The Hot Rock (1972)

Hot Rock (1972)

Toronto Film Society presented The Hot Rock (1972) on Monday, August 15, 2016 in a double bill with 5 Against the House as part of the Season 69 Summer Series, Programme 5.

Production Company: 20th Century-FoxTelevision.  Executive Producer: Nancy Malone.  Producer: John Cutts.  Director: Distribution: 20th Century Fox. Producers: Hal Landers, Bobby Roberts. Director: Peter Yates. Screenplay: William Goldman, based on novel by Donald E. Westlake. Cinematography: Edward R. Brown. Music: Quincy Jones. Editors: Frank P. Keller, Fred W. Berger.

Cast: Robert Redford (Dortmunder), George Segal (Kelp), Ron Leibman (Murch), Paul Sand (Greenberg), Moses Gunn (Dr. Amusa), Zero Mostel (Abe Greenberg).

British-born director Peter Yates first short-lived career was as a professional racing car driver and team manager before turning his attention to film.  His propensity for fast-paced action—and car chases—showed itself in two of his earliest films, Robbery (1967) and Bullitt (1968).

In 1972, Robert Redford was involved in political ideals and running Sundance.  Because of these two interests, he had spent $3,000,000, all the money he had made since the beginning of his career, with THE HOT ROCK earning him his biggest salary to date.  The following year, and four films later, he would make the biggest hit of his career, the blockbuster crime caper The Sting, which became one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time.

As a comedic action crime, we hope you enjoy this film chock full of actors who are good at playing funny men including George Segal, Ron Leibman and Paul Sand.

Caren Feldman
Caren’s Classic Cinema

Hot Rock (1972)

Plot

Just released from his latest stint in prison, John Dortmunder (Redford) agrees to help his brother-in-law Abe commit another crime–the theft of a priceless diamond from the Brooklyn Museum that has significance for many African nations and has passed through the hands of several of them. They concoct an elaborate plan to steal the gem employing the talents of an expert getaway man and an explosives wizard, but something goes wrong each time they get their hands on it and they have to keep on stealing it from their rivals. They resort to various strategies, but mistakes resulting from their own incompetence or double crossing by fellow conspirators continue to thwart them.

Peter Yates (1929-2011)

Of British origin, he graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked initially in the theatre before entering the film industry as an assistant director in the 1950s and then as director of two fairly lightweight features before the crime thriller Robbery (1967) brought him to the attention of American studios and led to his direction of Bullitt (1968), where an extended car chase starring Steve McQueen became an instant classic. His later, and extensive career, however, produced films of mixed quality, though John and Mary (1969) and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) were well received and Breaking Away (1979) and The Dresser (1983) were nominated for or received Academy Awards.

William Goldman (born 1931)

A novelist, playwright and screenwriter, he studied at Oberlin College and Columbia University while struggling to get published as a writer and finally succeeding with five novels and three Broadway plays before he turned his attention to screenplays. The first of these was Flowers for Algernon (later retitled Charly), which was followed by the hugely successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) for which he received the then record fee of $400,000. He continued to publish novels, several of them becoming the basis of his own screenplays, such as The Princess Bride (1987) and Marathon Man (1986), but his greatest later success came with All the President’s Men in 1976. He also produced a memoir titled Adventures in the Screen Trade 1983). Three of his scripts have been voted into the Writers Guild of America’s Greatest Screenplays list, and he won two Academy Awards: for Best Original Screenplay (for Butch Cassidy) and Best Adapted Screenplay for All the President’s Men.

