McQueen Attempts An Earlier Great Escape
Whilst it may feature a young Steve McQueen "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" has its own USP and that is not only is it based upon a real bank robbery but it also uses the locations and several of the people who were involved in the real drama. The shame is then that the actual drama of the bank robbery almost seems an after thought taking up barely the last 20 minutes of the movie. And what goes on before that tries to be a classy character study looking at the various members of the gang, their motives and emotions. Sadly whilst there are a handful of powerful scenes as their characters are laid bare it becomes almost like padding as you wait for the actual robbery to arrive.
George Fowler (Steve McQueen - The Towering Inferno), wanting to make a fresh start of his life and go to college agrees to be a getaway driver for a gang of robbers including his former girlfriend's brother Gino (David Clarke). But George only wants to drive the car, he doesn't want to do the stealing or holding up which is okay with gang leader John Egan (Crahan Denton). But with no money till they actually pull of the robbery George finds himself visiting Gino's sister Ann (Molly McCarthy) and old emotions begin to stir especially when she realises what is going on. With gang leader Egan being less than happy about Ann finding out their plans he forces George to become part of the team inside the bank, and despite careful planning things don't go as they planned.
So as already mentioned "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" may not be original in the idea of recreating a true crime, the fact that it employs some of the various people who were involved in the real crime gives it an edge. There is almost a "Crime Watch" element to it as we watch a reconstruction of the actual robbery with it going wrong and the police arriving. It is whilst directors Charles Guggenheim and John Stix focus on the actual robbery that the movie is at its best. As well as the drama unfolding inside the bank we also see the emotion of George Fowler who having only agreed to be the getaway driver finds himself in over his head and in a mess. But unfortunately the actual robbery only takes up a small part of the movie and you can't but help feel that was wrong.
Having said that what goes on before is an interesting look at the various members of the gang laying bare their troubles and motives. We watch as the innocent George Fowler agrees to be the getaway driver because he wants a split of what is stolen so that he can make a fresh start having messed up his life. His friend Gino having been inside once and facing jail again unless he can pay a lawyer to get him off is desperate for his split. And so it goes on with the leader of the gang John Egan declaring it his last job, a declaration which he has said before but finds himself returning to a life of crime and easy money, his hatred of women causing him problems. And it is his hatred of women which adds a further conflict as George finds himself seeing his ex, Gino's sister Ann, again and letting slip what they are planning. The only trouble is that whilst these character examinations are interesting you just want it to get to the robbery a lot sooner.
Although during these character examinations there are some powerful scenes no more so when Gino whilst having a shave suffers a panic attack from the repetitive dripping tap and dingy small room making him fear going back in side. And the final scenes during the actual robbery where George discovers what has happened to Ann, one of the movies best twists, the sheer emotional out pouring as he realises the scale of the mess he is in is truly magnificent. Even the scheming weediness of fourth gang member Willie has a power moment as he panics whilst waiting in the getaway car.
With "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" ending up being more about the characters than the drama of the robbery it does rely heavily on the actors to create the right mood as their character's flaws are laid bare. And as such from David Clarke who plays Gino through to Molly McCarthy who plays Ann there is not a bad performance, even those who were involved in the real robbery do a good job of the re-enactment. But of course it is Steve McQueen as George who ends up grabbing are attention and whilst initially he seems a little weak by the time his big scenes have come during the robbery and just prior to it he has grown into the character and become captivating as he deals not only with the mess he is in but also choices he has prior to it all.
What this all boils down to is that "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" ends up a rather ordinary movie because whilst the character study side of things is interesting the actual robbery ends up being a small part of the movie. You want to see more of the robbery especially with it being based on a real robbery and featuring some of those who found themselves involved in the incident. It's a case of being out of balance and a little disappointing for not delivering what is expected even though what is delivered is good.