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.


Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #15: Quintet (dir by Robert Altman)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)


The 1979 post-apocalyptic film Quintet aired on FXM on November 15th.  I recorded it because this film is often cited as being one of director Robert Altman’s worst but I’ve also read some very passionate defenses of Quintet.  Since I’ve enjoyed several of Altman’s films (Nashville, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Company, The Player, The Long Goodbye, and many more), I wanted to experience Quintet for myself.

I mean, seriously — a postapocalyptic sci-fi film from Robert Altman!?  That would have to be at least interesting, right?

Anyway, I watched Quintet and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what the Hell was going on for most of the film.  Things made a bit more sense after I did a little bit of research and I discovered that Quintet was 1) inspired by a fragment of a dream that Altman had and 2) went into production despite not having a completed script.

Quintet opens with a breath-taking shot of a frozen landscape.  There’s been a new ice age.  The entire Earth is frozen.  There’s only a few hundred humans left and their number is rapidly dwindling.  Some, like Essex (Paul Newman) and Vivia (Brigitte Fossey) spend their days hiking across the tundra and hunting seals.  Others — like practically everyone else in the entire freaking film — spend their times in ramshackle villages, pursuing what little pleasure they can find while waiting to die.

In this new frozen world, the most popular activity — outside of getting drunk — is playing a board game called Quintet.  I have no idea how Quintet is played, though the film is full of scenes of people playing it.  From what we do see, it really doesn’t look like that fun of a game but I guess you can’t be picky when you’re waiting to freeze to death.  I mean, honestly, if the world’s ending, I’d rather play a board game than charades.

Anyway, in one of the frozen towns, a group of people are having a Quintet tournament, with the rule being that, once you’re eliminated in the board game, you are also killed in real life.  (And again, this is where it would have been helpful for the film to take just a few minutes to clarify just how exactly Quintet is played.)  One of the Quintet players is killed by a bomb, which unfortunately blows up Viva as well.  Seeking revenge (or, at least, I’m guessing that was his motivation because Paul Newman didn’t exactly give the most communicative performance of his career in Quintet), Essex assumes a fake identity and enters the tournament.

Soon, he’s running around the frozen landscape, killing people.  He knows that the final player standing will receive a prize of some sort but he doesn’t know what the prize is.  How deep!  Or something.

Dammit, I really wanted to defend Quintet.  I really did.  Whenever I see a movie that has gotten almost universally negative reviews, my natural instinct is to try to find something good about it.  And I will say this: visually, Quintet is fascinating.  A lot of care was put into creating this frozen world and it’s interesting to note how every location is decorated by elaborate ice sculptors.  The ice may be destroying civilization but it can’t squelch humanity’s natural creativity.

Unfortunately, Quintet  may be well-designed but it’s also a painfully slow film.  Just because the film takes place on a glacier, that doesn’t mean that it needs to move like one.  The slow pace is not helped by the fact that many of the characters have a tendency to suddenly start delivering these faux profound philosophical monologues, the majority of which are about as deep as the typical Tumblr post.

Quintet stars Paul Newman, who was both an iconic movie star and a legitimately great actor.  He spends most of Quintet alternating between looking confused and looking stoic.  That said, it’s always interesting to watch an actor like Paul Newman slog his way through an artistic misfire like WUSA or Quintet.  Let’s give Paul Newman some credit: he delivered his lines with a straight face. Just as Essex knew he was trapped on a glacier, Paul Newman understood that was trapped in Quintet.  Both did what they had to do to survive.

Robert Altman was a great director but Quintet is not a great film.

It happens.