SEVEN THIEVES. 20th Century Fox, 1960. Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Eli Wallach, Alexander Scourby, Michael Dante, Berry Kroeger, Sebastian Cabot. Based on the novel by Max Catto. Director: Henry Hathaway.

   Context first. To Catch a Thief was filmed in 1955, while Ocean’s Eleven premiered in August 1960. Seven Thieves beat the latter to the gate by a few months, its first showing being in March that same year.

   Of course you can’t really consider To Catch a Thief as a caper film, not in the strictest sense of the word, I don’t think, and there were a number of others that were that came in between, but since both it and Seven Thieves take place in Monte Carlo with the Casino a major part of the plot, it was of course the film I first thought of when I began to watch the latter.

   Only problem is, Thief was filmed in beautiful Technicolor, and Thieves is in “glorious” black and white. As befitting a “noir” film, one supposes, but then why was it filmed in Cinemascope? The noir aspects are minor. Why not have followed Hitchcock’s example and gone with color as well? Monaco is such a beautiful place. It deserved it.

   Thieves is also not nearly as good, plotwise, as Thief, but it is better than Eleven (filmed in color) but whose fame depends on the actors playing in it than the rather disposable details of stealing all that money from the Las Vegas casinos, all to no avail.

   Something always has to go wrong in caper and/or heist films. We’ve said that before on this blog, and Thieves in the long run is no different. But for a suspense film, it runs a leisurely course from nearly beginning to end. Even the twists in the plot are leisurely.

   I will not be the first to have pointed this out, I am sure, but what plot behind the caper in Thieves reminded me of most was those that appeared every week on the Mission Impossible television show. Meticulous detail, timed to the second, but while nothing ever seems to go exactly to plan, and a lot of sweat appears on everyone’s brows, there is little to fear that anything goes seriously wrong.

   But of course it does, and I will refrain from telling you just when it does, assuming that you will one day wish to watch this picture. And yet the ending, while perhaps persuaded in the direction it takes by a board of censors, goes down smoothly enough – save the very last scene, where sheer luck seems to be involved more than bad happenstance, if there is a difference, and I believe there is.

   I don’t believe that Edward G. Robinson ever gave a bad performance, and he’s in fine form in this one as the disgraced elderly Professor who puts the details of the theft together, with Rod Steiger coming on board to keep the other players in line. Steiger himself seems a bit out of place among the other members of the gang, a miscellaneous group to say the least, but he’s quite effective, and (surprisingly) quietly so.

   Joan Collins was also in fine form, and here I’m speaking physically as well as performing her role well. She is a dancer in a jazz nightspot in Thieves, brunette, beautiful, slim, lissome and slender, with her two sensuous dance numbers well choreographed by Candy Barr, one of the most well-known true strippers of the day.

   There is some interplay between the members of the gang, some more committed than others, but mostly between Robinson and Steiger, whose character needs a lot of convincing to come in on the job, then later on an attraction between Steiger and Joan Collins begins to bloom.

   The heist itself? While complicated, rather ordinary, I’d have to admit. But being no particular fan of the Rat Pack myself, I’d recommend this one over its more direct contemporary, even though it’s not nearly as well known, even before the remake of Ocean’s crew at work came along and made the earlier version even more famous.