The Split (1968)
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Gordon Flemyng, the British film and TV veteran shapes a posh and groovy heist flick about a post robbery split gone bad. The cast is masterful, Jim Brown does a great Wastlake/Stark character up there with Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK and Mel Gibson in THE PAYBACK. The rest of the cast includes such hard-asses like Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Warren Oates and Ernest Borgnine. So the movie emanates great energy on screen and Flemyng cuts it with typical British elegance, smart and sharp decisions.
Maybe THE SPLIT felt too calculated to Maltin, but to me, it represents the era when Hollywood entertainment still managed to assuredly deliver the authentic exploitation of a formula.
Jim Brown teams with two of his Dirty Dozen cohorts, Ernest Borgnine and Donald Sutherland, as well as Jack Klugman, Warren Oates and Gene Hackman. All give fine performances as do the film's leading ladies, Julie Harris and Diahann Carroll. Warren Oates is terrific here in one of his early roles. When compared to his later work, this shows just how versatile and actor he was. Gene Hackman is also excellent as Brille, a role which foreshadows the work he would do later in The French Connection. Keep an eye out for veteran character actor James Whitmore in a small but pivotal role as Diahann Carroll's creepy landlord.
Tight direction by Gordon Flemyng, interesting cinematography by Burnett Guffey, wonderful music by Quincy Jones, an effectively clever story and script by Richard Stark and Robert Sabaroff. The Split has a lot going for it. If you liked Peckinpah's The Getaway and Don Siegel's Charley Varrick, chances are you'll like The Split.
On the positive side, there is quite a bit of A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E here, which only something from this time period could pull off. There's a great scene when Borgnine and Brown slug it out. And the Quincy Jones soundtrack is great. I suspect the music is behind the reason why this has never been released on video.
Directed by Gordon Flemyng this late 60's crime heist action thriller is unfairly rather obscure but is worth the effort to track a copy down, although you can compare The Split to The Italian Job (1969) since they are both 60's heist films The Split was made & released a year before. The script by Robert Sabaroff was based on the novel 'The Seventh' by Donald E. Westlake can be divided into three chunks, the first third of the film revolves around the recruiting of the team with some fun set-pieces to make sure each member is up to the task, the second third of the film is my favourite when they carry out the heist & there's that feeling that you root for them & you want to get away with it & all the close calls they have & watching the plan unfold is pretty fun, then the final third of the film is perhaps the weakest as several random events come together & tear the thieves apart & it becomes a rather dull runaround after the money which goes missing through no fault of their own but does obviously cause problems as they don't know who to trust. That's about it really. I would have been happy if The Split had ended after the gang had stolen the money & got away with it but there's this tacked on ending a lot of which feels very random, like how did Ellie's landlord know she had the money? Why leave the money in such an exposed place? Then there's the ending when everyone gets shot & it just all seems rather pointless. The plot wouldn't work now of course, what with the amount of CCTV's & security, the fact a lot of people pay by credit card & I don't understand why the gang don't try to cover their faces. They rob the place without any mask's or gloves so if the hostages don't identify them their finger prints surely would? For such a well planned robbery that's quite a big oversight, isn't it?
Director Flemyng does a good job, he keeps the film moving along & it always feels like something is happening. The character's are also very good with each member of the gang having a distinct personality & getting at least a few minutes screen time to develop it although McClain is hard to like as the lead character since he only seems interested in serving himself. The Split was apparently the first film to be given an 'R' rating by the MPAA thanks to some fun fights, a few shoot-outs, a bit of mild bad language (although the 'N' word is used here in a casual fashion, something unthinkable these days especially when the IMDb flags it as a 'Prohibited Word' as I have just found out...) & a bit of blood. There's also a neat car chase here as well. It's somewhat surprising that The Split is such an obscure film with it's crowd pleasing heist plot & the top drawer cast but it is, last night I saw a full widescreen 2:35:1 Panavision print of this & while the colours were a bit washed out & a bit pastel it looked very nice.
Technically the film is very good, it has good production values, good stunt work & nice cinematography. The one aspect of The Split I don't like is the music, it's horrible & dates the film more than anything else in it. Damn, just look at that cast. There aren't many films that boast a cast as good as The Split. Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, Julie Harris, Warren Oates, the peerless Jack Klugman, Donald Sutherland & Gene Hackman. The acting is top notch from one of the best cast of character actors your ever likely to see in the same film.
The Split is a good heist film that starts out like The Italian Job but goes in a significantly darker direction although not to the films overall benefit in my opinion. I liked it as a one time watch & the cast are great but I am not sure I would want to see it again anytime soon.
There is, for example, the bizarre scene in which a man gets off on shooting someone with a machine-gun. There is the memorable image of a white sheet that gradually "absorbs" the blood of the body that's underneath it, and red spots start appearing on it. And there some neat plot twists along the way, mostly involving a character (I won't say which) that enters the picture when you least expect him to.
If the whole movie was as good as its final 30 minutes, I'd give it one more star, but for now this gets a ** rating.
And then there's 1968's THE SPLIT.
