The Split

The Split

Author Donald Westlake’s two greatest creations are criminals. Both are fundamentally honest and supremely meticulous planners but that’s where the similarities end. Parker is focused, laconic and won’t hesitate to kill on his way to his goal, whereas Dortmunder is a curmudgeon who looks on his relentless bad luck with a stoical grace. I mention this because the opening two acts of this film play out first as a Dortmunder novel and then as a Parker story.

For legal reasons the main man’s name has been changed from Parker to McClain but he is still a professional thief, roaming from city to city sniffing out big time scores. The latest target is a football stadium about to host a sell-out game and the good news is all ticket sales are on the day, all transactions are cash only and all the money will be pooled in a central counting office. The haul promises to be huge.

Such a job requires a team so McClain goes recruiting. He wants to be sure his crew is the best so in an amusing set of sequences, he sets an appropriate test for each of his potential teammates. He assaults the muscle, tries to run the getaway driver off the road, pulls a gun on the sharpshooter and locks the safecracker inside a vault. They all perform so McClain brings them together and briefs them on the plan. The job goes off without a hitch but when they lay low for a few days before the split, the money goes missing.

There is a lot to like about The Split. The cast is absolutely first rate and perhaps one of the best ever assembled. The heist itself is innovatively handled, cutting back and forth between the counting room and the action on the football field and when the gang set upon each other to locate the money the feverish atmosphere is terrific. But there is something lacking. The pacing is somehow off, at times rushed and in other places terminally slow. Warren Oates and Donald Sutherland, two of the finest actors of the late sixties are criminally underused and there are longeurs that serve no purpose other than to work as imagery while one of Quincy Jones‘ songs plays on the soundtrack.

Director Gordon Flemyng came from a British television background and just a year after the film’s release left Hollywood and returned to shooting TV shows. Perhaps ninety minute drama was not his forte. Maybe California post Summer of Love wasn’t for him.

A large part of what makes the film work is the actor in the main role. Jim Brown came to acting late, after a blistering career in professional sports and in almost every one of his films he adopts a tranquil calm that can blow hot and cold. He’s wooden in Three the Hard Way, great in Tick…Tick…Tick and absolutely mesmerizing in Fingers. In The Split he plays it quiet and stolid and that is just how Westlake wrote the character so the casting is spot on.

As heist flicks go, this is a mixed bag but it definitely has enough going for it to make it a worthwhile watch.

I’m delighted to offer this review as part of the It Takes a Thief Blogathon hosted by Debra

The Split – directed by Gordon Flemyng (1968)


In Short
A professional crew pull off a seamless heist and stash the cash. Then the money goes missing

Trailer here


It Takes a Thief Blogathon