The Split (1968) – A Review

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A review of the 1968 crime thriller The Split, starring Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Sutherland, Jack Klugman and Warren Oates as a group of crooks who plan to rob a football stadium

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Savvy criminal McClain (Jim Brown) has just been released from a stretch in prison. Hoping to have a nice life with his main squeeze Ellen (Diahann Carroll), he figures one big score will secure a bright future for them.

He plans an elaborate heist at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The big football game will surely bring in ticket sales and a whole lot of cash to be taken – that is if McClain can get the right crew together to pull off the job. 

Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Donald Sutherland and Jack Klugman are all criminal specialists with unique skills that are needed for this caper and Brown sets out to recruit them. They form an uneasy bunch, there are some conflicts, but they all put their differences aside for the big payday they can make if they work together.

And at first it looks like a success! The actual heist goes like clockwork, but it’s the aftermath and the part where the splitting of the money is scheduled when problems arise. Per the plan, Brown’s squeeze Carroll holds onto the cash until the gang can make the split and go their separate ways. That’s where some major complications come in.

The loot ends up becoming up for grabs thanks to James Whitmore, who’s a real wildcard in the story and sticky fingered police detective Gene Hackman. Brown’s partners don’t swallow the explanation Brown has for them or how he had nothing to do with the money going missing. It doesn’t sit well his supporting all-stars, who are ready to make him talk and produce the loot. 

Can Brown untangle himself from this growing mess, survive his cohorts wanting to do him in and maybe even make off with his hard stolen cash himself?

The-Split-1968-heist-film-cast-Jim-Brown-Ernest-Borgnine-Donald-Sutherland-Warren-Oates-Jack-Klugman-Julie-HarrisThe Split is a fairly average ‘heist flick’. It’s something along the lines of a lightweight Ocean’s Eleven. A notable cast coming together, planning, executing a crime and the fall out from it. It’s also has a sprinkling of The Killing with robbing a sporting venue. This time it’s not a racetrack, but a football game. Kind of ironic given Brown’s famed football status.

There’s not really any major twists and turns the story takes. It’s mostly played straight forward for the most part and the story unfolds in predictable ways. It’s likely that it won’t surprise you or leave a memorable impact on you.

Although how exactly the money gets relieved from Carroll and puts Brown into this big mess comes out of nowhere and I didn’t see it coming. There was no hint or setup of that scene.

The most entertaining parts of the film is Brown covertly testing the candidates skillsets. Taking some shots at Sutherland, locking Oates in a safe and seeing if he can escape from it, getting into a car chase with Klugman, going one-on-one with Borgnine as they destroy his office while trading punches. They’re all really fun scenes.

The actual heist of the stadium money is almost secondary to what came before. In fact, it goes so smoothly there’s very little tension as the crew stand around in the pay office just awaiting for the cash from the ticket sales to be brought to them. There are really no major hiccups that create suspense or force them to improvise from their plan.

The-Split-1968-crime-heist-film-Jack-Klugman-Jim-Brown-Warren-OatesOf course, it’s ‘the split’  as the title of the film says, where things get messy. As Brown’s squeeze Carroll is holding the loot for Brown, it get liberated from her and the crew are non too happy about it, suspecting Brown is trying to pull a double cross on them. That brings in cop Hackman into the story. 

Despite the incredible cast and promising setup, The Split comes up short. It never excels and becomes as gripping Neo-noir crime thriller or entertaining a yarn as you hope it will build into. 

It ends up a fairly average crime flick. It’s not bad, but there’s really nothing extraordinary about the story. It’s told in a generic way, it doesn’t have much style to it, other than a score from Quincy Jones that adds some flavor to it. Even the climax takes place in a shadowy shipyard where it’s filmed so dimly I found it difficult to make out what was happening during some moments. 

That’s probably why The Split, despite the cast, has become somewhat of a forgotten film and is now rather obscure. 

The-Split-1968-Donald-Sutherland-Jack-Klugman-Warren-Oates-Jim-Brown-crime-thrillerSure Brown looks cool and acts very smooth, he’s a good leading man. There is some racial tension between some of the characters. Brown, a black man, being the leader of this gang was something fresh and a bit revolutionary at the time. Racial bias brews up from a few of the gang, who don’t like it, but if this score is big enough they look past their prejudice and willingly acquiesce that Brown is the man in charge.

The real fun that I had from The Split is seeing all these great actors sharing the same screen. They all do exactly what you would expect them to do had you hired them to co-star in a heist flick. They bring their charisma and charm to a pretty average crime thriller and manage to boost it probably more than it deserved by just their sheer presence.

I’ve read the filmmakers weren’t too confident with Brown carrying the film as a lead, so they decided to back him up with a ‘Murder’s Row’ of support – and boy do they add polish to the film. The Split is a fairly ordinary flick, but it’s the presence of the supporting cast that made it a worthwhile watch for me. I’ll probably never watch it again, but it was fun to see all these actors working together. Too bad they didn’t have a more compelling story to make it more worth their talents.

One piece of trivia, about The Split, is that it was the first film given an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America that had just been formed. 

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