Mr. Crichton's previous films as a director — "Westworld" and "Coma" — are skillful and, each in its own way, entertaining, but they give no hint of the amplitude he displays in this visually dazzling period piece. With Sean Connery as the gang's elegant leader, the sort of mastermind who denies his body nothing, Lesley-Anne Down as his magnificent moll, and Donald Sutherland as his locksmith —"the best screwsman in England" — The Great Train Robbery is classy entertainment of the sort I associate exclusively with movies.
Other pleasures: The wicked trick used to smuggle Connery into the locked car with the gold; the chase scene on top of the train; and, of course, the exquisite presence of Down, who has a bedroom scene with Connery that makes James Bond look curiously like Sherlock Holmes.
There's a total absence of personal obsession - even moviemaking obsession - in the way Crichton works; he never excites us emotionally or imaginatively, but the film has a satisfying, tame luxuriousness, like a super episode of "Masterpiece Theater."
Crichton's adaptation of his own novel falls badly between genres, never quite making up its mind whether it's aiming for comedy or suspense, and not succeeding very conclusively at either. The characters stay largely undeveloped, while - despite superficially peculiar features - the robbery is stripped of the ingenious exposition of the novel to become just another heist.