The Hot Rock (1972)

hot rock

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stealing back stolen gem.

Having just been released from prison Dortmunder (Robert Redford) has no intention of ever going back because if he does it will be life, but even so he still can’t help but get caught up with the enticing offer that his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal) has planned. The idea is to steal a valuable jewel from a New York museum where Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn) will pay top dollar for what he believes was stolen from his African ancestors during colonial times. He even offers to help fund the mission and everything goes well until Greenberg (Paul Sand), who is one of the men on Dortmunder’s team, gets caught with the diamond and forced to swallow it. He then hides it inside the police station after he was forced to relieve himself. Now sitting in prison he promises the others he’ll show them where it is, but only if they agree to break him out of jail, which they do only to find further complications involving Greenberg’s dubious, double-crossing father (Zero Mostel).

Based on a Donald E. Westlake novel this film has all the trappings of being a fun, breezy outing and for the most part it is. The actors are game and Redford gives a surprisingly strong performance and maybe one of the best of his career while the supporting cast fall into their roles perfectly especially Mostel who easily steals it from the rest despite having only limited screen time. Director Peter Yates nicely paces the material although the set-up could’ve been more extended as the film spends only a few minutes on the planning phase and then jumps jarringly right into the actual crime making me feel more scenes of the preparation were filmed and then excised for possible shorter runtime purposes.

Spoiler Alert!

The actual crime is where the film falls apart as it starts getting a little too creative for its own good by incorporating too many offbeat touches that it can’t logically get its characters out of without going overboard into the implausible. The first issue comes when Dortmunder and Kelp try to break into prison in order to break Greenberg out of it. To me it just seemed too easy and they routinely open up prison doors that should certainly sendoff loud alarms almost immediately, but strangely don’t. I also couldn’t believe that Dortmunder would ever break into a place he so dearly wanted to stay out of. One misstep and he’d be stuck there for the rest of his life, so why even take the chance?

Later we learn, after they manage to get Greenberg out, that he has hidden the diamond inside the police station, which involves them flying a helicopter onto the roof of the police building, cutting off the power and phones lines and then releasing smoke bombs in order to get the officers out, which they do only to find that someone else has already gotten to the diamond, which was hidden inside the grimy sewage pipes. Later they find that it was Greenberg’s father, but how could some old man have been able to get to it when it took these four men a lot of effort just to get into the building?

The biggest implausibility though and the one that ‘jumped-the-shark’ for me is when, in an attempt to retrieve the diamond which Greenberg’s father has hidden in his safety deposit box in the bank that only he can access, they have a hypnotist hypnotize one of the bank employees, so that all Dortmunder needs to do is say a magic word and the bank employee will open up the father’s box for him.

I’ve tried hypnotism in the past and I can assure you that there is no way that someone can put anyone else into a trance-like state like they do here. It just doesn’t work that way a person’s conscious state doesn’t shut off nor can they be ‘tricked’ to do something against their will or that they are not aware of. If it was so easy to manipulate people in this way then we’d have robberies all over the world committed like this, but we don’t.

It also brings out more questions than answers like how were they able to get this woman to help put this bank employee into a trance? Did they offer her a part of the cut in order to keep her quiet and how would they know that they could trust her to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert!

I really wanted to like this movie and the production is slick with a nice jazz score by Quincy Jones and a thrilling look at New York’s skyline from a helicopter, but the numerous plot holes became too much to overlook and ultimately made the story impossible to believe at all.

hot rock 3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 26, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

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