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Case Number 11803

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Honor Among Thieves

Lionsgate // 1968 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // August 3rd, 2007

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All Rise...

Yeah! Judge Roy Hrab is befuddled, perplexed, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and baffled. Yeah!! Come join him in his bewilderment! Yeah!!!

The Charge

A thief. A doctor. A most unusual crime.

Opening Statement

I'm still scratching my head over Honor Among Thieves. This 1968 French production is a near incomprehensible mess of a movie. The script by Sebastien Japrisot (A Very Long Engagement) is filled with non-sequiturs, gaping plot holes and pointlessly bizarre scenes. I cannot understand how this movie got made, let alone cast the likes of Charles Bronson (Once Upon A Time In The West) and Alain Delon (Le Samourai).

Facts of the Case

Here is the way I see things: Franz Propp (Bronson) and Dr. Dino Barran (Delon) get discharged from the army at the same time in Marseille, France. Propp is trying to put together a mercenary group to go to the Congo and needs a doctor. However, war has left Barran disillusioned and he wants nothing to do with Propp's plan. Instead, Barran decides to help the mysterious Isabelle Moreau (Olga Georges-Picot, The Day Of The Jackal (1975)) return stolen bonds to an underground safe of a corporation in Paris. Propp, still looking for a doctor, tails Barran to the scene of the heist.

Any attempt to explain the plot further is an exercise in futility. Needless to say, things do not go as planned and the two men find themselves up to their necks in trouble.

The Evidence

Where do I begin? The misogynistic sequence where Propp has a girl performing as a life-size pull-string talking doll for a group of unidentified rich men to raise some cash? It is creepy to the extreme. It also makes no sense, but then not much in this film does. From start to finish Honor Among Thieves lurches from the improbable to the unreasonable to the preposterous, finally coming to rest at the very edge of the surreal.

Some of the most ridiculous moments revolve around cracking the safe's combination. For example, Isabelle tells Dino that only three of the seven numbers needed to open the safe are known. Dino deadpans: "if we need four figures, that makes 10,000 possible combinations. I've got three days and nights to try them all." What a trooper! Barran may know some math, but he certainly lacks common sense: How did Isabelle get the bonds out of the safe without knowing the combination? Unencumbered by such details, Barran soldiers on. He even brings an abacus to keep track of the combinations! Or at least that's why I think he brought it for he stops using it pretty quickly.

Of course, Barran also must deal with the pesky Propp, who crashes the safe-cracking party. Following some silly cat-and-mouse shenanigans (for example, Barran hides all the food from Propp) and fist fights, both men find themselves trapped in the room with the safe, leading to some old fashioned male bonding. It is this bond that leads to displays of "honor among thieves" in the film's post-safe-cracking storyline. Nothing is particularly compelling, weighty or thrilling in these exhibitions of "honor" by these "thieves," although the film makes a big deal about it. This final section of the movie is as, if not more, nonsensical than what comes before, featuring Barran on the lam, Propp under intense police interrogation, a (surprise, surprise) poorly explained twist, and (another surprise) a weirdly executed shoot-out.

Then there is the matter of the movie's odd symmetrical bookends. Honor Among Thieves opens with Bronson exclaiming "Yeah!" three times. In fact, the expression becomes Propp's catchphrase. In the finale, Bronson again says "Yeah" followed by a zoom on Delon screaming "YEAH!" at the top of his lungs. What?! Is there some significance in the word "Yeah" in France of which I am unaware? I don't understand, but what else is new?

Oh, did I fail mention that when Barran and Propp are trapped in the safe that Propp manages to short-out the air conditioning (and electrocute himself in the process)? It seems to serve no other purpose than as an excuse to have the pair strip off their shirts and sweat. Seriously, I'm not making this up.

Judging the actors is difficult because of the incoherency of the story and inanity of the dialogue. Both Delon and Bronson deliver trademark tough-guy performances, but that's it. They're pretty much on auto-pilot. The supporting players do not fare any better. I think that a film like this requires actors who can recognize the silliness of it all and camp it up, going way over the top. Unfortunately, everybody plays it straight.

The video transfer is adequate. There is light grain and scratching throughout, but nothing particularly objectionable. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is decent, although I'm sure that parts of the film have been dubbed over. Specifically, just before the 19 minute mark, Bronson is doing a coin trick, but only his hand is shown. Out of frame a voice says "Franz Propp. My name is Franz Propp." Bronson has a distinctive voice and the voice at this specific point is not his. Whether this dubbing was done for the DVD or the original I do not know.

The extras are non-existent except for a set of trailers that does not include the trailer for Honor Among Thieves.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I'm no fan of this film, but perhaps I am missing some visual and non-verbal cues to what is going that would be obvious to a French viewer at the time Honor Among Thieves was released. Also, there are elements that are sure to be attractive to others. Die-hard fans of heist films may find this to be a gripping thriller. There will be some unable to resist watching a movie with these two icons of cinema sharing screen time. Others may interpret the absurdity of the proceedings as avant-garde filmmaking, perhaps it is. I don't know. There may be others still who find Honor Among Thieves to fall into the "it's so bad, it's good" category of camp.

Closing Statement

I'll concede that there is some minor camp appeal here, but my bottom line is: avoid frustration and walk away from this movie. It's too darn confounding.

The Verdict

Guilty of extreme ludicrousness and a half-baked story. YEAH!!!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 75
Extras: 0
Acting: 55
Story: 40
Judgment: 45

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
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• Classic
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Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


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