Random Film of the Week: The Split (1968)

the split 01

I’d very safely say that her ‘do outdoes his hair here, huh? (say that five times fast).

The Split

Is everybody happy? Well, not for long…

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.

the split 07

Lets just say, in the words of one Admiral Ackbar…. (that’s your cue, dear reader)

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).

the split 04

“Hey, watch me shoot that apple off an apple that’s balanced on another apple!'”

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.

the split 03

“Felix, lemme tell you, this is a gonna be a sure thing!”

-GW

-I saw this on TCM a few days ago, but it’s also available at Warner Archive if you want a disc version.

13 thoughts on “Random Film of the Week: The Split (1968)

  1. This one’s all about the cast for me. Great to see Brown getting a lead role after his breakout in Dirty Dozen and same can be said I suppose for Sutherland on his rise. Oates always worth seeing and it’s a reminder that Klugman was an actor long before Odd Couple.
    Nice pick.

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    • The funny thing is, I recalled the film popping up on TV decades ago, but I think I was too young and it was shown past my bedtime, but I saw bits and pieces of it. I just happened to turn TCM on a few days ago and was wondering why it seemed so familiar. Oates’ scenes in his intro are priceless. If I ever get caught like that, I now know what to do (wear boxers, not briefs!).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool feature. I like modern heist films and haven’t seen any crime capers from the 60s as far as I can recall. This looks like a good place to start and a fairly entertaining watch!

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    • Thanks! If you haven’t seen Point Blank yet, add that, the original The Italian Job (1969) and even though it’s a ’70’s film, the Getaway (1972) to a list as well (to name a few). They all have a certain look from that era that’s quite interesting and the choice of actors is pretty awesome. I’m actually re-watching The Getaway as we speak because I don’t think I ever reviewed it and it’s quite something. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A8UaQA7VZ8

      Liked by 1 person

      • These look great! I’ve always wanted to check out the original Italian Job too. Thanks for the recommendations. ☺️

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  3. I haven’t had cable in quite some time, so has TCM changed? Did they really show an R-rated film? Or was it hopelessly edited for TV? Anyway, this sounds like a good one…the way you described it reminded me somewhat of ‘Logan Lucky’, and an old film noir called ‘Armored Car Robbery’. I’ve read quite a few crime novels by Richard Stark, and this may have been one of them; if the movie is as cool as his books, then I’m in!

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    • Oh, TCM runs quite a few R-rated films now. Some show up in The Underground late night series, so you
      ll see stuff like Repo Man, assorted horror flicks from the 70’s. and even some exploitation films all uncut. A few films also show up in prime time (they even ram ALIEN as a classic of sorts!

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      • Damn, TCM showing uncut, R-rated films! What’s this world coming to? I remember years ago, a local LA station showed ‘The Shining’ on Thanksgiving, and I wondered how they were going to get around that scene of the girl stepping out the bathtub naked…use pixels, or cut it out entirely. Well, they did neither…they just showed her in all her glory! Perhaps a first for broadcast TV!

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      • I think I saw that cut. It was so late into the film that they likely figured some people would be so freaked out by the film to have already changed the channel, or the network only screened part of the film and just left it in (oops). When I was a kid, the big scandal was one channel running a totally uncensored Benny Hill episode one night and everyone gabbing about it for a few days (BOOBS). The next time that episode ran, it was totally censored (much to a few pissed off kids who wanted boobs and a funny Dracula parody).

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      • Monty Python’s Flying Circus has a boob scene like that, too, that slipped past the gang at PBS when I first saw it. In the context of the skit, it was both eye-popping AND funny.

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