The Hot Rock (1972)


The Hot Rock (1972)

Dr. Amusa approaches Dortmunder about a valuable gem in a museum that is of great signifigance to his people in Africa, stolen during colonial times. Dortmunder assembles a crack team of cat burglars and hatches an elaborate plan for stealing the gem. Despite their care and experience, circumstances and plain bad luck keep the gem just out of their reach.
IMDb  6.8 /10
Director Peter Yates
Writer Donald E. Westlake
Writer William Goldman
Release Date1972-01-26
Runtime1h 41mins
GenreAction, Comedy, Crime
Content RatingPG (PG)
AwardsNominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination.
CompanyLanders-Roberts Productions
Warden (as Graham P. Jarvis)
Rollo the Bartender
Happy Hippie
Cop At Police Station
Dr. Strauss
Lynne Gordon
Lynne Gordon

The Hot Rock (film)

The Hot Rock is a 1972 American comedy-drama caper film directed by Peter Yates from a screenplay by William Goldman, based on Donald E. Westlake's novel of the same name, which introduced his long-running John Dortmunder character. The film stars Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn and Zero Mostel. It was released in the UK with the alternate title How to Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy Lessons.


After John Dortmunder (Redford) is released from his latest stint in prison, he is approached by his brother-in-law, Andy Kelp (Segal), about another job. Dr. Amusa (Gunn) seeks a valuable gem in the Brooklyn Museum that is of great significance to his people in his country in Africa, stolen during colonial times and then re-stolen by various African nations.

Dortmunder and Kelp are joined by driver Stan Murch (Leibman) and explosives expert Allan Greenberg (Sand), concocting an elaborate plan to steal the gem. Although the scheme (and each subsequent one) is carefully planned—and keeps increasing in cost—something always goes awry, and the quartet has to steal the diamond again and again.

First off, the diamond is swallowed by Greenberg when he alone gets caught by the museum guards during the initial heist. Dortmunder, Kelp, and Murch, at the urging of Greenberg's rotund father Abe (Zero Mostel), a lawyer, help Greenberg escape from state prison, but they then find he does not have the diamond. After Greenberg tells his partners he hid the rock in the police station (after bodily evacuating it), the quartet break into the precinct jail by helicopter, but the rock is not where Greenberg hid it. Greenberg discloses that his father Abe was the only other person who knew where it was.

It isn't until Murch, disguised as the grunting muscle man "Chicken," threatens Abe with being thrown down an elevator shaft, that Abe gives up the location of the diamond—his safe deposit box, and he also gives up the key to it. However, Dortmunder cannot access the box because of bank vault security, and the gang leaves Abe in Dr. Amusa's office while they come up with a plan.

With the help of a hypnotist by the name of Miasmo, Dortmunder sets up his own safe deposit box to get access to the vault and then plans to invoke the predetermined hypnotic trigger phrase "Afghanistan banana stand" to the vault guard. He would then be able to gain access to Abe's safe deposit box and retrieve the gem just after the bank opens in the morning.

While Dortmunder is waiting for the bank to open, the rest of the group meets with Dr. Amusa at his request. Dr. Amusa fires them for incompetence, and reveals that Abe Greenberg has made his own deal to sell him the gem, which will leave Dortmunder's gang with nothing.

Dortmunder finally retrieves the gem while Dr. Amusa and Abe are driving to the bank by limousine. He exits the bank and walks away just before they arrive. Dortmunder climbs into Kelp's car where the others are waiting, and a rousing cheer erupts as they drive off.


  • Robert Redford as Dortmunder
  • George Segal as Kelp
  • Ron Leibman as Murch
  • Paul Sand as Greenberg
  • Moses Gunn as Dr. Amusa
  • Zero Mostel as Abe Greenberg
  • William Redfield as Lt. Hoover
  • Christopher Guest as Policeman
  • Graham Jarvis as Warden
  • Lynne Gordon as Miasmo
  • Charlotte Rae as Ma Murch
  • Harry Bellaver as Rollo the Bartender



The screenplay was by William Goldman, who called Westlake's book "wonderful, very funny... I was a Westlake fan."

