By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: A brazen jewel heist.
Jack Murphy (Don Stroud), a successful surfer known as Murph the Surph, and Allan Kuhn (Robert Conrad) who is also a surfer and becomes friends with Jack where they decide to team-up to commit some daring robberies. They start out robbing people’s homes during the day, but then graduate to even bigger heists including New York’s American Museum of Natural History taking the precious gemstone the Star of India and the Eagle Diamond. However, once they have the jewels in their possession they’re immediately tailed by the police, but Allan comes up with the perfect hiding spot where no one can find the stolen loot, but as the pressure from the cops mount one if not both seem liable to crack.
The film is based on the actual incident, which occurred on October 29, 1964, where three men, Jack Roland Murphy, Allan Kuhn, and Roger Clark robbed the New York Museum of 24 precious gemstones in what was called at the time The Jewel Heist of the Century. However, in retrospect the crime wasn’t as sensational as it originally seemed since the alarm systems, including the ones on the display cases, were all non-operational. All 19 of the exterior windows were left open 2-inches overnight to allow in ventilation and there was no security staff, which seemed to be almost inviting a robbery to happen. The film also changes the story a bit in that in the actual crime three men were involved, but for whatever reason the story here whittles it down to only two.
The unique way the plot gets structured where the heist is broken up into segments and the narrative handled in a non-linear way is what makes the movie interesting. In fact it’s the relationship between the two leads, and the amoral girlfriend that’s wonderfully played by Donna Mills, who sleeps around between the two and eggs them on to commit more and more daring crimes, keeps it engaging. The robbery itself, especially with how easy it becomes, is almost anti-climactic and the other robberies that they do including an amusing one where they rob a rich couple’s house while they are away and then initially get stopped by a cop during the crime only to then have the cop turn his attention to fighting off the homeowners guard dog, which allows the two men to escape, is funny. There’s also an amazing boat chase that’s as exciting as any car one out there.
The performances, particularly by Don Stroud, who used to be a surfer himself before entering into acting, is quite good. Conrad, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Wild Wild West’ is not bad either though not as engaging. He’s usually best at doing macho types, which is what he is here too. The contrasting personalities of the two, and their constantly competitive natures where they try to one-up the other is entertaining as is how their friendship ultimately begins to dissolve.
The film’s one drawback, outside of having a modest budget look better suited for a television movie, is there’s no tension. A heist film really needs that and while the irreverence is nice a balance is necessary. A distinct nemesis would’ve helped. There are an array of cops/detectives that are constantly haranguing them, but they don’t have much of a presence. All of the cop roles should’ve been combined into one and then have this person constantly on the radar hounding the guys at every turn, which would’ve then have given it the extra drama and clash that’s otherwise missing. Still it’s a neat idea for a movie and one that should be revisited.
Alternate Title: Live a Little, Steal a Lot
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 11, 1975
Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes
Director: Marvin J. Chomsky
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD-R