Robbery of a Good Story
"Robbery Under Arms" is the 1957 adaptation of Thomas Alexander Browne's novel, one which he wrote under the pseudonym of Rolf Boldrewood. I mention this because Browne's novel has so far been adapted into a movie 4 times and that says to me that there must be some love for his original story of a couple of Australian brothers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law when they get involved with their dad and his partner Captain Starlight. Unfortunately this 1957 version of "Robbery Under Arms" doesn't do it justice because it is an awkward and often pedestrian Australian western which only really comes good during the final 15 minutes.
After doing a season of sheep sheering brothers Dick (Ronald Lewis) and Jim Marston (David McCallum - The Great Escape) return home only to receive a message from their father who wants their help. Their father Ben (Laurence Naismith) is in cahoots with Captain Starlight (Peter Finch - A Town Like Alice) and they are in the process of pulling of the biggest cattle robbery in history. Tempted by the money and adventure the brothers join in and in doing so they eventually find themselves on a boat to Melbourne where they meet sisters Kate (Maureen Swanson) and Jean Morrison (Jill Ireland). The trouble is that the law are after them and after both brothers having close calls find themselves going on to stagecoach robbing which leaves the brothers in conflict as Starlight's men are not afraid to shoot and kill.
I have never read the novel "Robbery Under Arms" but it seems like a pretty decent storyline of these brothers who end up on the wrong side of the law even when eventually they try and go straight. It may be set in Australia but it has the various elements of an epic western tale as we watch brothers Dick and Jim look for adventure, find trouble, find women and when they realise that a life of crime is not for them still face trouble. But the trouble is that this 1957 adaptation fails to bring it to life and in fact it makes it awkward and pedestrian.
I don't know what it is because the storyline seems perfect but between an over saturated image, heavy handed editing and a lack of soundtrack it just doesn't flow. It almost feels like director Jack Lee shot a much bigger western but was forced to hack it down to just pivotal scenes to bring its running time down. Maybe during production the budget was cut and so we end up with just those important scenes and no music, or at least none I remember. There has to be a reason because the final product is so awkward, disjointed and stilted that what should be an exciting Australian western ends up pedestrian. Well pedestrian until the final 15 minutes when we finally get a string of action although even then it doesn't have the snap of a Hollywood movie.
What also doesn't help is that despite a recognizable cast which includes Peter Finch, David McCallum, Jill Ireland and Ronald Lewis not a single performance captivates you. It has that feeling of actors reciting lines and never fully understanding who and what their characters are. The one exception to this is Maureen Swanson as Kate Morrison because she is a feisty woman who won't be humiliated by a man and Swanson gets that across.
What this all boils down to is that that as a finished product "Robbery Under Arms" is disappointing and feels unfinished. And that is a shame because whilst disjointed and awkward the quality of the basic storyline shines through.