Peter Yates agreed to make the film "because all around me I was finding that people were making nothing but films about violence, sex and drugs... Everything was a downer. I wanted to do an upper... The point of this film is not that the characters are criminals, but that they are likable, and that they, like many people, plan things all their lives and never have it work out."

Yates called the film better than Bullitt "because the characters are better delineated... and because it's a comedy mixed with suspense which is tenuous to pull off."


As Dortmunder's gang flies through Manhattan to break into the police station, their helicopter flies by the World Trade Center. The south tower is clearly seen as still being under construction in several shots.


Box Office

"I thought I had a hit with The Hot Rock,' " Yates said. "It was an interesting story, and we had Robert Redford and George Segal for the leads. Nobody went to see it."


Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that it "is a long way from being the perfect caper movie but, bless it, has two or three scenes good enough for any caper movie ever made. If you're a pushover for caper movies, like I am, that will be enough." Roger Greenspun of The New York Times stated that "if 'The Hot Rock' is never quite good enough, it is always pretty good⁠—and inventive, and attentive to reasonable detail." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a lightly amusing caper film. It is dominated by its splendid gallery of performances rather than by its style, ingenuity or suspense, all of which are unexceptional." Variety described it as a "ood caper film" which "emerges as an offbeat crime feature with broad audience potential." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post thought that Redford gave what "seems more like a frozen, impassive performance than the ironically funny and affecting one it's supposed to be." Arnold also found the script "dangerously underwritten. Once again Goldman has his tongue in his cheek, as he did in 'Butch Cassidy,' but he isn't moving it around with equal zest and confidence." Nigel Andrews of The Monthly Film Bulletin stated, "Within the limits of an increasingly familiar genre, How to Steal a Diamond springs a number of enjoyable surprises. Although the early scenes threaten another conveyor-belt variation on the 'perfect robbery' film, How to Steal a Diamond has the entertaining difference that the criminals' plans go wrong on three occasions before they finally make off with the loot." As of January 2020, the film holds a rating of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews.


Frank P. Keller and Fred W. Berger were nominated for the best film editing Academy Award. William Goldman was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for his screenplay.


Punk rock band Sleater-Kinney named their 1998 album The Hot Rock after the movie. The cover of the album features the band imitating the film's poster in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Musical score and soundtrack

The Hot Rock
Soundtrack album by
Quincy Jones
RecordedDecember 1971
StudioRecord Plant, Los Angeles, CA
GenreFilm score
SD 6055
ProducerQuincy Jones
Quincy Jones chronology
Smackwater Jack
The Hot Rock
You've Got It Bad Girl

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones and the soundtrack album was originally released on the Prophesy label in 1972.The Vinyl Factory said "Quincy concocts some snazzy caper music for this peak-period Redford caper flick, which features primo instrumentation from Grady Tate, Clark Terry and Gerry Mulligan, as well as members of L.A.’s famed Wrecking Crew. They lay down some great beats and breaks throughout – no wonder it’s been sampled by the likes of Eminem".

Track listing

All compositions by Quincy Jones except where noted


  • Orchestra arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones including:
  • Tata (tracks 1 & 6), The Ian Smith Singers (track 1), The Don Elliot Voices (track 7) − vocals
  • Clark Terry − trumpet
  • Frank Rosolino − trombone
  • Jerome Richardson − clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
  • Gerry Mulligan − baritone saxophone
  • Mike Melvoin − synthesizer
  • Clare Fischer − piano (track 7)
  • Victor Feldman − vibraphone
  • Emil Richards − vibraphone, percussion
  • Dennis Budimir, Tommy Tedesco − guitar
  • Ray Brown, Chuck Rainey − bass
  • Carol Kaye − electric bass
  • Grady Tate − drums, percussion
  • Milt Holland, Bobbye Hall − percussion
  • Bill Rinehart, Don Altfeld − arranger (track 6)