Heist movies are like spaghetti dinners in that even the worst one is still pretty good. The Split, a 1968 crime caper, is very good indeed. Jim Brown, seen here at the pinnacle of his career, plays McClain, a petty crook who masterminds a high risk plan to rob the boxoffice and concession proceeds from a Los Angeles Rams football game. (Amusingly, the top price for a ticket during those days was $7.50, which could possibly buy you a hot dog at today's prices.). McClain follows the usual cinematic crime caper route by assembling a group of talented low-lifes as his confederates, each with their own specific talent for pulling off the crime. He also involves his estranged, gorgeous wife (Diahann Carroll), who wants nothing to do with the plan. She berates McClain for having abandoned her, but still can't resist being a push-over for him, especially when he takes off his shirt (a main staple of any Jim Brown film of the era). The cleverly-plotted caper is carried off relatively flawlessly in suspenseful scenes made all the more entertaining through the use of actual football game footage, a technique John Frankenheimer would employ a decade later for Black Sunday. Predictably, things fall apart in the aftermath, when the stolen loot is compromised, leading McClain's gang to mistakenly believe he has stolen it. To reveal what actually happens to the money would be to disclose too much, suffice it to say that it pertains to a completely unexpected plot device that effectively comes out of nowhere.
The film is stylishly directed by Gordon Flemyng, who was primarily known as a TV director, though he did helm the Doctor Who feature films as well as the top notch mercenary flick The Last Grenade. Fleming keeps the action moving at a fast pace and benefits from an extraordinary cast that includes such heavyweights as Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Julie Harris, Donald Sutherland, Jack Klugman, Gene Hackman and James Whitmore...that's right, all of these people are in one movie. In the 1960s, films routinely showcased such amazing talents collectively in films that were basically considered to be run-of-the-mill projects. Brown is at his tough guy best and each of these talented actors contributes significantly to the enjoyment of the movie.
The Split has plenty of unforeseen twists and turns, imaginative action sequences and a score by Quincy Jones. Largely unheralded, this is one of those films that probably plays far better today than it did at the time of its initial release. The Warner Archive has released it as a burn to order DVD that includes the original trailer. By all means, give it a try.