Caper Movie

I watched a 1960 caper movie the other day called “The Day They Robbed the Bank of England.”  The “they” in the title includes a gang representing the Irish Republican Army and their American hired help, played by actor Aldo Ray.  Ray’s character, Charles Norgate, defines a plan to steal the bank’s gold bullion by tunneling under the bank vault.  To get the bank’s architectural plans, Norgate befriends Fitch (Peter O’Toole) the captain of the Foot Guards, which is the nightly picket that patrols the bank’s massive building.

Peter O'Toole (left) and Aldo Ray

It seems completely incongruous that Fitch or any member of the  Foot Guards would allow an outsider inside the secure areas of the bank (known as the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”).  But Fitch, without the slightest bit of suspicion, provides Norgate with a thorough tour of the facilities.  Additionally, the bank’s librarian lets Norgate peruse the architectural plans, although not specifically the plans of the vault.  To get those, the gang breaks into the bank’s library at night.

Besides the caper, the plot includes a silly love triangle involving Norgate, another conspirator (Walsh) and Iris Muldoon (played by Elizabeth Sellers).  This romantic plot doesn’t seem plausible because Iris is so serious about the cause.  She wouldn’t risk Irish home rule by cavorting with a hired hand.  The insipid Walsh, played by Kieron Moore, would not be trusted with such a high-level heist.

The plan involves digging a tunnel under the bank, following an old sewer line.  They employ Albert Tosher Sparrow, an drunk, to help them.  At that time, toshers scavenged the London sewer  system.  So the second part of the film involves a lot of digging, falling bricks and noise.  At the end, the plan doesn’t seem like a great idea.  Ray and O’Toole do a satisfactory job in their roles, but I doubt their characters would ever become friends, as the movie implies.

The list of my favorite caper films include “How to Steal a Million” from 1966, “Who’s Minding the Mint,” a wonderful comedy from 1967,  and “The Hot Rock,” from 1972.  Peter O’Toole also starred (with Audrey Hepburn) in How to Steal a Million.  That film works better than The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, but the studio gave it a much bigger budget.


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