THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY -- Avalon, Arlington, Bradlick, AMC's Academy 6, Andrews Manor, Hybla Valley, Jefferson, Landover 6, Roth's Montgomery 2, Roth's Randolph 2, Wheaton Plaza 3.
The Great Robbery is a good but simple genre with a reliable story, always pretty much the same. First you get an awesome view of the impregnable fortress, and then you see its tiny flaw. Meanwhile, the portrait of its attacker starts humbly and then builds until he seems impervious -- and, at the end, you see his tiny flaw.
Later this month, "The Brink's Job" will be shown here, with this basic story done in 1940s and '50s style. What makes the incarnation opening this week interesting is that it's done in mid-Victorian style, giving a Dickensian authority to the same little story, here called "The Great Train Robbery."
Michael Crichton, the doctor whose previous specialty was science fiction, has directed his novel so that it becomes a tapestry of bourgeois life of mid-19th-century London. The then-new puzzle of how to rob a moving train is used as an excuse for entertaining vignettes of the period, from its courtship in bantering euphemisms to the sport of ratting.
Unfortunately for this attempt, the period did not lack in novelists who knew something about human and social behavior. Crichton's plot and dialogue are painfully elementary by contrast. But as a director, he has supplied his modest book with trappings as good as those Dickens, Thackeray or Trollope get when their works are put on the stage or British television screen.
Sean Connery, Lesley-Anne Down and Donald Sutherland are among the actors who plunge into this with zest and the semblance of being rag-tag Londoners. There is a particularly charming portrait, by Gabrielle Lloyd, of a plain girl enthusiastically undertaking the coquetry of the period, designed for belles; her spunk at this quite overcomes the pathos to give her true dignity.
For the rest, it's not so much the opulent costumes, heavy interior decoration and teeming streets that do the job as it is the golden gaslight dimness. Now and then it looks so good that one forgets that it's not falling on some immortal story.