The opening third of the film follows a $1.2 million armored car robbery that basically involves three guys in masks pistol-whipping the carriers and speeding off with the cash in a flower delivery van. It seems a stretch to call it brilliantly masterminded.
The cast is well chosen although their performances don’t always live up to their potential and chemistry. The beginning of the film, especially, plays more on caricatures and caper clichés than on anything dense enough to bite into. Once John Payne shows up to take on the protagonist position, things fall into place and his hard jaw, skeptical gaze and smooth delivery, not to mention his nimble ability to disarm thugs of guns, make him the most hard-boiled florist in film history. Each of the four main villains has an expressive menace that is unique and effective. Jack Elam as Peter Harris is easily the worst for acting, but he also gets the least screen time. The three that remain in the final portions, plus Joe, make for a nerve-wracking four-way game of dog, cat, cat and mouse.
The influence of “Kansas City Confidential” is unmistakable, particularly its system of mutually-unidentified criminals and its focus on the post-heist battle of wits. The similarity to “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) with the crooks knowing only each other’s color-coded names (stolen more specifically from “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)) and set entirely after the crime made me suspicious and sure enough: the film appears on Quentin Tarantino’s top 100 favorite films.