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Film / The Hot Rock

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"How many times does it take to steal the same diamond?"

The Hot Rock is a 1972 comic caper film written by William Goldman and directed by Peter Yates, starring Robert Redford, George Segal, and Moses Gunn. The film was based on Donald Westlake's novel of the same name, which introduced his long-running Dortmunder character.

John Dortmunder (Redford) has just been released from his latest stint in prison when he is approached by his brother-in-law, Andy Kelp (Segal), about a prospective job offer: stealing a valuable diamond that is on display in a Brooklyn museum. It seems the stone in question originated from an African nation, where it was stolen by a rival country during colonial times, and has been re-stolen on multiple occasions since. After a meeting with The Backer, Dr. Amusa (Gunn), who is interested in the stone because of its significance to his people in Africa, Dortmunder reluctantly agrees to participate in the heist, and he and Kelp are joined by driver Stan Murch (Ron Leibman) and explosives expert Allan Greenberg (Paul Sand) to pull off the job. Although the plan – and each subsequent plan – basically works, something always seems to go awry, and the crew is forced to steal the diamond again and again.

The Hot Rock contains examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Abe Greenberg. What he does with information given to him in confidence would be unethical (and borderline illegal) regardless of who his client was. But to do it to his own son...?
  • Breaking Out the Boss: Not the boss, but the gang have to break Greenberg out state prison to learn where the diamond is.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Dortmunder and Kelp discussing Dortmunder's gastritis while breaking into the prison.
  • Chopper on Standby: Dortmunder and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are able to access a helicopter when they need to assault the police station. Justified as it is established that Murch can get his hands on just about any kind of vehicle given enough time (the novel has a sequence where he needs to get a locomotive).
  • The Comically Serious: Dortmunder. One of the best examples is when he's playing with his baby niece and the kid suddenly starts peeing on him; his completely confused and slightly offended reaction is priceless.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: When Dortmunder and Kelp break Greenberg out of prison, Greenberg complains that they should have brought a ladder with them because he can't climb a rope.
  • Crime After Crime: Dr. Amusa sums it up best.
    "I've heard of the habitual criminal, of course. But I never dreamed I'd become involved with the habitual CRIME."
  • Cut Phone Lines: At a police station, where the thieves also jam the radio
  • Dare to Be Badass: A minor example with the pep talk Dortmunder gives to Kelp when the latter starts to lose his confidence while picking a lock during the museum heist.
    Dortmunder: "I get caught tonight, and that's life for me. And in all the world, who did I choose to take that risk with? You. Now why do you think I did that? Because you've got golden hands, Andrew; those hands can open any lock devised by man."
    Kelp: "You really think I've got golden hands? Maybe they used to be golden, I used to be great—"
    Dortmunder: "You are great now, and you're gonna be legendary."
  • Demolitions Expert: Greenberg is the Caper Crew's demolitions expert. His main task during the first heist is blowing up a car outside the museum to distract the guards. He later creates the bombs the crew use when storming the police station
  • Double Caper: Try quadruple caper. To steal the diamond, they have to break into a museum, a prison, a police station, a bank...
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Dortmunder, Kelp and Greenberg disguise themselves in guard uniforms when they break into museum.
  • Driving into a Truck: After breaking Greenberg out of prison, Murch drives the getaway car into the back of a truck sitting with a fleet of other trucks. They then stay in the back of the truck till six the next morning, and drive off with the rest of the trucks.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After being foiled multiple times, Dortmunder becomes determined to steal the diamond, no matter how impossible it seems. He successfully steals it in the end, and practically skips down the street afterwards.
    "I've got no choice. I'm not superstitious, and I don't believe in jinxes, but that stone's jinxed me and it won't let go. I've been damn near bitten, shot at, peed on, and robbed. And worse is gonna happen before it's done, so I'm taking my stand. I'm going all the way. Either I get it, or it gets me."
