each other. Redford and Segal are approached by Moses Gunn, who (for political reasons) wants them to steal a jewel from a museum and give it to him. They do get the jewel out of the museum, but they lose it. They recover it, and lose it again. And again, and again. As Gunn becomes more and more angry at the growing expense of these botched thefts, Redford becomes more and more fanatical at beating the stone - he is convinced that some karma from the stone is preventing him and his team from succeeding in their plans.
This nice little "caper" film is like a full scale movie version of a Road-Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Redford and his team don't get injured, but they are so thorough in their planning (like Wile E. is with his use of various Acme machines), and always finds some mild miscalculation unsettles everything. It is a case of frustration on frustration. And it is very funny.
Take the situation where Sands has been arrested. He had the jewel on him when arrested. He has been sprung from jail, but he hid the jewel in the precinct he was taken to. The Precinct is run by William Redfield, who is more concerned with whether the locals in the neighborhood will attack his policemen and the building than in finding criminals.
Redford goes to observe the area, to see how to raid a precinct. While he cases the building he is robbed of his watch. He finally comes up with a scheme involving a helicopter and tear gas. The helicopter lands on the wrong roof, thus wasting time, and when it does land on the precinct, they invade the building, use the tear gas inside and outside (to confuse the dense Redfield), and then finds the holding cell - only to find no rock. They return to the roof and fly off, leaving Redfield happy - he's beaten off the radicals and their attack on his forces of order!
Gunn, Redford, and Redfield have nicely delineated characters. But the best is Zero Mostel, as Sands' father. Mostel, at first, is quite the indignant pater familias, who blames Redford and Segal for leading his son into a life in crime. But gradually it turns out that Sands (in a moment of stupidity) told his father (who is a lawyer) about the rock's location in the cell. Mostel denies it, but he is convinced to tell where he hid it when he thinks he is facing a homicidal maniac. Subsequently he bounces back. He did tell them where it is, but it is nearly impregnable - unless Zero helps them.
It was a pretty good film, and the semi-villainous characterization of Zero's Abe Greenberg is a fine one to set next to Pseudolus in FUNNY THING HAPPENED and Max Bialystok in THE PRODUCERS. Few actors have played such human, even lovable rogues as the great Mostel did.
This was my introduction to my favorite author and his prized creation (under his name anyway) Donald Westalke's John Dortmunder and crew make for a great book, so far thirteen and counting. This movie is based on the first book and one of the best.
I won't get into the plot because it's been gone over before, but Peter Yates and William Goldman crafted a pretty fine entertaining film, it may not be as good as the book (in fact it's not) but it doesn't stray too far, you got Robert Redford who's good in about everything. When i was reading the books at first i pictured him as Dortmunder, but my mental image soon switched to Walter Matthau. Then George Segal is a pitch perfect Andy Kelp, i don't think anyone could have been better. As a gearhead, my favorite character of the series is the driver Stan Murch, and Ron Leibman embodies him perfectly.
Overall the film is much better then other adaptations like "Bank Shot" with George C. Scott, and "What's the Worst that Could Happen?" with Martin Lawrence, and only slightly better than "Why Me?" with Christopher Lambert, and if you haven't read any Donald Westlake, you should. You really should, start with any of the Dortmunder books, and you'll get hooked.
A wonderful cast propels this warmly funny heist movie.As mentioned above-No sex, minute violence (knock on the head), no cussing-and totally entertaining.The cast Redford,Segal,Leibman and Paul Sand are all in top form. Add Zero Mostel and Moses Gunn and you'll find yourself watching with grin all the way through.Look fast for a very young Christopher Guest as a cop.Perfect score by Quincy Jones,and directer Peter Yates injects action into a nice prison break scene.I too, as a teen , saw this movie in the theater and it's still one of my favorites.... "But there are things you can have people do for you....Isn't that right Chicken?"......
* During the helicopter scene, both towers of the World Trade Center are shown under construction.
* The weapon they are carrying during the helicopter ride to and the assault on the Police Precinct is the Swedish 9mm SMG m/45. Developed during WWII. Still in use within the Swedish Armed Forces (nowdays in a very small number). Once used by American Special Forces because of its simplicity and reliability. Also manufactured in Egypt on license.
* In the Dortmunder novels by Donald Westlake, Murch always steals cars owned by medical doctors. In the movie, the license plates of the stolen cars have the letters "MD" as part of the plate number.
* Composer Quincy Jones was so impressed by the performance of his musicians for the soundtrack of the film, that he requested to Twentieth Century-Fox and the producers of the film to give them on screen credit during the opening credits of the film. The featured performers given credit on screen were (among others): Gerry Mulligan, Grady Tate, Jerome Richardson, Frank Rosolino, Clark Terry and the Don Elliott Voices, who were all popular jazz musicians at the time.