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SPLIT, THE (director: Gordon Flemyng; screenwriter: Robert Sabaroff/from the novel The Seventh by Richard Stark-Donald E. Westlake; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Rita Roland; music: Quincy Jones; cast: Diahann Carroll (Ellie), Jim Brown (McClain), Julie Harris (Gladys), Gene Hackman (Detective Lt. Walter Brill), Ernest Borgnine (Bert Clinger), Warren Oates (Marty Gough), Donald Sutherland (Dave Negli), James Whitmore (Herb Sutro), Jack Klugman (Harry Kifka), Jackie Joseph (Jackie); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Chartoff/Irwin Winkler; MGM; 1968)
“An acceptable though not a stimulating watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

A caper film that starts out in the tradition of Kubrick’s “The Killing,” but changes gears after the well-executed heist and tells what goes wrong over splitting the money. The film drags in the first part and is all clichés, but when Hackman enters the pic during the second half things become interesting.

Career criminal McClain (Brown) returns to L.A. and stops to see his old friend Gladys (Harris). They consort to become partners in a big-time heist, as she agrees to bankroll McClain’s robbery for an equal share of the $500,000 they plan to steal from the L.A. Coliseum on the day the Rams have sold-out the 96,000 seat stadium. McClain tests his four other partners without them being aware that they are auditioning. He enters Clingers’ gym and jumps the strong-arm man; he drag races with a racing driver Kifka, who operates a limo service; he has a shooting duel with marksman Negli; and he uses a prostitute to lure escape artist and safe cracker Gough into a sealed room.

After the robbery McClain leaves the loot with his estranged wife Ellie (Carroll), as the plan is for the others to come by tomorrow to take their share. McClain promises Ellie he will go straight after this job, as she agrees to hold the money. Unexpectedly Ellie’s psychopathic landlord, Sutro, enters her apartment and rapes and kills her after McClain leaves. He uses the machine-gun stashed there from the heist, and also steals the money. Detective Walter Brill (Hackman) kills the landlord in a shoot-out and takes the money without reporting it, as he somehow discovers Sutro killed Ellie (we never see or learn how he connected Sutro to the murder). Meanwhile the gang suspects McClain double-crossed them and thereby work him over. After McClain escapes, he visits Brill in his stationhouse and makes a deal with him. McClain is to keep only his share, while Brill keeps the rest of the loot and gets credit for killing the other suspects–which should get him a promotion. When the gang follows Brill and McClain, hoping to be led to the money, they are led to a remote junk yard and get into a shoot-out. Brill keeps his word and allows McClain to leave L.A., but he is haunted by the murder of his wife and keeps hearing her voice calling him.

It all seemed too clever and not completely satisfying. The downbeat tone and the blurred moral values of the lead character, did not make him an endearing figure. Jim Brown, as the anti-hero, seemed to be all about satisfying Number One. His acting was stiff and did not carry the qualities usually associated with such a noir protagonist. Under Gordon Flemyng’s low-key direction, The Split remained more a routine caper flick than a film noir. Its best noirish elements came from the cinematography of Burnett Guffey, who caught the ugliness of urban life in his Panavision splash of seedy colors and crisp images. It was adapted from the contemporary novel of Richard Stark called “The Seventh.” Stark also wrote the novels the films Point Blank and The Outfit were based on.

There were many dead spots; but, in any case, it tried to capture the spirit of the 1940s film noir. Not always on the mark, it still makes for an acceptable though not a stimulating watch.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”