The Brink's Job | 1978
After The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin lightened up a bit for this period caper, based on the true story of a gang of amateur bank robbers who lifted $2.7 million from Boston’s supposedly impregnable Brink’s vault.
The film, made on real locations in Boston, including at the old Brink’s HQ itself in North End, opens in 1938 with Tony Pino (Peter Falk) and his crew picking up Sandy from a lively, if disreputable, alleyway. The cobbled street is Boylston Square, off Washington Street, opposite the old Pilgrim Theatre, which was demolished in 1996. This was indeed the city’s notorious red-light district, earning the nickname the ‘Combat Zone’. It’s been seriously cleaned up, of course, and half of Boylston Square has now gone, too.
The bustling street market, where Tony casually pilfers ties and eggplants, is filmed on Central Street at India Street, alongside the old Custom House – now the Marriott’s Custom House, 3 McKinley Square. Built in 1849, its modest classical dome was replaced with the current 26-floor tower in 1915.
Tony’s ‘Egleston Diner’, where liquor store owner Joe McGinnis (Peter Boyle) visits to suggest a not-entirely-legal partnership, is Rino’s Place, 258 Saratoga Street at Putnam Street in East Boston. The food is supposed to be great, but it’s small and the inevitable result is that there can sometimes be a wait.
On the lookout for new targets, Tony and Vinnie (Allen Garfield) check out the safe in the ‘Society for the Preservation of Historical Monuments’, and feel just a little guilty about robbing two old ladies. The little office is 138 Prince Street at LaFayette Avenue in the North End.
It’s as they walk off along Prince Street that Tony notices the Brink’s building where security seems to be unbelievably lax. Now a parking garage at the northwest junction of Prince Street with Causeway Street, this is the real former Brinks Headquarters, where the robbery actually took place.
After tentatively robbing a Brink’s van, Tony celebrates by taking his wife Mary (Gena Rowlands) – in her new muskrat coat – for a meal at Doyle’s Braddock Cafe, 3484 Washington Street, in Jamaica Plain, a few miles southwest of Boston. It’s here he floats his idea to exploit the casual attitude of the Brink’s staff by robbing the building itself.
Tony, along with the other shady characters of Boston, are rounded up for a routine identity parade (which seems to be the inspiration for The Usual Suspects), the unplanned outcome of which is to hook up Tony with more team members, including ordnance expert Specs O’Keefe (Warren Oates).
The old Boston Police Headquarters has been renovated as the Back Bay Hotel, 350 Stuart Street, at Berkeley Street in Bay Village. The station entrance seen in the film is now the hotel’s side entrance, around the corner, at 154 Berkeley Street.
The team approach the Brink’s building via the steps in the playground alongside and efficiently lift the money as lookouts keep watch from the roof opposite.
After the robbery, the cop cars race west along Hull Street, past the south side of Copp's Hill Burial Ground, with Old North Church in background. The historic burial ground itself is featured in another famous Boston-set caper movie, the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.
Although the robbers are long gone, the police cause traffic chaos with a roadblock on the Charlestown Swing Bridge, on Rutherford Avenue / North Washington Street, just north of the Brink’s building, which connects the North End to Charlestown.
Meanwhile J Edgar Hoover muses that the robbery is probably the result of an unholy alliance between organised crime and Communists. The ‘Department of Justice’, out of which he operates, is the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company Building, 501 Boylston Street at Clarendon Street, in the Back Bay district.
The small town of ‘Towanda, PA’, where Specs gets kitted out at the menswear store is Stoneham, a few miles north of Boston. ‘Finnegan’s Mens Wear’ on Main Street has gone, as has the old police box, which stood at the junction of Main Street and Central Street. Destroyed in a car accident in1983, a replica box was unveiled in 2009.
Tony and Joe fall out and end up fighting in the old Dudley Square Station, southwest of the city toward Roxbury, which was part of the MBTA's old elevated Orange Line. The Eisenhower ‘Safe Driving Day’ poster, added for the film, was retained until the station was finally demolished in 1987.
As the members of the gang are finally led into ‘Suffolk County Courthouse’, they’re greeted like movie stars arriving for a red-carpet event. The courthouse is back where the street market scene was filmed, the India Street entrance to the Custom House Tower.
During the production, in a twist which could probably provide the plot of another film, an armed gang stole 13 cans of film and held them to ransom. The thieves were told they’d taken cans of worthless outtakes, and were welcome to keep them.