ONCE A THIEF. MGM, 1965. Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, John Davis Chandler, Jeff Corey. Screenplay: Zekial Marko, based on his novel Scratch A Thief as by John Trinian (Ace Double F-107, 1961; Stark House, 2016). Director: Ralph Nelson.

   This better than average crime heist film came along a few years after the height of the noir era, and while truth be told, it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s well-filmed, well-acted and beautifully photographed (in black and white when they knew how to film in black and white).

   The thief in question is Alain Delon, who plays Eddie Pedak, a guy who’s done some time but is now married to Ann-Margret and has an honest job down by the San Francisco docks. He’s just made a down payment on his own boat when his nemesis, Inspector Mike Vido (Van Heflin), figures he’s the one who killed a Chinese woman in the process of robbing her small store.

   When the woman’s husband can’t identify Eddie as the killer, he’s allowed to go free, but in the meantime he’s lost his job. Ann-Margret gets a job in a local nightspot — this doesn’t go over well — and then along comes his brother Walter (Jack Palance), a hustler and small-time hoodlum with an offer Eddie, desperate for money, can’t refuse.

   A heist, in other words, and Walter needs Eddie. (I did mention, didn’t I, that not much in new ground is broken?) Heists never go as planned, but the story’s not really about the robbery. It’s about the characters, and while you can’t believe that Alan Delon and Jack Palance could ever be related, they make their roles ones they seemingly were born to play. Ann-Margret’s histrionics may go over the top a couple of times, but she managed to convince me that any mother whose young daughter is being held by a gang of sadistic thieves would react exactly the same way.

   Did I say the heist goes badly? Indeed it does.