The Great Train Robbery

In His Own Words

Things develop in the course of work. I woke up one night when The Great Train Robbery was almost completed, and thought that what the book’s really about is repression, and that’s what the whole Victorian period means. And the idea of criminals going against society made them the least repressed. That’s what the book is about, and this came totally after the fact. At the time, I was just writing a story.

Michael Crichton


Lavish wealth and appalling poverty live side by side in Victorian London — and Edward Pierce easily navigates both worlds. Rich, handsome, and ingenious, he charms the city’s most prominent citizens even as he plots the crime of his century — the daring theft of a fortune in gold.

But even Pierce could not predict the consequences of an extraordinary robbery that targets the pride of England’s industrial era: the mighty steam locomotive. Based on remarkable fact, and alive with the gripping suspense, surprise, and authenticity that are his trademark, Michael Crichton’s classic adventure is a breathtaking thrill-ride that races along tracks of steel at breakneck speed.

From the Archives

Michael Crichton’s Edgar Award for The Great Train Robbery

Michael Crichton’s Edgar Award
for The Great Train Robbery

In His Own Words

Finally we are shooting a long take where Sean comes running up the length of the train, jumping from car to car. Because we are shooting in all directions, the camera operator and I are hanging out on a side platform, and everyone else is inside the train. I am trying to watch the scene and also to remember to duck down at the right time so the camera lens can swing over my head.

Filming begins. Sean runs up the length of the train. I smell a harsh acrid odor. I feel a sharp pain on top of my scalp. I realize that my hair has been set on fire by the cinders from the locomotive. I am frantically brushing at my hair, trying to put the fire out, because I don’t want smoke coming from my head when the camera swings over me.

While I am doing that, Sean jumps to the nearest car, stumbles and falls. I think, Jeez, Sean, don’t overdo making it look dangerous. He is carrying a bundle of clothes, a story point. He drops the clothes as he falls and I realize Sean would never do that, that he must have really fallen. Meanwhile, I am still trying to put the fire out on my head. Sean scrambles to his feet, retrieves the clothes, and moves on, wincing in genuine pain. I get the cinders out of my head as the camera swings over. We make the shot.

Afterward we stop the train; everybody gets off. He has a bad cut on his shin that is being attended to.

“Are you all right, Sean?”

He looks at me. “Did you know,” he says, “that your hair was on fire? You ought to be more careful up there.”

And he laughs.

The Great Train Robbery (Movie)

Release Date: February 2, 1979
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Director: Michael Crichton
Screenwriter: Michael Crichton
Based on the Novel By: Michael Crichton
Studio: United Artists
Starring: Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, Lesley-Anne Down, Alan Webb

This was a fast book for me, but even so, a book takes a long time, and the information on the period was so interesting to me that I thought, “Well, I’m having a good time and can afford the luxury of indulging this interest, where or not anyone in the United States in the nineteen seventies cares about England in the eighteen fifties. And now there’s a Victorian revival, everybody is writing about the Victorian period. I started out esoteric, and ended up fashionable.

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