Query for historians of cinema and, er, history

Are there any instances on film of the Armed Bank Robbery set in an era before the Wild West? And if so, is it/are they anachronistic or historical?

In other words, did bank robberies ever happen before the 19th century? Modern bank robberies don’t seem very common in real life despite their frequency on film, making me think that heist movies are for the most part a transposition of what is essentially a Western subgenre.

And for that matter, how common were bank robberies in other countries even during the same era? I can’t even visualize a Victorian bank robbery in London.

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6 thoughts on “Query for historians of cinema and, er, history

  1. natebell says:

    So you haven’t seen The First Great Bank Robbery, then? It’s a Michael Crichton flick starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. It’s basically a western transported to Victorian England. Lots of fun.

    But that’s a good question. I can’t think of any exceptions. I guess we Yanks invented bank robberies.

  2. linds says:

    According to what I can find, the first bank robbery recorded in America happened in 1798 at the Bank of Pennsylvania. I can’t decide if more didn’t occur sooner because the time period had something to do with it, or because the 19th century saw a dramatic increase in the number and availability of banks.

  3. Nobody says:

    Not to quibble, Nate, but aren’t you thinking of The First Great TRAIN Robbery?

  4. natebell says:

    Oops. I stand corrected. So, that one doesn’t count, then? It was the bank (as in the institution) that was being violated, but not the actual bank (as in the stationary building).

  5. Nobody says:

    The Train Hijack and/or Robbery strikes me as even more closely identified with the Western, since we seem to have established that the Armed Bank Robbery is of American but not “Western” origin.

    It would be interesting to find out how well publicized the Bank of Pennsylvania robbery was at the time, or if bank heists didn’t seep into the American consciousness until the late 19th century, or even not till the movies.

    As someone from the late 20th century it seems almost impossible for me to know how much my knowledge of the Old West is historical vs. fictional. Were “WANTED” posters with the carnival font inventions of Hollywood or an historical practice?

  6. linds says:

    The posters were real. I have reprints of ones for Billy the Kid and Harry Longabaugh aka the Sundance Kid.

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