Seven Thieves (1960)

Seven Thieves (1960) seems too good a caper noir to miss, with Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach and Joan Collins, all in one tidy package of heist.

Instead, Seven Thieves maybe demonstrates what the style had lost by 1960, and the ways in which production and vision had altered, to knock classic film noir on the head.

With the odour of a caper movie, it's maybe a shame that Seven Thieves is not film in colour. Certainly VistaVision and other widescreen techniques do leave some directors offering large empty spaces on screen, especially in the shots of single individuals.

"It has the smell of insanity" suggest Rod Steiger, but Eli Wallach steps in with a correction: "All we have to do is gamble with higher stakes than the casino is used to."

Beatniks Eli Wallach and Joan Collins in Seven Thieves (1960)

Seven Thieves (1960), a heist movie with a jazzy feel and a somewhat rambling set of performances from some serious actors, provides curiosity value, and ambience galore.

As for content, it's a slow-burner. The story is familiar. Theo Wilkins (played by Edward G. Robinson), a disgraced American science professor, who recruits Paul Mason (Rod Steiger), a thief who has recently been released from jail, to help him with one final heist on the French Riviera. 

The sex by jazz scene is something peculiar that evolved throughout film noir to offer true meaning to the counter cultures of the 1940s and 1950s. That the two were paired seems obvious in that era, although when it explodes in Seven Thieves, it seems gratuitous, which is what it was. There is just sex and jazz, so everything is surface. There is no hidden tension or unspoken desire. There is no ambiguity or message.

Sex by Jazz with Joan Collins and Eli Wallach in
Seven Thieves (1960)

Theo's heist team also includes a dancer, Melanie (Joan Collins) and Poncho (Eli Wallach), a hepcat jazz saxophonist. While the group has a clever plot for the multimillion dollar robbery, unexpected twists threaten their chance to escape with a fortune. And the heist goes wrong!

What goes right however is the sensational dynamic grouping, which can't really believe what it is taking part in or where this is going. There are many heist films out there and many viewers and directors still struggling to make sense of what they could and could not show on screen. Sex by jazz had become one of these areas.

Rod Steiger and Edward G. Robinson in Seven Thieves (1960)

The opening scenes of Seven Thieves, which feature Edward G. Robinson and Rod Steiger, are as explanatory as statements and accounts that make their back stories clear. The story is explicated three times. Perhaps somebody had imagined that simply featuring these two actors would create enough mood, enough fascination, and enough drama and interest to get the production moving.

It's true that Eli Wallach and Rod Steiger were both supremely talented and technical performers, so watch them nonetheless, as they repeat reasons and justifications that all is about to happen.

The two actors work to their best, and the script, while pedestrian, does not work to differentiate itself from similar stories to pull away and make its mark. We've seen heist movies before, and we will see them again. This one isn't super-cerebral and neither is it super slick. It's got a little bit of film noir residue however, than many similar capers.

Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins and Eli Wallach
Seven Thieves (1960)

The joys of a Eli Wallach and Joan Collins pairing are probably why the film remains to be seen by much of the beatnik loving, film noir chasing populace of the planet. That it has a classic sex and jazz combo scene, or two actually, as Joan Collins and Eli Wallach do it twice; first as she wears white; next as she wears red.  Like the heist, perhaps, we could say that much went into the planning. There is a plot reason for each dance, the second one being that the dancing is prick-teasing one of the casino's senior employees into madness. He sweats and stars at least, the voyeur within the voyeurs. The whole joy of cinema is at times like these we are allowed to watch, when in real life we might well turn away!

Eli Wallach as Pancho the criminal saxophonist in
Seven Thieves (1960)

Modest appearance from Barry Kroeger in
Seven Thieves (1960)

The classic heist rigmarole here is of course the immortal 'one last job', or ' one last chance' or whatever it is going to be. And while Eli Wallach attempts to pass himself of as a hep cat saxophonist he appears to be acting very well in what is a largely non-existent role. Wallach and Collins also feature in one of several curious 'rapes by jazz' in film noir  - Joan Collin's dance appearance is on the face of it completely gratuitous - although she does prove to be a tremendous dancer. A tremendous dancer who dances in her underwear.

Eli Wallach, Joan Collins, in the casino in Monte Carlo
Seven Thieves (1960) 

There is a performative aspect to a few of the scenes and dramas in Seven Thieves. Rod Steiger is still working through On The Waterfront (1954) and is working away at something that looks and feels like Brando. Edward G. Robinson is like his own walking movie set but maybe the widescreen is not suited to this. What he carries with him, the fulsome baggage of decades of classic American crime cinema, is there. Not noir enough to keep it receding into the frame. 

Edward G. Robinson in Seven Thieves (1960)

Along different lines, the sex drive proposed by Freud which offers the most potent novelty for understanding the film noir, is evident in Joan Collins' unusual role. The pre-eminence that the Viennese doctor accords sex within the bounds of human personality and behaviour is fully apparent in the film noir, but Joan Collins is not a female sexual predator, like the infamous the femme fatale. 

Instead Joan Collins is intelligent, ambitious, calculating and does use her physical attractiveness as a tool to achieve goals for the team. While she might be an adept in the art of seduction and falsehood, we do not see a great deal of this. Joan Collins' thief character is softer, has more traditional redeeming qualities, and so does the love and sex interest in a more traditional manner.

Moments of noir — Seven Thieves (1960)

There are moments of adventure but classic film noir did not need actual cliff-edged excitement to create cliff-edged excitement.

It would seem that it was usual for films located on the French Riviera, and Monte Carlo get the full technicolor treatment, such as To Catch a Thief, or En Plein Soleil. 

But in Seven Thieves, Henry Hathaway goes for black and white because this is at heart making a stab at the film noir style - - it's film noir in the sunshine if you like  - - and the main draw is supposed to be the plot of the caper and the relationships of the characters. There is something here aimed perhaps at the British audience in particular who were fast evolving a fascination for the Mediterranean.

Also, is the title supposed to be a play on Seven Dwarves? If so then it should not be a wordplay that works or has an aim. Or is it in the Name and Number Heist movie Have a Number in Your Movie Title canon?

Joan Collins and Rod Steiger in Seven Thieves (1960)

The larger ensemble scenes, such as the one in which the full seven members of the team are all together for the first time, are typical of the usual good heist movie. It gets better as the plan is executed, and the rigmarole unfolds. The matinee realism of the heist itself contains the pure, tense and gentle thrills of watching a plan go wrong, and right, and wrong again in places.

In the same year as this, 1960, a more famous caper heist films appeared, Ocean's 11, which is also about robbing a casino. Seven Thieves is not as light-hearted as that particular romp, and although it may appear to sleepwalk from time to time, it is sleepwalking with some of the greatest film acting talent of the era.

On the road there are the odd moments when it feels like there's nothing to watch, but once the heist itself gets rolling, Seven Thieves delivers its suspense and joy, and probably enough to keep the hep cats happy.

No Honour Among Seven Thieves (1960)

But for all of this, what is curious is that Seven Thieves is probably a signal sign that the classic film noir period is over and done with and that it will never ride again. Or will it? Will classic film noir also do one last job?


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