DOLORES HITCHENS – Fools Gold. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1958. Paperback reprint: Pocket #1239, 1959.

Film: BAND OF OUTSIDERS. Columbia Pictures, 1964. French title: Bande à part. Anna Karina, Danièle Girard, Louisa Colpeyn, Chantal Darget, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur. Director: Jean-Luc Godard.

   Very similar in vein to Rififi in New York [reviewed here ], there’s Fools Gold, by Dolores Hitchens, a nasty piece of work about a nasty piece of work names Skip, barely graduated from juvenile delinquency, sho has enthralled a cute blonde named Karen and a dim ne’er-do-well named Eddie with whom he hopes to pull a major caper.

   But this thing has wheels within wheels, and when a big-time professional crook gets wind of the deal and decides to hijack it, that’s only the beginning of the complications that ensue.

   I never read any Hitchens before, but I found this quite well done. She has a good feel for letting the characters shape the plot, and she isn’t bothered by a bit of clutter and untidiness as things play out in a nicely cluttered and untidy finale.

   Fools Gold was turned into a rather unlikely film called Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) in 1964 by the legendary and quite mad Jean-Luc Godard, who threw out half the plot but stayed surprisingly faithful to the rest.

   Bande stars Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur and the lovely Anna Karina as the aspiring felons, and it’s played out on actual locations rather than sets, giving the thing that rough, seat-of-the-pants look typical of Godard and perfect for a gritty crime movie.

   There’s also a bit more attention to the characters here. Hitchens’ cast was well-drawn and believable, but — how shall put this? — you know how in pornography, the characters think about sex all the time? Of course you do.

   Well in crime novels the characters are pretty well occupied with crime. So it is in Hitchens’ novel, but not so in Godard’s film, Here, they have their secret thoughts, playful moments and private ambitions. And sometimes they break out of the story just to be young.

   The result is a film worth coming back to: mysterious, exciting, and highly satisfying.