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USA 1959
Directed by
Charles Guggenheim / John Stix
89 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery

This overlooked film is credited to Charles Guggenheim and John Stix. As Guggenheim went on to a career as a director/producer of documentaries and has a producer credit here whilst Stix subsequently only directed a couple of television episodes, one assumes that Guggenheim was predominantly responsible for the film.  Equally, as writer Richard T. Heffron went onto a healthy career as a television director one also assumes that it was a one-off project for all three men. 

Forget the movie poster. The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery is in fact an atmospheric low-budget black and white film about a bank heist that goes wrong. In a very early film role, Steve McQueen plays a former college football star George Fowler, who takes the offer of driving the getaway car for a St. Louis bank robbery by the older brother Gino (David Clarke) of a former girlfriend, Ann (Molly McCarthy).  With career criminal Egan (Crahan Denton) and his partner Willie (James Dukas) the four men begin to set up the job but things go pear-shape when Ann twigs what they are up to and tries to stop George.

Evidently influenced by the gangster films of French genre specialist Jean-Pierre Melville and Jules Dassin the film has a similar fatalistic vibe, the combination of men having the ingredients of their inevitable downfall. George is a good lad at heart but wounded by being dumped by his football team and caught between right and wrong. Gino is a loser terrified of going back to jail, Egan is a burnt out old timer doing his last job. He is also a woman-hater and the pudgy Willie might have been his partner in more sense than one.  All the cast are excellent with Denton particularly good as the hardened career criminal;

Based on an actual crime that took place in 1953 and using the real life locations as well as some of the police involved in the robbery the low budget production with its sometimes rough finish well-suits the subject matter (as a robbery “great” could only be meant ironically).  Heffron's script is economical and the direction too does the best with what it has with the robbery itself being especially well-staged. Now in the public domain The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery is a film well-worth looking out for.




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