I'm guessing that this movie has fallen out of copyright, which gave it unexpected new life when DVDs came along – on $1 USD cheap DVDs, cheap movie collections, you can even watch the entire film on YouTube!
The movie's other claim to fame is that it stars Steve McQueen before he was famous; he is not playing his well-known 'Steve McQueen' persona in this movie, and we get to see his acting skills.
The movie's final claim to fame is that it was made only six years after the historic bank robbery, and was filmed in the actual location, using many of the real people as extras.
So what's the story? Four men come into town to rob a bank. John Egan (played by Crahan Denton) is the master planner; Gino (David Clarke) is a tough ex-con; Willie (James Dukas) is a fat ex-con whom nobody respects; and George Fowler (Steve McQueen), friend of Gino, has been brought in as the driver.
The movie starts as a conventional heist movie, as the crooks case out the bank, and Egan puts the new guy through some tests. However, Egan insists that Gino and George come up with some money to pay their way. That leads George to make contact with his ex-girlfriend Ann (played by Molly McCarthy), who is also Gino's sister, to borrow some dough.
At this point, the movie turns into film noir territory. We learn George was a track-and-field star who did something in college that got him expelled; he needs money for a second chance at school. Gino turns out to have 'bad spells' (drugs or mental health?). Meanwhile, Willie obsesses about his role being taken over by the 'new guy', while cool mastermind Egan has a major skeleton in his closet.
Then Ann accidentally spots George and Gino hanging around the bank, and realizes what they are up to. Can she talk George out of his plan? Will she tip off the authorities? Will Gino crack under the pressure? Can Willie get some respect? What steps will Egan take to keep the heist on track? Will George go through with it?
The movie starts off at a brisk pace, turns slow in the middle, then gets a jolt at the end, climaxing with the bank robbery itself. The primary actors do a good job, particularly all of the crooks (though Denton hams a few moments) and the girlfriend. Steve McQueen is moody and understated until the end, when we get a scene in a style today seen as overly dramatic (but not uncommon in film and TV in this era).
The movie's fourth claim to fame? You can argue as to whether Egan and Willie are gay lovers, which is hinted at, and would explain some of their motivations. If so, that's a surprising topic for a 1950s film to touch.
The movie is also known as The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.
Can you wargame it? The only scene you might want to game is the robbers trying to escape the bank, but you'd have to assume they didn't have the character flaws from the movie! However, this movie might inspire you to attempt a cops-and-robbers campaign.
I didn't expect to like this movie. It sucked me in, a good film noir, suspenseful but sad. Recommended.