On a quiet day on a high street in Genova, Switzerland, six workmen are doing some road work. No one suspects that they are actually the six greatest thieves from around the world recruited by suave British criminal mastermind Albert (Philippe Leroy) a.k.a. ‘The Professor’ and his glamorous girlfriend Giorgia (Rossana Podesta) to pull of an audacious underground heist. The plan is to steal a fortune in gold bullion from under a high security bank vault, but for all their ingenuity and steely resolve, getting away with the crime of the century does not prove easy.
Although the crime thriller, more specifically the gangster film came out of Hollywood, one could make the case that European cinema gave birth to its idiosyncratic sub-genre: the caper movie. Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville and especially Jules Dassin contributed the key works: Touchez pas au Grisbi (1954), Bob le Flambeur (1955) and Rififi (1955). A decade later, Dassin revived the genre with the more flamboyant Topkapi (1964) which inadvertently spawned a further sub-genre, the swinging caper movie. While the set-up was often the same - wily genius assembles a ragtag group of glamorous international misfits with specialist skills for a seemingly impossible heist - the swinging caper movie reflected the aspirations of the jet set era by adding ingredients like pop art visuals, super chic fashions and impeccably groovy soundtracks. All of which you’ll find in abundance in the little gem that is Seven Golden Men.
Seven Golden Men is very much the product of an era when Italian cinema exuded glamour and cool the equal of Hollywood, if not moreso. Handsomely crafted by little known director Marco Vicario, the film elaborates upon the conceit at the heart of the cinema of Melville and Dassin, turning the mechanics of suspense filmmaking into an elaborate, teasing game. It is all about sustaining moments of tension through the creation of intricate set-pieces involving hi-tech toys. Consequently, the film offers little of substance beyond comic strip fun. The central heist remarkably occupies two-thirds of the running time. Vicario masterfully cranks up the suspense as our likeable rogues endure constant interruptions from nosy traffic cops and a nerdy amateur radio enthusiast (Alberto Bonucci) who intercepts their communications, climaxing with a hilariously improbable but charming feat of ingenuity when police finally storm the bank. Vicario invites viewers to indulge in vicarious thrills over the exploits of these crafty crooks. His direction makes the most of the spectacular sets and, drawing heavily from Topkapi, creates near-silent suspense sequences that rank as precursors to those found in such contemporary genre works as Mission: Impossible (1996) or Ocean’s Eleven (2001).
Of course it turns out stealing the gold is not half as difficult as getting it back home to Rome. Events grow increasingly playful as more than one character springs a fiendish double-cross. The finale is both cynical and optimistic as our anti-heroes are inevitably undone by their own duplicitous nature and the greed of common everyday folk (wherein Vicario succeeds in having us root for the criminals over the man on the street) but happily set out to try the whole thing again. Amidst the Franco-Italian cast, fans of Euro cult cinema may recognise stocky crime film fixture Gastone Moschin and Gabriele Tinti, future husband of sexploitation star Laura Gemser. Despite that title, the key presence here is actually the lone female: Rossana Podesta, wife of director Marco Vicario. Sporting a fetching Louise Brooks bob, Podesta oozes charisma as she slinks across the screen wearing some quite extraordinary outfits but Georgia is not merely a decorative presence. She plays an active role in aiding the heist and proves as quick-witted and crafty as her male criminal cohorts, emerging one of the great exploitation film femmes fatale. The film proved a huge success in Europe, spurring Vicario to return with the sequel: Seven Golden Men Strike Again (1966).