Starting this week, we present a biweekly list inspired by a film screening or series taking place around town. In honor of Benny and Josh Safdie’s new heist film Good Time, screening this week at Music Box (in 35mm!), we’ve selected five additional heist films from 1955 to 2005 (that don’t have “Ocean” in the title and aren’t directed by Quentin Tarantino).
It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the Hollywood blacklist that directors such as Joseph Losey and Cy Endfield had to hide behind fronts or pseudonyms, whereas Jules Dassin was able to direct this atmospheric 1955 French thriller under his own name and still get it shown in the U.S., where it was something of an art-house hit. (Oddly, as a cast member he uses the name “Perlo Vita.”) Shot in Paris and its environs and adapted from an Auguste le Breton novel with the author’s assistance, this is a familiar but effective parable of honor among thieves, and though it may not be as ideologically meaningful as the juicy noirs Dassin made for Hollywood—The Naked City (1947), Thieves’ Highway (1949), and Night and the City (1950)—it’s probably more influential, above all for its half-hour sequence without dialogue that meticulously shows the whole process of an elaborate jewelry heist. With Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, and Robert Manuel. In French with subtitles. 118 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
Arguably Stanley Kubrick’s most perfectly conceived and executed film, this 1956 noirish thriller utilizes an intricate overlapping time structure to depict the planning and execution of a plot to steal $2 million from a racetrack. Adapted by Kubrick from Lionel White’s Clean Break, with an extraordinary gallery of B players: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, J.C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, and the unforgettable Timothy Carey. Orson Welles was so taken with this film that after seeing it he declared Kubrick could do no wrong; not to be missed. 83 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
It’s too bad they didn’t really film Jim Thompson’s novel, which remains one of the most astonishing pieces of pulp fiction ever written, yet Sam Peckinpah does a professional job with this much-watered-down version (1972). It becomes a conventional chase picture with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as an outlaw couple fleeing for the Mexican border after a bank job; Al Lettieri is the sadistic, double-crossed partner on their trail. With Sally Struthers, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens; a young Walter Hill wrote the screenplay. 122 min. —Dave Kehr
Going in Style
The cast—George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg playing three old men who rob a bank—promises a mug fest, but director Martin Brest imposes a quiet, attentive style on the story, saving it from cuteness and emotional facility. There are laughs, but the prevalent tone is one of discreet compassion, without condescension or sanctimony. Burns, in particular, is a revelation: deprived of his cigar and its attendant shtick, he creates a character of great toughness and determination, fighting against time and memory. The integrity of his performance overcomes the formlessness of the narration, turning this loose study into something solid and affecting. 97 min. —Dave Kehr
There’s nothing really new in this lengthy 1995 thriller by writer-director Michael Mann about cops (Al Pacino and others) and robbers (Robert De Niro and others) in Los Angeles, but it has craft, pacing, and an overall sense of proportion, three pretty rare classic virtues nowadays. The story takes as long as it does because the big heist is actually shown rather than elided (a la Reservoir Dogs), and because the action keeps passing back and forth between Pacino and De Niro, concentrating on their personal failings as well as their professional smarts. (Both actors do creditable jobs.) With Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Val Kilmer, and Jon Voight (in what might be called the Christopher Walken part). There’s an effectively minimalist, percussive music score credited to Elliot Goldenthal. 171 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum