THE MOST EXCITING moment in Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery comes during the first 15 minutes of the film: Leslie Anne Down slips off her stockings, sticks her rear end into the camera and slides vertically over Sean Connery into bed. Visually, this evokes a shot in Crichton's last film, Coma, where Genevieve Bujold slipped off her stockings, stuck her rear end into the camera and climbed a ladder. Crichton is a clever man, a Harvard graduate; those pretty rear ends may be his way of saying, "Shit on you, folks."
The Great Train Robbery is one of the most cynical "pure escapist" movies ever made. Crichton hasn't even bothered to conceal his disgust for his lifeless hackwork. He crams his screenplay with adventure-movie cliches, but he doesn't poke fun at them; he piles them on as if to show how much he can get away with. Movies like this aren't very entertaining if they're not stylish or suspenseful; Crichton's stupid, stilted dialogue precludes style; the Mission: Impossible predictability, sluggish editing, and surprising number of loose ends strangle suspense. Characters inexplicably appear and disappear--dragged in when convenient and cruelly discarded two minutes later--and the lapses in logic suggest the film was mauled in the editing room.
Connery, Down and Donald Sutherland are three of today's most appealing movie stars. Connery plays the rogue who devises the heist. He is roguish. Down, with her blue-glazed eyes and magnificent body, is delightful, but her part as Connery's adoring partner is not. Sutherland plays the Cockney criminal-type who helps pull off the job, but his accent sounds American even to Americans, bereft of music, charm or higher tones. Everyone else in the cast is ugly or stupid or both.
JERRY GOLDSMITH'S MUSIC is familiar. Geoffrey Unsworth's photography is full of phony compositions and "atmosphere," but since he's dead I won't speak ill of him.
Crichton departs from the formula in only one respect: whenever possible, he forces gratuitous cruelty between cliches. Dogs chew rats. A prisoner escaping from Newgate slices up his hands climbing the fence. Connery later strangles this poor innocent in cold blood. The funniest gag in the movie involves a decomposing cat. Nothing new for this butcher. In Crichton's Westworld, the most satisfying fantasies are also the bloodiest--robots blown to bits; one remembers brains being sliced up, organs flung about, dead bodies on dissection tables in Coma; now, Crichton gets his kicks injecting sadism into kiddie-movies. Bleah.