Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In short: The Hot Rock (1972)

At the time this was made, director Peter Yates was on something of a roll with various types of crime films, all rather great in one way or the other, and all absolutely typical of 70s filmmaking in all the best ways. The Hot Rock is an adaptation of one of Donald E. Westlakes’s comedic crime novels about the perpetually unlucky thief Dortmunder (here played by Robert Redford who, whatever you may think of the casting for this particular character is a really great actor for this kind of comedic heist/caper movie), who is basically Westlake’s Stark without the murderous intentions and the sociopathy. Here, Dortmunder and co (George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand) are attempting to steal a very special diamond for the UN representative of an African nation (done with perfect deadpan by Moses Gunn), and then have to steal it again, and again, and etc, while double-crosses and various inopportune events destroy their best laid plans. Repeatedly.

While the film becomes increasingly funny and bizarre in excellent style, Yates also gets at the other core of many of Westlake’s comedic novels: these are books – and a film - about characters stumbling through a universe as set against – or at best uncaring of - humanity as that of Lovecraft’s stories or the Parker novels, just that this particular uncaring or cruel universe doesn’t crush its victims but instead prefers to play cruel jokes on them, and that in the Dortmunder universe, some of the characters have the ability to play the tricks right back.

Of course, it’s not all the universe’s fault here, for the characters here, comedy or not, are quite fine with doing unpleasant things to one another quite without help and don’t exactly need it to ruin their respective days; it’s just funnier when their bad intentions and those of the universe meet.

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