(#2 in a 12-part series to be printed at the beginning of each month)
Manny P. here…
THE HOT ROCK - This is a hilarious motion picture starring Robert Redford, George Segal, and Zero Mostel; and very rarely shown on late night television. The key premise of the plot… a group of bumbling thieves are determined to steal a valuable diamond (a number of times) for a price. The jewel will be returned to an undisclosed African country from where it was originally mined. The film is based upon Donald E. Westlake’s novel, which introduced his long-running Dortmunder character. The Jazz score was created by Quincy Jones.
20th Century Fox enjoyed enormous success with the 1969 release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford emerged as a leading man in demand. The studio wanted to keep the actor busy on their own lot, in spite of the fact he was also working on Jeremiah Johnson and The Candidate for Warner Brothers. Despite the robust script and great cast, The Hot Rock was popular only in the United Kingdom when released.
The picture was shot on location in New York, and the city really shines. Other films that appropriately showcase the unique qualities of Manhattan include The Out-of-Towners and The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (which I’ll review in a future month). A particularly funny scene takes place at the site where the World Trade Center was under construction.
Robert Redford plays against type as a quiet crook who suffers from ulcers. His comedic qualities were about to shine in films like The Sting, The Great Waldo Pepper, and later, Sneakers. This film might have achieved greater success had it been released just a year later, when movie exhibitors voted Redford: Hollywood’s top box-office name.
Fox was acutely aware of Redford’s career. The opening scene of Dortmunder’s exit from prison was a homage to Butch Cassidy’s real release from a Wyoming jail. A similar scene from his 1969 film had been edited from the script by director George Roy Hill.
On the other hand, George Segal was at the height of his career. His previous work on The Owl and the Pussycat and Where’s Poppa were well received. His New York accent and manic persona exudes the perfect dichotomy to Redford’s slow burn.
Unfortunately, a bit of the humor is lost by the real life background noise of New York. 1970′s cinematic filmmakers were in love with the backdrop that location shooting offered. Sometimes, dialogue could be the loser in this equation.
Supporting Actor Spotlight
Zero Mostel burst onto the screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Unfortunately, his name came up during the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his subsequent testimony guaranteed an almost decade of being blacklisted. Ironically, this was good news for those who enjoyed his 1950′s performances on Broadway.
Prior to his blacklisting, Mostel appeared in Du Barry was a Lady, The Enforcer, Sirocco, and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell. He worked with Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Clifton Webb, and director Elia Kazan.
Fortunately, the second phase of Zero Mostel’s career allowed the rotund actor to star in Fiddler on the Roof (on stage), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Producers. His legacy was secure as one of the funniest men ever to appear on screen.
The Hot Rock started the movie life of Dortmunder. The character would be featured in at least five more motion pictures, including a German entry. This particular gem is worth renting. Film buffs will be quite surprised on how really good the episodic script works on every level. And, each of the actors show the incredible depth of their talent.
Until next time> “never forget”