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A contemporary of Warren Beatty's with a playboy reputation to match, George Hamilton was groomed by MGM to be a major leading man during the early sixties. He certainly had the superficial makings of a star - good looks, a debonair manner, a great tan and the image of an international jetsetter - but could he act? Most critics didn't think so even though Hamilton repeatedly tried to prove himself in dramatic vehicles such as Vincente Minnelli's Home from the Hill (1960), Act One (1963) in which he portrayed playwright Moss Hart, and the Hank Williams biopic Your Cheatin' Heart (1964). The truth was that he was simply better and more relaxed at poking fun at his own pseudo-hip persona but that wouldn't be obvious until much later in his career when he staged a comeback in the Dracula spoof, Love at First Bite (1979) and subsequent parodies such as Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981). When his career was at its peak in the mid-sixties, however, Hamilton's name was more likely to turn up in gossip columns for his romantic escapades (for a brief period, he dated Lynda Bird Johnson, the President's daughter) than in movie reviews. Yet some of his films were enjoyable diversions that were dismissed at the time as inconsequential fluff and Jack of Diamonds (1967) is much more fun than the sex comedy he made with Sandra Dee the same year - Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!.
In this international production, which was shot on locations in New York City, Paris, Genoa, Munich and the Bavarian Alps, Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, whose secret identity is a jewel thief known as the "Jack of Diamonds." While preying on the rich and famous, Hill eventually crosses paths with Olga (Marie Laforet), a female thief, during a cruise ship burglary. Hill gets away with the jewels but the two rival safecrackers are later reunited through their mentors who taught them everything - The "Ace of Diamonds" (Joseph Cotten) and Nicolai (Maurice Evans). Despite competitive egos, Jeff and Olga are encouraged to work together as a team and the quartet are soon plotting their next heist - the famous Zaharoff diamonds. Housed in a high-security chamber within the Paris police headquarters, the jewels appear burglar-proof until the "Jack of Diamonds" and his cohorts prove otherwise in an almost flawless heist with a twist ending.
Eurotrash movie soundtrack fans take note: The score for Jack of Diamonds is by the great Peter Thomas, whose eclectic and playful pop scores have enhanced countless international films over the years from selected Edgar Wallace "krimis," to the Jerry Cotton spy thrillers of George Nader to the wacky German TV sci-fi series Space Patrol. Here he supplies a groovy musical ambiance which covers all the required bases from a swinging discothque to a race on skis accompanied by a yodeling chorus.
Pop culture aficionados will also get a kick out of Jack of Diamonds; it's a gold mine of sixties fashions, in-jokes and colorful eye candy. The opening of the film presents Hamilton, clad in a tight-fitting, black-hooded body suit, scaling a hotel wall like the French super criminal Fantomas or, more appropriately, Diabolik. The latter was a popular comic strip character at the time in Italy and served as the inspiration for the fantasy adventure Danger Diabolik, directed by Mario Bava, and released the following year. Hamilton's devil-may-care attitude and thrill of the heist very much mirrors the attitude of the Diabolik comic strip though the look of the film is closer to the touristy postcard beauty of Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955). And though Jack of Diamonds went virtually unnoticed at the time of its release, it may have been the inspiration for the TV series, It Takes a Thief (1968-1972) starring Robert Wagner as international jewel thief Alexander Mundy whose adventures take him all over Europe.
Although Jack of Diamonds was clearly designed as a star vehicle for Hamilton, he is ably supported by an international cast that mixes polished professionals like Joseph Cotten and Maurice Evans with distinctive European actors such as Marie Laforet and Wolfgang Preiss. There's also the novelty of seeing guest stars Zsa Zsa Gabor, Carroll Baker (already well into the Italian exploitation phase of her career) and Lilli Palmer playing themselves as guest victims of the Jack of Diamonds.
Jack of Diamonds was directed by former actor Don Taylor who began helming features in 1961 starting with the Mickey Rooney-Buddy Hackett comedy, Everything's Ducky. His other directing credits include the Italian spaghetti Western The Five Man Army (1969), scripted by future horror maven Dario Argento, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and the cult sci-fi adventure The Final Countdown (1980).
Producer: Sandy Howard, Helmut Jedele
Director: Don Taylor
Screenplay: Jack De Witt, Sandy Howard, Howard Joseph, Robert L. Joseph
Cinematography: Ernst Wild
Film Editing: Hannes Nikel
Art Direction: Rolf Zehetbauer
Music: Bob Harris, Peter Thomas
Cast: George Hamilton (Jeff Hill), Joseph Cotten (Ace of Diamonds), Marie Laforet (Olga), Maurice Evans (Nicolai Vodkine), Wolfgang Preiss (Von Schenk), Karl Lieffen (Helmut).
C-108m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford