September 21, 2021
The Hot Rock (1972)
Grade: 60/100

Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman

What it's about. A comedy crime caper based on the novel by bestseller author Donald E. Westlake. Unreformable burglar Dortmunder (Robert Redford) is released from yet another prison stint. His brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal) is also a career criminal, and talks Dortmunder into a museum heist on behalf of diplomat Amusa (Moses Gunn). Amusa will pay a crew to steal a large McGuffin diamond for some reason important to his African nation.

Dortmunder and Kelp are joined by two other criminals, driver Murch (Ron Leibman) and explosives specialist Greenberg (Paul Sand). Through a series of mishaps, the team ends up stealing the diamond four times: first from a museum, then a prison, then a police station, and finally from a safe deposit box. Remarkably, despite the preposterously risky operations, only Greenberg gets pinched, and only temporarily.

Along the way, Greenberg's colorful father (Zero Mostel), an unethical lawyer, becomes part of the criminal conspiracy. Christopher Guest shows up briefly as a policeman, in only his second movie. Familiar character actor Graham Jarvis and "Facts of Life" matron Charlotte Rae have small roles. William Redfield, memorable in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, plays a hapless police lieutenant. The World Trade towers, then under construction, also have a cameo.

How others will see it. Despite A-list actor Robert Redford in the lead, The Hot Rock was a box office flop. It did manage to garner a single Oscar nomination, for Best Film Editing. But Donald Westlake has a following, as do crime comedies in general, which may explain why The Hot Rock has nearly 6K user votes at The user rating is respectable (6.8 out of 10) with minimal demographic spread.

The user reviews are mostly positive. Of course, there are Westlake fans who believe the book is better, or that Redford is too handsome to play Dortmunder, whom Westlake described as having stooped shoulders and thinning hair. But most viewers enjoy the cast, story, and comedy.

How I felt about it. The most obvious complaint to make is that Greenberg would not be able to swallow a diamond of that size. It is also important to note that the four-man team is highly unlikely to successfully pull off any of the raids on the museum, prison, and police station. And we wonder how Amusa has a budget that can withstand the expense of a giant moving van and a helicopter.

But while logistically dubious, the heists are admittedly entertaining. Zero Mostel is particularly enjoyable, although Ron Leibman comes a close second. And while our criminal leads are less than ideal role models, at least they draw the line at violence: no one gets killed or seriously injured.