Once A Thief (1965)

RALPH NELSON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

/USA, 1965.   Screenplay by , based on his novel.   Cinematography by .   Produced by .   Music by .   Production Design by , .   Film Editing by .  

is an ex-con living in San Francisco and trying to live a normal life with his wife Ann-Margret and their little girl.  In the film’s opening, a very upsetting robbery and murder is shot through warped lenses by director Ralph Nelson, and cop Van Heflin is led to believe that it is Delon who did it; Heflin also happens to have an obsessive vendetta against Delon since he interrupted him mid-heist years earlier and took a shot in the belly for his efforts.  Delon has been saving to purchase a fishing boat and make his living on it, but his plans go up in the air when his overbearing brother (Jack Palance doing an Italian accent) shows up and pressures him into joining him and two other hoods in a million-dollar robbery.  Delon resists but, when his brother’s trouble sees him lose his job and he can’t make money any other way, he agrees to go along with their plan, and as must always be the case, complications and tragic errors ensue.  There’s nothing special about the plot of this film but there’s something very different about its mood, Nelson is more concerned with the emotional state of his characters than he is interested in the jigsaw puzzle of details that usually occupy the playing out of a heist film.  The nights are sultry and cruel as Delon and Ann-Margret veer between desperate lovemaking and vicious fighting (she in particular gives a hard to manage, over the top performance), all of it under the warm but merciless blanket of the jazzy music score and Nelson’s terrific pacing.  Based on the novel by Zekial Marko, who also wrote the book that Delon’s previous heist film Any Number Can Win was based on.

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