Dir: Peter Yates
Starring: Stanley Baker and George Sewell
A criminal gang plan to rob the Glasgow-London night mail train
Although using fictional characters and plot situations, the actual robbery sequence is clearly based on the Great Train Robbery of 1963. The film sees a train stopped by a red signal, then driven forward to a point where it is relieved of £3 million. The film even uses the same type of diesel locomotive as the real robbery four years earlier, a Class 40. The only difference is that the film uses disc-headcode example No.D318 when in fact the actual loco that hauled the infamous train was D326, a split-box example (see Buster). The actual robbery sequence was filmed at night, although there are a couple of day time shots as the police examine the loco and stock. These were filmed east of Theddingworth on the Rugby-Market Harborough cross-country line which had closed in June 1966. There are some excellent shots of D318 throughout the robbery and in the opening credit sequence, with run-bys and a tracking shot filmed from the rear of a preceding train. Look closely at the scenes were the robbers arrive at the location and a Class 24 or 25 can be seen ambling past in the distance on a mixed freight. This mixed freight is seen in the opening tracking shots (but not the loco) as identified by the Bedford lorries on some of the wagons. This suggests that the freight train too, like the 40 and its mail coaches, was brought to the line specifically for filming. The scene of the mail train leaving Glasgow Central was in fact filmed at London Marylebone and there is also a scene filmed at London Victoria and a shot of one of the entrances to Charing Cross Underground station. Finally, there are a handful of scenes filmed in a genuine signal box, though it is not known which one was used for filming. It was quite daring at the time to produce a movie based on the Great Train Robbery so soon after it happened, and although the film was quite successful in the UK, where the robbery was still fresh in people’s minds and the film won a best original British screenplay award, in the US it was hardly a hit at all. However, time and culture have not been kind to Yates’ film despite it actually being a well worked production, and it has, to a very large extent, been relegated to a mere footnote in British crime cinema. The DVD of the film contains some black and white reels in the behind the scenes footage, which include some shots of the action from a different angle. A couple of brief shots from this film including one of the 40 where reused for the opening title sequence of the 2018 crime film King of Thieves (qv). As the sequence in this instance represents high-profile robberies of the 1960s, they have been de-colourised to black and white.