A Monte Carlo caper movie with Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger and Joan Collins sounds like a winner, so I was happy to watch “Seven Thieves.” Robinson plays a disgraced professor (Theo Wilkins) who wants to do something big before he dies. After spending years planning a casino heist, he flies his friend Paul Mason (Steiger) in from America to Monte Carlo to join his carefully-recruited gang of seven thieves. Theo expects Paul to take charge and pull everything together, but first he must convince him to join the heist. That proves to be difficult, since the practical minded Paul doesn’t believe in risk and won’t take any chances.
Joan Collins, in a vibrant performance, plays a stripper named Melanie, whose innovative jazz dancing attracts numerous admirers. They include an inside man at the casino, Raymond (Alexander Scourby), willing to help with the caper. Paul shows very little respect for Melanie, and he treats her badly from the start. Paul also tests Theo’s other cohorts with insults and general disdain. The film spends a lot of time working out these relationships before we get a glimpse of the plan. When the plan comes to light, it’s a very low-tech affair, with the gang acting as impostors pulling off the heist right under the nose of the casino’s security. The casino is clearly not very good at stopping this sort of theft.
Melanie hangs out with a jazz saxophonist named Poncho (Eli Wallach). I sometimes find his performances a bit frenetic and annoying, but he does a fine job in this piece. The main ruse involves him impersonating an Argentinian baron who arrives at the casino in a wheelchair. As the sickly baron, Poncho purposely overdoes his acting, and the rest of the gang fears he’s overdoing it. Perhaps Wallach as Poncho playing such an aggressively unhinged character is a precursor to Wallach’s later acting style, which he showed in movies such as “The Magnificent Seven (1960),” “Lord Jim (1965),” and “How to Steal a Million (1966).”
Besides Robinson’s solid performance, the main reason to see this film is Joan Collins. Her Melanie is very provocative as a stripper, but we also get enough back story on her to understand her motivations. Her performance seems natural because Collins trained with famous stripper Candy Barr. Caper films feature lots of male camaraderie and talking, except for the actual caper, which often happens in a silent sequence. Collins balances out these elements and provides a sympathetic and effective female voice.