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July 11, 2007

Seven Thieves

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Henry Hathaway - 1960
Twentieth Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

Seven Thieves is not a bad caper film, but it is the kind of film that could have been better. The mistake was to entrust Henry Hathaway with the direction. Hathaway's talents have never been the consistent, but Hathaway diminishes the suspense by keeping his distance from the actors and their activities. This is the kind of film that demands an occassional close-ups of faces and hands, of details. Part of the pleasure of the heist film is when the filmmaker makes the audience feel like they are participating in the crime, which is why Hathaway fails where directors like Hitchock, Dassin, Verneuil or Melville succeed. Hathaway has always been his best with films that are largely set in the great outdoors like True Grit and Nevada Smith. Not only does Hathaway seem uncomfortable with a film that takes place in confined interiors, but what little is shown of Monte Carlo is perfunctory.

What pleasure is to be found in Seven Thieves is primarily in seeing Eli Wallach's sax playing hepcat and Joan Collins', er, "performance artist". This being a film for general audiences, Collins' stage act is a clothed bump and grind. Even with Collins dancing and shaking in front of the camera, Hathaway frustratingly keeps a gentlemanly distance from the action.

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The robbery of the casino will strike some as quaint by standards now set with the Ocean's Eleven remake and its sequels. Rod Steiger and Michael Dante basically have to keep to the floor to avoid a few electric eyes, and assume no one hears their noisy power tools. Leading the gang is Edward G. Robinson, playing a former academic gone bad, although the details a deliberately left fuzzy. What can be said is that in this film, the tenderest moments do not involve Collins, but are between Robinson and Steiger. I am not familiar with Max Catto's novel, but producer-screenwriter Sidney Boehm's screenplay flirts with homoerotic feelings, both to explain why there is no sexual relationship between Collins and Wallach, and also in the initial framing of the relationship between Robinson and Steiger. Nothing in Seven Thieves is as dramatic or as tense as it should have been. Even the final twist comes as no surprise. In a way, the film reflects the basic plot in that everything was in the plans, but no one really has the heart to try and get away with it.

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Posted by peter at July 11, 2007 09:16 AM

Comments

This sounds like my kind of movie. I love caper films and I love Wallach. I also love that first photo of Joan that you posted!

I've always thought of Henry Hathaway as a real hit and miss director who misses more than he hits. I've really enjoyed some of his films like Niagara and Kiss of Death, but not a lot of his other movies stick with me.

By chance have you seen Hathaway's film White Witch Doctor? I've been dying to see that movie ever since I stumbled on a copy of the original book by Louise Stinetorf at a second-hand shop (I couldn't resist the great pulp cover!) a few years ago and found out it was turned into a movie. It has a great cast, but I don't think it's ever been released on VHS much less DVD.

Posted by: Kimberly at July 13, 2007 05:14 PM

I actually saw White Witch Doctor on TV when it was part of the Fox films shown on Saturday nights in the early to mid-Sixties on NBC. I was eleven when I saw White Witch Doctor and I had to the baby-sitter to explain the title!

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at July 14, 2007 05:04 PM