A disparate collection of crooks, small-time hustlers, and disreputable characters knocking around Monte Carlo are brought together to rob a casino in an elaborate heist in Seven Thieves (1960), an unshowy caper film from Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway. Edward G. Robinson plays the mastermind of the job, Theo Wilkins, a once-respected scientist whose career foundered after serving time for theft, and Rod Steiger plays his loyal friend, partner, and right hand Paul Mason, a sophisticated career criminal brought over by Theo to run the untrustworthy crew.
The film was promoted by Fox as “Little Caesar meets Al Capone,” referring to the pairing of old school gangster star Robinson with method actor (and Al Capone star) Steiger. In fact, Theo is much closer to another Robinson role from his gangster past: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), where Robinson’s titular doctor joins a criminal gang to research his book and ends up plotting their robberies. Theo could be Clitterhouse twenty years later, an old pro more interested in the mechanics and execution of the perfect plan than the money.
Joan Collins plays the key to their scheme, a stripper in a second-rate nightclub where the nervous assistant director of Monte Carlo’s biggest casino arrives nightly to watch her dance, and Eli Wallach is her mentor and mother hen Poncho, who blows the saxophone (and at one point becomes a partner in her routine) in the club’s jazz combo. The team is filled out by Michael Dante as the grinning safecracker, Berry Kroeger as the driver and team muscle, and Alexander Scourby as the reluctant partner inside the club, the casino assistant director pressured by Collins to be their inside man.
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Samuel Fuller was a maverick in Hollywood even before he left the studios and struck out in a series of independent, low-budget productions in the late 1950s. But with the freedom afforded him outside the studio system, combined with the challenges of working on smaller budgets and tighter schedules and his own tabloid journalist and pulp fiction instincts, Fuller’s filmmaking became downright jagged and jarring and confrontational in films like Verboten!, Underworld U.S.A. and Shock Corridor. These were critical portraits of American hypocrisy and social injustice within lurid pulp stories and Fuller turned familiar genres–the war movie, the gangster film, the detective story–inside out with a mix of searing social commentary and startling cinematic devices that would be picked up by the directors of the French New Wave. The Naked Kiss is arguably the most aggressively defiant film of his career.
Fuller opens the film by literally battering the audience to attention: a furious woman (Constance Towers) assaults the camera head-on, with reverse shots revealing the man on the other end of the blows. She’s a prostitute, he’s her pimp and as her wig slips off, we get a startling image that explains her fury. Fuller knows how to begin a movie, to be sure, but he also immediately tells the audience exactly what kind of world our mad-as-hell heroine lives in. Two year later, Kelly (Towers) arrives in a small town with a luxurious head of blonde hair, a smart suit and a monogrammed suitcase: the wares of a traveling sales woman hawking California champagne, which local cop Griff (Anthony Eisely) see right through. She’s a pro and he happily pays her fee and samples her wares before booting her out of town. But instead of heading across the river (where the local bordello, Candy’s, is allowed to operate and apparently gets many of its referrals from Griff) she remakes herself as the angel of the children’s ward of an orthopedic hospital, a tough-but-tender nurse who runs her ward like a pirate ship and mother hen to the young candy stripers struggling in the face of all the pain and suffering around them. Beloved by all (except Griff, who thinks she’s just working an angle), Kelly wooed by the town millionaire Grant (Michael Dante), the generous, cultured scion of the town’s founding father. Then she discovers his “secret” (“We’re both abnormal,” he smiles, attempting to equate her past with his sickness) and is arrested for murder.
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