As crime capers go, Gordon Flemyng’s 1968 action/thriller The Split is flawed, but pretty good, even if the big money haul it showcases would be 100% impossible if attempted today. Granted, 2010’s The Town presented a similar heist that was more modern and also successful (until it wasn’t), but in this earlier film, anyone who tries what’s done here today will be in for a few problems from the get-go. You’ll see, but let’s talk about the plot for a bit.
Jim Brown plays Mac McClain, a recently released thief who takes on the task to rob the Los Angeles Colosseum of $500,000 during a football game after he’s led to the job a partner in crime, Gladys (Julie Harris, in a big bouffant hairdo!). After a bumpy but eventually successful encounter/reunion with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carrol). Mac sets his plans into action. Naturally, color plays a big role here, so this first ever R-rated film plays it big on the use of language and insinuations about Mac from a few characters.
He recruits four other man to aid him in some rather ridiculous ways, but that gives you the chance to see them react to McClain’s crazy testing. He gets into a big knock down, drag out fight with Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) in Bert’s office, but splits out a sliding door before the man knows what’s what. Then, he leads shady limo driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) into a car chase where he wrecks Harry’s limo and a nice Corvette in the process. McClain also gives suave shooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) a tryout (the crack shot misses his target, but keeps his cool). And then there’s wily safe-cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates), who gets a hooker, and a vault that needs escaping as his weird tests. Yes, Mac chooses all four to join in on his plans and as expected, they’re initially not happy about this.
Most of the men, of course, react to seeing Mac in charge somewhat negatively, but both he and Gladys put them at ease when it’s revealed that all of the men will get equal cuts of the take if the job succeeds. 85 Grand each is a pretty good haul (well, for 1968 standards) and Gladys gets a double share because she brought Mac the score and you don’t want to mess with Julie Harris with hair like that. Anyway, Mac notes that them team won’t split the loot right away and the smart move will be to sock it away temporarily at his ex-wife’s apartment along with the weapons secured for the job. Nope, she doesn’t have a a clue as to what’s going on (of course).
Interestingly enough, as the men are breaking into the stadium to spend the night, Marty has an attack of some sort and for a minute, you think it’ll be a big deal that affects the heist’s outcome. I haven’t read the book, but there are a few scenes here that could have benefited from a bit more exposition and all I’ll say is there’s a big fat twist soon after the theft that changes things around while what making a throwaway character very important to the plot. The film also introduces a rogue detective into the mix, Detective Lt. Walter Brill (Gene Hackman) and the film goes from a heist flick to a revenge driven action fest for the remaining running time. While it’s engaging to a point, modern me wanted to see a few elements more spelled out because an incident occurs off-screen that shuts off proper closure for the audience.
The rest of the film is pretty standard late ’60’s edgy stuff, but Mac has a code that’s something like Lee Marvin’s in Point Blank, where he just wants what’s due him and nothing more. This plays out pretty much exactly as expected, but you’re led to think that may not be the case at all until the films ends rather abruptly and your thoughts of an ambush of some sort are turned into a wistful memory. Yeah, it’s vague (and the ending is too), but somehow, it feels right on time. There’s a pretty fun cast, Quincy Jones does a great score and while it’s got some issues, The Split makes for a decent enough way to spend a movie night. Shame about that Corvette, though.
-I saw this on TCM a few days ago, but it’s also available at Warner Archive if you want a disc version.