Robert Redford (born 1936)

Born in Santa Monica, California of mixed English, Scottish, Irish and Scots-Irish ancestry, he was an undistinguished student, though with an interest in the arts. His acting career began as a guest on various TV programmes, and he had some success on Broadway with his role in Barefoot in the Park (1963). He made his film debut in a minor role in Tall Story (1960) and then appeared in War Hunt (1962). He won a Golden Globe for Inside Daisy Clover in 1965 and starred with Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda in Arthur Penn’s The Chase (1966) and with Fonda in the film version of Barefoot in the Park. He had huge success in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after turning down roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, which he felt were contrary to his now established screen image. Jeremiah Johnson, The Candidate, and The Way We Were (1972-73) were all successful and topped by reunion with Paul Newman in the biggest hit of his career, The Sting in 1973. All the President’s Men (1976) reflected his growing interest in political and social issues and he turned to directing with Ordinary People, which won him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Out of Africa (1985), one of several films he made with director Sydney Pollack, won yet more Oscars, but his more recent films, both as actor and director have met with more mixed success, though he won acclaim for All is Lost (2013), a film not directed by him in which he was the only cast member. After the success of Butch Cassidy, he purchased land in Utah, where he founded the Sundance Institute which caters to independent filmmakers and is an established venue for opening new films.

He is a strong supporter of environmentalism, Native American rights and gay and lesbian rights, though his overall political stance varies between support for both Republicans and Democrats, apparently depending on the issues and personalities involved.

George Segal (born 1934)

All his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, but he was raised in a secular household. When his father died in 1947 Segal moved to New York with his mother where he attended college and was awarded a degree in Performing Arts and Drama. After service in the US army he began work as an actor on Broadway and then moved into film with roles in King Rat and Ship of Fools (both1965) and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1967. Important roles in Bye Bye Braverman (Sidney Lumet), Where’s Poppa? (Carl Reiner) and California Split (Robert Altman) followed during the 1970s, though his career declined somewhat in the 1980s before picking up again both in film and, especially, television after 1990. He is also an accomplished banjo player, with several recordings to his name.

Zero Mostel  (1915-1977)

His parents were Eastern European Jews who had emigrated to America but struggled financially to bring up their large family of ten children there. Given the nickname Zero, Samuel showed an early talent for painting and gave humourous gallery talks to students and spectators at the Metropolitan and other New York museums. In 1941 he was given a job as a comic in the Café Society nightclub, where he became their main attraction and this led to appearances on radio and in film. He was drafted by the Army in 1943, but was honourably discharged for physical reasons, after which he appeared in a series of plays, musicals, operas and movies. He had strongly left wing political sympathies, which led during his army service to investigation for alleged Communist Party membership and in 1952 he was reported to the House Un-American Activities Committee as a member of the Party and was ordered to appear before the Committee in 1955. Unlike Elia Kazan, for whom he had acted in Panic in the Streets in 1950, he refused to name other alleged Communists and was blacklisted for work on stage and in film. His principled stand gained him considerable respect, however, and he was offered the role of Leopold Bloom in an off-Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown, based on James Joyce’s novel. The reviews were ecstatic and he received offers for further classic roles, not all of which he was able to accept. After severe damage to his leg in a traffic accident, he resumed his stage career in Eugene Ionesco’s avant-garde Rhinoceros, once again receiving rave reviews and a Tony Award for Best Actor. This was followed by the Broadway musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, both huge popular successes. After this his career declined somewhat with some poorly received films (apart from Mel Brooks’ The Producers) but he made very successful appearances in children’s TV shows such as Sesame Street. In 1977 he collapsed on stage during a performance of Arnold Wesker’s play The Merchant and died shortly afterwards.

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008)

Prolific author of over a hundred novels and non-fiction works, most notably crime fiction, written under a dozen or more pseudonyms and alternating between hard-boiled and comic characters and themes. John Dortmunder appears in several books as a classic and inept bungler, while the books written as Richard Stark are stronger, more forceful, and violent. Several have been made into films, most notably the superb Point Blank (1967) from a Stark title The Hunter, directed by John Boorman and starring Lee Marvin (not to be confused with the pointless 2011 remake titled Payback). Jean-Luc Godard made a typically idiosyncratic version of The Jugger called Made in USA, but neglected to obtain the rights for it, with the result that Westlake managed to prevent its commercial distribution in America.

Notes by Graham Petrie

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