Friday, September 11, 2015


I watched THE SPILT last Saturday in-between college football games (and don't get me started about that UT-Notre Dame game!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd never seen this vintage caper film, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). It's one of his books about master criminal Parker. I haven't read it yet but I'm about to start it today to see how it compares to the film.

Jim Brown stars as, not Parker, but McClain. He's recruited by Gladys (Julie Harris), to plan a heist at the Los Angeles Colosseum during a Rams football game. McClain puts together his crew, comprised of thug and muscle man Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine), getaway driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman), electronics expert and safe cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates) and sharpshooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland).

They pull off the robbery and get away with over $500,000 in cash. But the heat is on and McClain stashes the money and guns with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carroll). Ellie is attacked and murdered by her lecherous, psychopathic landlord Herb Sutro (James Whitmore). Sutro takes the money and runs.

Enter bent LAPD detective Walter Brill (Gene Hackman). He tracks down Sutro, kills him and takes the money. Everyone in McClain's gang think McClain has the money and they turn against him. Ultimately McClain and Brill join forces against the murderous thieves in a climatic gun battle.

Director Gordon Flemyng does a good job keeping the action moving. The screenplay by Robert Sabaroff is good but I don't know yet how it will compare to the novel. There's a lot of great vintage stock footage of the Los Angeles Rams football team back when they wore blue and white uniforms and Roman Gabriel was the quarterback. How about a show of hands for anyone who remembers those days?

The best thing about THE SPLIT is the cast. Jim Brown gets top billing, Diahann Carroll is lovely as ever, Gene Hackman, fresh off a Best Supporting Actor nomination for BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), doesn't appear until the third act while Borgnine, Klugman, Oates and Sutherland all make good bad guys. Joyce Jameson and Jackie Joseph, both of whom appeared on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW television series, make brief appearances.

What's also interesting is the connections between these actors. Consider this. Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown and Donald Sutherland were all in THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), Borgnine and Brown were in ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968), Borgnine and Oates were in THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and Borgnine and Hackman were in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972). That's one helluva line up for a film festival right there.

THE SPILT is a tightly constructed caper film with a great cast. Thumbs up.

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