The second film in my travels through Steve McQueen's career is actually his fifth movie, as I've yet to come in contact with a copy of Girl on the Run, Never Love a Stranger or The Blob, and is the second film in which he plays the lead (after The Blob, which I really want to see am annoyed I can't find).
Here, McQueen plays George Fowler, a man in need of some funds to pay his way through college after being kicked out years ago. He accepts the job of driver for a bank robbery being conducted by his friend Gino (David Clarke) and two others, John and Willie (Crahan Denton and James Dukas), neither of whom trust George, as he's lived a clean life and hasn't even been to prison. Meanwhile, George meets up with Gino's sister Ann (Molly McCarthy), an old flame of his, and complications arise when she works out the real reason George is in town.
Or rather, they don't. I fully intend to spoil certain aspects of this film that I don't recommend watching, so I'd advise the spoiler-wary to either skip to the end of the review or stop reading, but regardless you shouldn't watch the film. You see, my first issue with the film was that halfway through the film there is a pivotal moment in the plot where, having discovered George and Gino are planning to rob a bank, Ann writes on the side of said bank that they are going to be robbed. Understandably, John and Willie are none too pleased about this and, upon discovering Ann is the culprit, kill her. Yet, after this happens, there are no further ramifications on the actual heist of the bank receiving a warning. So in effect Ann is killed for really no reason, as her actions had zero impact on anything that happened.
Secondly, in the film's opening there is a brief intro stating that the parts of police officers have been performed by the real officers during the real life robbery upon which this story is based, however the police have yet to show up anywhere in the film even before the heist has begun, so it is obvious that something is going to go wrong, the alarm will go off and the police will arrive, else there'd have been no point to the intro. Also, it's quite clear why the policemen have opted for careers in law enforcement rather than a more thespian path, as though only a couple get actual lines, they are all delivered rather forcefully.
Not that the rest of the cast fares much better, as even McQueen has his wooden moments, and the various conversations within the film, especially those between George and Ann, all feel stilted and awkward, even when they aren't supposed to be. It's no great surprise to find that McCarthy hasn't really done much since.
My main problem though? The story is dull. Now normally I love a good heist flick. There's something about the meticulous planning of a con, the recruiting of the team, pulling it off, working around unforeseen obstacles and either seeing the criminals being brought to justice or fleeing with the loot that I find fascinating and immensely watchable, be it the star-studded, glossy likes of the Ocean's trilogy or Inside Man, or something a bit more noir-y and stripped back like Rififi. Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 123, Out of Sight - these are all amazing films that I don't hear talked about nearly as often as I feel that I should. And The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery is deservedly not amongst this hallowed list, because it's just dull.
The robbery itself is completely straightforward, with no clever tricks or any kind of skill involved. The plan is simply to go in, rob the bank and leave before the cops arrive. There's about as much of a plan as Gale and Evelle had in Raising Arizona, yet this is after a solid 75 minutes of planning shown on screen, that actually took place over at least five days during the film. And the great thing is that nothing goes wrong - the alarm is triggered, as the thieves had expected, but the cops arrived sooner than anticipated, descending into a hail of gunfire. Other than the last minute shoot-out and McQueen going insane, there's little of any worth that I think I'll remember. McQueen's final scenes are worth mentioning in that they are the only time I've seen so far where he has played anything other than a by-the-numbers hero character. When he finds himself alone in the bank with the hostages and a gun, he breaks down and goes a bit loopy, which was interesting to watch, but was unconvincing because it's Steve McQueen, and he just doesn't do that.
One interesting part of the film was that it showed how a good, clean man - in this case George - can become embroiled in the seedier underbelly of a nation, and how if he's not careful he could quite easily become stuck within it forever.
Also, when the film opens they wisely removed the 'Great' from the title, as neither the film nor the factual account are anything even close to resembling great. And is it too much to ask for a little note at the end saying what happened to those that survived?
So, this isn't a great film, mainly because the story is boring - the heist doesn't even begin until 15 minutes before the end - the acting is poor, the soundtrack has been taken from a fairground ghost train and pretty much the whole thing is in shadow and impossible to make out.
Choose life 2/10