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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Hot Rock (1972)

Andrew: So, how was it this time?
John: Not bad. I learned plumbing.

- George Segal, Robert Redford

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: June 08, 2003

Stars: Robert Redford, George Segal, Rob Leibman, Paul Sand, Zero Mostel
Other Stars: Moses Gunn, William Redfield, Topo Swope, Charlotte Rae, Harry Bellaver, Seth Allen, Robert Levine, Lynne Gordon, Grania O' Malley, Fred Cooke, Robert Weil, Graham P. Jarvis, Ed Bernard, Charles White, Lee Wallace, Christopher Guest
Director: Peter Yates

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG for language
Run Time: 01h:40m:43s
Release Date: June 03, 2003
UPC: 024543075639
Genre: action comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+B+B D

DVD Review

If I may borrow a line from a classic Frank Sinatra song, in 1972 when Robert Redford was 35, "it was a very good year." Within a span of twelve months, the future godfather of Sundance starred in three terrific films: Jeremiah Johnson, the witty and still relevant The Candidate (to which a sequel is being mulled) and the highly underrated The Hot Rock, based on Donald E. Westlake's popular book of the same name.

All recently released ex-con, John Dortmunder (Redford), wants is a fresh start. Although his past record as a repeat offender doesn't exactly instill confidence in people like soon to be ex-warden (Graham P. Jarvis), Dortmunder is adamantly sincere about toeing the line, at least on the surface. Mere minutes after walking through the prison gates on the road to freedom, a wildly out-of-control motorist begins to tail him. Climbing to safety on a nearby fence, the car comes to a screeching halt with the mad motorist emerging with warm greetings and salutations. Once John gets his bearings, he realizes this crazy idiot is his brother-in-law Andrew Kelp (George Segal), who wastes no time in securing John's services for a heist.

So much for prison rehabilitation.

However, there is a twist to this robbery in development; a caper with a cause, you might say. In the center ring of the Brooklyn Museum stands one Sahara stone, a sacred African diamond according to continent native Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn). Anxious to have the piece returned to its homeland, the African businessman wheels and deals Dortmunder into committing to the gig.

Since Andrew is a lock shop owner, he's an instant first pick for John's support staff as two other candidates are considered: Stan Murch (Ron Leibman), an eclectic auto mechanic with a wild streak and a flair for the dramatic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, explosives expert Alan Greenburg (Paul Sands) is so low key, he makes Steven Wright look like Pee Wee Herman. Satisfied with their talents, our dream team's complete, with the first order of business is surveillance, to get an idea of just how much security surrounds the building, followed by the plotting of distraction scenarios and determining weak points.

Heist night arrives and the opening stanza is a doozy. In the grand tradition of knowing how to make an entrance, Murch careens onto the grounds via a perfectly executed car crash that should merit honorary stuntman hall-of-fame status. Emerging out of the wreckage, fake blood and all, Stan hams it up for an audience primarily consisting of museum guards while John and Andrew (already decked out in their snazzy guard uniforms and bemusedly watching from the inside) make their way toward that "hot rock."

Meanwhile, Alan supplements Murch's award-caliber theatrics by playing doctor and creating further diversions up to a point, then changes into security threads to assist Dortmunder and Kelp. But a rousing round of luck gets K.O.'d quickly, thanks to a weighty glass overlay protecting the diamond that the three cannot maneuver properly with Andrew getting bubbled up inside. While attempting to free him, the real guardsmen put two and two together and a melee ensues. Alarms blaring, house lights now illuminated, Kelp makes it out in the nick of time tossing the stone to Alan as the three make a break for it. While John, Andrew and Stan manage to flee, poor Greenberg’s not as lucky, but in an inspired move, he swallows the diamond just before being cornered (who says Three Stooges shorts can't be educational?).

So, it's back to square one as our trio has to figure out where to go from here. Adding to the pressure is the meddling of Alan's sleazy lawyer (Zero Mostel), who says his client will cooperate only if he's successfully sprung from prison. If not, he'll testify against his pals for a lesser sentence. Although not without thrills and chills, the prison daring-do goes a little bit more smoothly than the Brooklyn break-in with Greenberg safely excavated, diamond in hand and all, right? Wrong-o! Much to their dismay (not to mention a very unamused Dr. Amusa), Alan hid the diamond in a detention cell at the police station where he was taken for questioning. With their most challenging round of diamond thievery looming, how will John and his gang get past New York's finest?

If you appreciated the offbeat humor of the original Ocean's Eleven sprinkled with a touch of whimsy, The Hot Rock is built to please. Although mainly hailed for his more romantic roles and "films with a conscience," Redford has always been undervalued for his comedic abilities, which are wonderfully on display here. Eclectic support comes from the peppy Segal, Leibman's speed-loving manic mechanic (you have got to love a guy who gets his kicks from listening to car race soundtrack albums) and the dry wit of Tony winner Paul Sand (anybody remember Friends and Lovers from his TV days?). Nearly trumping this superb assemblage of talent is fellow Broadway legend Zero Mostel, who is nothing short of hysterical in an all-too-brief bit as Alan's legal representation with a surprising personal tie to his client. Also of note: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it glimpse of a very young Christopher Guest (midway through Chapter 20) as a policeman in a pivotal scene, set at a local precinct.

Peter Yates' (Bullitt, Breaking Away) slick direction combined with a witty script penned by Oscar® honoree William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men) and atmospheric cinematography from Edward R. Brown (including a breathtaking aerial sweep through NYC featuring a now-bittersweet shot of the World Trade Center undergoing finishing touches) add to the effectiveness of a ripe-to-be-rediscovered gem.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Although its blasé, early 1970s look may come off as bland to some (much like the interior of Segal's car in the movie), it accurately reflects the filmmaking style of the times, muted colors and all. Excepting a few instances involving pinkish skin tones and mild edge enhancement, visuals are above average for a movie dating from this period, thanks to a well-kept print; long time fans of the film will be pleased as punch.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The disc's 2.0 mix wins high points for its dialogue presentation and good (although gimmicky) directional effects but is lacks low end; narrow stereo separation of Quincy Jones' cool score (sounding almost monophonic at times) is also disappointing. However, compared to the mushy original mono track (included for you purists out there), the more open presence of the two-channel mix ends up being more preferable anyway.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Brubaker, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:03s

Extras Review: Since we're lucky to have this film on DVD at all (Redford reputedly did not want it reissued for some mysterious reason), I'm not going to quibble over being deprived of goodies. Classic trailers for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Brubaker are the sole bonuses.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Caper comedy devotees and Redford fans gather round for the long overdue The Hot Rock. With its stellar transfer and low price point, this disc is a steal.

 


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