A Movie A Day #176: Honor Among Thieves (1968, directed by Jean Herman)

It’s Bronson and Delon, trapped in an airless vault!

While serving in the French Foreign Legion during the Algerian War, Dino Barran (Alain Delon) and Franz Propp (Charles Bronson) became unlikely friends.  Dino is a doctor while Franz is both a pimp and a mercenary.  When the war ends, both return to Paris.  Dino is ready to get on with his life but then he’s approached by Isabelle (Olga Georges-Picot), the lover of a man who Dino got killed in Algeria.  Isabelle has a job for Dino.  She has some files that she needs to return to a safe in an office building.  All Dino has to do is arrange a medical screening in the building and, when no one is looking, open the safe and drop off the documents.  Feeling guilty, Dino agrees.

The problem is that Franz has been following Dino and he has found out that Dino will be opening the safe.  While Dino just wants to put something in, Franz plans to take much more out.  After a fist fight, the two of them find themselves accidentally tapped inside the vault.  Working together, they have to both crack the safe and find a way out of the vault before they run out of the air.

Charles Bronson nearly did not make Honor Among Thieves.  Alain Delon wanted an American actor to co-star with him in the film and he specifically requested that Bronson be offered the part.  Up until this point, with the exception of a few B-movies like Machine Gun Kelly, Bronson had been a supporting player in Hollywood and had always resisted the temptation to follow the lead of Clint Eastwood and go to Europe in search of stardom.  When the film’s producer approached Bronson, he argued that only in Europe would an unconventional actor like Bronson be appreciated.  Though still skeptical, Bronson eventually accepted the offer.

It is a good thing that he did because Honor Among Thieves proved to be a huge hit and it made Bronson a star in Europe.  As a result of his tough and charismatic performance in Honor Among Thieves, Bronson went on star in films like Once Upon A Time In The West and other European hits.  It would be another 5 years before Death Wish made Bronson a star in America but, if not for Honor Among Thieves, Death Wish could very well have ended up starring Jack Lemmon (who was the choice of Death Wish‘s author, Brian Garfield).

As for Honor Among Thieves, it is an overlong and overly complicated heist film, the type that was very common in the 60s and which made a comeback with Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Ocean’s 11.  Ultimately, Honor Among Thieves does not work because the plot has too much padding (the subplot about Franz’s career as a pimp goes nowhere) and unanswered questions (it’s never explained what’s in the documents that need to be returned to the safe) but it is easy to see why Bronson became a star.  Bronson was already in his fifties by the time he made his best-known American films so Honor Among Thieves is a chance to see a younger and more energetic Bronson.  For once, Bronson actually seems to be enjoying himself, even smiling a few times.  For those of us who best know Bronson as the grim-faced avenger who gunned down criminals in countless film for Cannon, it is interesting to see Bronson playing someone who is actually having fun.

Honor Among Thieves was finally given an American release in 1973, following the success of Death Wish.  The original French title was Adieu l’ami.


One response to “A Movie A Day #176: Honor Among Thieves (1968, directed by Jean Herman)

  1. I loved Honor Among Thieves – Delon and Bronson are magic together, and I love the humor in it. I thought it worked wonderfully.


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