Picture a tall and handsome gentleman named Edward Pierce who is equally at home with high society bankers and lowlife thieves. What manner of fellow is this chap? The time is 1885 and the setting is London. Each month the government sends a shipment of British coin 12,000 pounds sterling in gold bullion to France via train to pay for the Crimean War. The bankers and security agents responsible for the transaction are convinced that the money is safe thanks to their ingenious security precautions. Edward Pierce, just for kicks, decides to prove them wrong.
This spiffy screen adaptation of Michael Crichton's first-rate 1975 novel features Sean Connery as the rogue who has the intelligence, courage, and capacity for detail to pull off the robbery. Lesley-Anne Down plays Pierce's alluring mistress, a lady of many disguises. Donald Sutherland is Agar, a specialist in keys and safe breaking who believes his hands are like "hummingbirds." Wayne Sleep is "Clean Willy" Williams, a thief who can wiggle through small spaces and climb walls with equal ease.
The film hums along as Pierce and his cohorts locate and copy the four keys to the safes aboard the train. They help Clean Willy escape from prison and then bribe a railroad guard assigned to safeguard the gold. In each of these maneuvers, Pierce turns out to be a masterful impresario.
Part of the fun in The Great Train Robbery is the glimpse it gives us into Victorian society with its ratting sports, public hangings, and high society rituals. They physical look of the film is top-notch credit the excellent cinematography of the late Geoffrey Unsworth. All in all, this is delightful movie entertainment.