Seven Thieves (1960)
If I think of him at all, I generally think of Henry Hathaway as a director of irreverent westerns (North to Alaska, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Nevada Kid, and True Grit), though he also directed some contemporary urban films such as "Kiss of Death," which launched the career of Richard Widmark, "The House on 92nd Street," and "Call Northside 777," which was a key turning point from the aw-shucks Jimmy Stewarts of Frank Capra movies to the obsessive James Stewart of Alfred Hitchock, Anthony Mann, and Otto Preminger. Hathaway also advanced Marilyn Monroe on her path to stardom in "Niagara" and directed Lucille in her best dramatic performance in the quite good noir "The Dark Corner."
Some of the same kind of humor that is in Hathaway-directed westerns leavens "Seven Thieves," the noirish 1960 heist movie he directed for which Edward G. Robinson received top billing, but which is dominated (in time on screen and in every other way) by Rod Steiger.
Robinson has planned ye olde perfect robbery, in this instance of four million dollars (in francs) from the casino at Monte Carlo. A genre convention of heist movies seems to be recruiting a reluctant but essential conspirator. In this instance, it is Steiger. How the very odd group of other conspirators coalesced is not addressed, though lusting after Joan Collins seems to account for several of them. Steiger takes command and to the Alpha Male goes the female spoils (Collins, a dancer who was probably supposed to be understood in the regime of censorship ca. 1960 as a stripper).
Robinson plays a professor who was disgraced and wants to increase his notoriety with a big score more than he seeks money. The others are more interested in money (with lust providing additional motivation for three or four of the seven). It takes about an hour of running type to set up the caper. The execution goes fairly smoothly, but is filmed perfunctorily (contrast the heists Jules Dassin directed in "Rififi" and "Topkapi," the latter of which is, overall, more of a comedy than "Seven Thieves" is, but treats the actual robbery seriously).
What happens after the money has been removed from the casino safe (during the Governor's Ball) is more interesting than the first three-quarters of the movie, beginning with how the money is taken out of the casino, and continuing through what I see as three endings (the ending for the money, the ending for Robinson, the ending for Steiger and Collins in descending order of ingenious plotting.
Although I think the pace is too leisurely (especially to be a "thriller"), the movie is well photographed (with extensive back projections by Sam Leavitt (Cape Fear, Pork Chop Hill, Advise and Consent, The Defiant Ones are some of the other black and white movies he shot splendidly around that time). It has an oppressively obtrusive musical score (by Dominic Frontiere).
Edward G. Robinson exudes the urbane, wry charm of his later years. Rod Steiger (uncharacteristically) underplays the world-weary, reluctant leader, and Joan Collins is almost human. (Her two dance numbers and extensive wardrobe changes perhaps distracted her from hamming it up.) Eli Wallach's part of the conspiracy is to act out so as to create a diversion, so one may regard his scenery-chewing as the character's more than the actor's. Michael Dante(The Naked Kiss) plays the agoraphobic safe-cracker who is suave when not on ledges.
I'd recommend the movie, particularly for fans of Collins, except that I don't like being made complicit with robberies. Watching professionals doing their work professionally I generally appreciate, even if I don't like what they are doing (Pickpocket, Rififi). Certainly, the many heist movies I've watched have not inspired me to take up robbing museums, casinos, or banks, but I don't much like being seduced into identifying with and rooting for thieves. Perhaps I should extend my boycott of movies about serial killers to movies glamorizing thieves?
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