The Stick Up (1977)

US / 101 minutes / color / Backstage Productions, Trident–Barber Dir & Scr: Jeffrey Bloom Pr: George Pappas, Arnon Milchan (uncredited) Cine: Michael Reed Cast: David Soul, Pamela McMyler, Johnny Wade, Michael Balfour, Tony Melody, Norman Jones, Gordon Gostelow, Connie Vascott, David King, Leslie Hardy, Glynn Edwards, Robert Longden, Cyd Child, Liz Smith, Pat Durkin, Alan Tilvern, Mike McKenzie.

According to Arnon Milchan’s biographers Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman, in their Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon—Arnon Milchan (2011), fledgling producer Milchan was so appalled by this movie that he demanded his name be removed from the credits. Watching The Stick Up today, this seems something of an overreaction. The movie’s no world-beater, but it’s an amiable enough crime comedy. It has something of the picaresque feel to it of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (1973), although with less of the ambition (or, some would say, pretentiousness), less of the social satire and, mercifully, considerably fewer minutes of running time.

Pamela McMyler as Rosie

It’s 1935, the time of George V’s Silver Jubilee, and American wannabe gangster Duke Turnbeau (Soul) is traveling by car through Devon on his way to London and his very first armored car heist. Stopping at the roadside garage/café of Sam Turnwick (Balfour), he finds himself picked up by Irish waitress Rosie McCratchit (McMyler).

David Soul as Duke

Michael Balfour as Sam

The rest of the movie follows their career of (extremely) petty crime as they journey together to London, coping with corrupt cops George (Melody) and Fred (Jones), being stiffed by a skinflint farmer (Gostelow), being rescued from police lockup by Duke’s pal Smiley (Wade), and so on. Slapstick highlights include Duke’s attempt to rope an uncooperative cow and Rosie’s encounter at a fairground with the Amazon Lady (Child), whom she agrees to mud-wrestle in a desperate attempt to earn some money.

Tony Melody as policeman George . . .

. . . Norman Jones as policeman Fred, and . . .

Glynn Edwards as another policeman

When they get to London, Smiley introduces Duke to the two principals in the armored car heist, George La Rue (Durkin) and Richie Wilkie (Tilvern), and Duke discovers just how vicious real criminals can be.

By then, predictably, Duke and Rosie are much in love. Quite how much is revealed in the final frames.

Johnny Wade as Smiley

The star of the show is Pamela McMyler as the sharp-tongued woman who’s clearly been around the block a few times. For a while it seems the moviemakers are determined to portray her (with marked lack of success) as unattractive, the kind of nuisance that Duke would be only too ready to shake off. But her spunkiness and vitality transcend all such attempts, and it’s difficult not to regard her as the focus of the piece.

This is actually a primary problem that the movie faces, because the focus of the piece is supposed to be Duke. David Soul is normally a perfectly competent actor, but for some reason his portrayal of Duke here comes across as rather colorless. Perhaps he and director Bloom were at odds over how the character should be played, perhaps he was simply miscast, or perhaps the weakness of the performance is simply by contrast with the strength of McMyler’s.

Alan Tilvern as Richie

Pat Durkin as George

A somewhat baffled aside: Throughout the movie I was constantly jarred by Soul’s American accent, which seemed faked, even as I was accepting McMyler’s Irish accent as perfectly genuine. Of course, Soul is actually an American (although a UK citizen since 2004), so no fakery was needed. As I later discovered, McMyler’s an American too, so she was the one who was faking!

Most of the rest of the cast perform as if on temporary leave from the Carry On franchise, which some of them very likely were.

As I watched, The Stick Up seemed to me to belong to a different age, an age when the ambition of many movies was simply to offer modest entertainment for an hour and a half or so: an intriguing yarn with perhaps a few chuckles. If it were to be made today it’d almost certainly be as a TV movie for Lifetime, Hallmark or some similar channel, and we’d probably regard it as among the better examples of that ilk. It aims to be gently amusing, and it succeeds in that aim.

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