  • Eat the Evidence: Greenberg swallows the diamond before being caught by the guards at the museum.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The helicopter flight includes shots the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and the Twin Towers.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: "Miasmo!" Which leads to the idea of using hypnotism to break into the bank.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The crew deliberately invoke this when they wreck a car in front of the museum to draw the guards away from their posts; thanks to Greenberg, the car promptly bursts into flames.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Dortmunder has one of his partners tossed down an elevator shaft in a building under construction because the guy's father had swiped the title diamond from Dortmunder and crew (after they stole it from a museum). Except that the victim landed on a safety net and, after his dad admits where he hid the diamond, sonny boy's voice comes from the shaft, mockingly scolding him.
  • The Heist: Again and again and again... The crew have to break into a museum, then a prison, then a police station, then a bank.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: When Dortmunder and Kelp are interrogating Abe Greenberg, they threaten to toss first his son and then him down an elevator shaft.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: Dortmunder at the start of the movie.
  • MacGuffin Title: The Rock itself is obviously the MacGuffin. It would make no difference what Dortmunder was hired to steal. It just happens to be a diamond in this case.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The diamond. It reaches the point that the monetary value of the diamond is forgotten, and Dortmunder believes that the stone is cursed and his life will never run smoothly until he manages to successfully steal it.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Dr. Amusa and Greenberg's father are shown arriving at the bank right after Dortmunder leaves.
  • My Card: Abe Greenburg introduces himself by saying "My card", and then showing the card to everyone present and putting it back in his pocket: implying that he only has the one.
  • Oh, Crap!: Dortmunder and Kelp's reaction to realizing that the bank requires a signature confirmation to access a deposit box.
  • Open Sesame: At the end of the movie, Dortmunder finally gets the sought-after diamond after a bank guard was given a hypnotic suggestion. He casually utters the key words "Afghanistan banana stand" to the guard - there's some tension as the guard doesn't act hypnotized, but he does follow instructions and opens the deposit box where the diamond is being stored.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: A textbook example. Things start going wrong with the museum heist when Greenberg gets caught, and everything just escalates from there, as every attempt to fix things just uncovers a new problem.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the novel, the Spanner in the Works is simply Greenberg’s lawyer rather than his father.
  • A Simple Plan: Steal the diamond from the museum and collect their fee from Dr. Amusa. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Spanner in the Works: Greenberg's father, Abe. The crew still would have had to pull off heists number two and three (breaking Greenberg out of prison and then breaking into the precinct to recover the diamond from his holding cell), but the fourth heist would have been unnecessary without his interference.
  • Stomach of Holding: As mentioned under Eat the Evidence, Greenburg swallows the diamond before being caught by the guards. During a brief stint in a city jail, it passes through his system and he stows it in his cell (unfortunately, not the same cell that they later break him out of, which leads to heist number three).
    Dr. Amusa: Couldn't you have just... kept swallowing it?
    Greenberg: [queasily]
  • The Strategist: Dortmunder's role. He plans the missions for the crew, and is able to foresee most ways they can go wrong; unfortunately, even he can't keep them from going wrong while they're happening. It says something about how impossible the bank heist is that he spends an entire afternoon trying and failing to come up with a workable plan to infiltrate the vault.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Greenberg's speciality. He starts the heist by blowing a car up outisde the museum.
  • Thinking Out Loud: Dortmunder spends almost a full minute monologuing to no one in particular about the pros and cons to the museum heist.
    Kelp: "Dortmunder, I don't know where the hell you are or what the hell you're saying."
  • Tinkle in the Eye: Dortmunder is playing with his baby niece when she starts peeing on him, and his is totally lost as to how to handle this.
  • Trigger Phrase: "Afghanistan banana stand" is the phrase to trigger the posthypnotic suggestion in the bank clerk.
  • Unhand Them, Villain!: When Dortmunder and Kelp are interrogating Abe Greenberg, they threaten to toss first his son and then him down an elevator shaft.
  • Villain Protagonist: The movie centres around Dortmunder and his crew of thieves who are hired to steal a diamond.
  • We Need a Distraction: So why not stage a car accident in front of the museum!
  • Wiper Start: When Kelp, who is driving an unfamiliar car (in the novel it is explicitly a stolen car), attempts to flag down Dortmunder, he accidentally turns on the wipers, and drives after Dortmunder with the wipers on and the horn blaring.
  • Worst Aid: Deliberately, in-universe, as a distraction, and lampshaded by the guards.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The captain of the precinct the team is infiltrating believes that there's an uprising going on and his station is being attacked as the first blow from a revolution.