Based on Westlake's book "The Seventh", the film is a classically themed Hollywood heist film, involving a group of thieves robbing the cash office at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during a playoff game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons. Former NFL legend Jim Brown, who turned to acting after retiring from the Cleveland Browns in 1965 and became a star in Robert Aldrich's 1967 classic THE DIRTY DOZEN, is the leader of this group that includes his fellow DIRTY DOZEN cast members Donald Sutherland and Ernest Borgnine; Jack Klugman (one of the jurors in the 1957 classic TWELVE ANGRY MEN); and veteran character actor Warren Oates. The heist goes off with almost laser-like perfection, but it's what happens thereafter--the complications; the screw-ups; and the betrayals--that are the real payoff. Gene Hackman, who had at the time recently leaped to acting prominence as a result of his role in BONNIE AND CLYDE, portrays a seedy Los Angeles cop (perhaps presaging his Oscar-winning turn in THE FRENCH CONNECTION); and Diahann Carroll and Julie Harris are the women involved. James Whitmore plays a superbly seedy landlord at Carroll's apartment.
By 21st century standards, this must seem terribly old-fashioned: there are no hyper-violent, over-the-top stunts, no CGI bloodshed, or any of that extraneous junk. And this is clearly a film of the late 1960s, in terms of costumes, hairstyles, and all of that—this and, of course, the fact that the Rams were L.A.'s pro-football team too. And yet, even though it doesn't necessarily stand out among the many great crime heist films, from Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING to Sam Peckinpah's THE GETAWAY, or even the 1988 blockbuster DIE HARD, there's still something hugely fascinating about THE SPLIT, in terms of the way suspense is built up. Perhaps part of the reason it isn't as well-known as it should be is that the director, British-born Gordon Flemyng, was not a known entity, save for a couple of episodes of the TV series "The Avengers", and the 1965's DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS. All the same, though, the cast still does well under Flemyng's direction, with very good cinematography by Burnett Guffey (who won an Oscar for BONNIE AND CLYDE), and a taut, early action film music score by Quincy Jones, who had done major work on THE PAWNBROKER, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, and IN COLD BLOOD. This was also the first film to be released following the establishment of the movie ratings system by the MPAA where the for-adults 'R' rating was placed, even though it is closer to a 'PG-13' rating by today's ultra-violent standards.
Imperfect and dated as it is at times, I'd still give THE SPLIT a '7' rating, simply because of the surface pleasures of the piece.
Jim Brown sets out to first test and then recruit his band of four (4) crime specialists which takes up the first 30 minutes of the film's storyline. The next 30 minutes or so is where it gets really boring as this crew of crime specialists sets out to rob the LA Coliseum while the NFL Los Angeles Rams are on the field playing the Green Bay Packers. Sounds interesting doesn't it? Don't hold your breath. This part of the film was a snorefest.
Now we get to the latter half of the film where the gang is supposed to split their heist six ways, equal shares including one share for Julie Harris for financing the heist. But wait...someone kills the only innocent party who is holding the money for the mastermind thief Jim Brown, and accidentally the murderer stumbles upon Jim Brown's heist money, a cool $550,0000.00. So the gang turns on each other and are really peeved at Jim Brown because they think he double crossed them all. Sound like a familiar plot? Oh Yeah. Although the crimes intended location is different, an NFL football stadium (to encourage fans of the NFL's Hall Of Famer running back and film star Jim Brown to see this film) compared to the 1960's Ocean's 11 film in which the heist takes place in a Las Vegas Casino. The two films comparison ends right there.
The best part of the film was the music score by Quincy Jones. Other than that the film would be a pass for me. Disappointing to say the least.
I give it a 4 out of 10 rating.
With their plan formulated and Gladys providing the financial backing, McClain identifies some possible recruits for their gang and puts each one through a challenge to make sure that they have the skills required to carry out the heist successfully. Tough guy, Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine), getaway driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman), safe-cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates) and hit-man Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) all come up to standard and the robbery of the ticket money from a sold-out Rams game at the L.A. Coliseum is soon put into action.
The brilliantly-executed heist enables the gang to make off with more than $500,000 which McClain leaves with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carroll). She agrees to keep the loot in her apartment and he intends to split the money between everyone in the gang on the following day. This arrangement hits an unforeseen problem when Ellie's lecherous landlord Herb Sutro (James Whitmore), tries to rape her, before killing her and stealing the money. Detective Lieutenant Walter Brill (Gene Hackman) soon deduces who'd killed Ellie and after shooting Sutro takes the stolen money which he then keeps in his own possession.
None of the gang-members believe that the stolen money has simply disappeared and after having been subjected to some vicious treatment, McClain manages to escape and then co-operates with Brill on a violent course of action which enables them both to achieve their personal objectives.
The 1960s was a low-point in the history of film noir primarily because the style was not really compatible with the general optimism of that decade. "The Split" is one of the best noir offerings of the period because of its plot (which begins routinely but really comes to life in third act), its well-directed action sequences and Burnett Guffrey's wonderful cinematography. It also boasts a superb cast of actors who are all excellent individually and collectively.
Jim Brown's McClain is interesting because in the earlier parts of the movie he seems to be a natural leader with a quiet authority but his actions after he co-operates with Brill, bring out another aspect of his character which is both surprising and credible. Warren Oates provides the pick of the supporting performances, the high-point of which is a hilarious scene in a bar where he gets picked up by a prostitute. Quincy Jones' score and the title song by Billy Preston are also enjoyable and very much in keeping with the time in which the story's set.