Selling Alain Delon and Ann-Margret – The Pressbook for “Once a Thief” (1965)

Thievery was never so popular – at least from a marketing perspective. Exhibitors were urged to turn their patrons into safecrackers by installing a small safe in the lobby and encouraging moviegoers to try and guess the combination. Another angle was crime deterrence. Cinemagoers could guess what might cause a burglar alarm, also sited in the lobby, to ring. Ways of involving private detectives or security guards or plain cops were also promoted to cinema managers. Or you could always fall back on the old “wanted” poster idea as a teaser campaign, placed in spots around town where they would attract attention.

Alternatively, the stars themselves provided some pretty neat marketing hooks. Although Ann-Margret does not ride a motorcycle in the picture, she was a big fan of the Honda models, driving around in a white number, and had done photo tie-ins with the company, so that led to the idea of sticking a Honda motorbike out front, in the assumption, I am assuming, that customers would know it referred to the actress. 

By contrast, Alain Delon did look particularly fetching in a sheepskin coat which he wore in the picture and that was fast becoming a fashion icon.

Not surprisingly advertising material focused on previous hit heist pictures like Topkapi and Rififi. In addition, publicists played up a central theme – of Delon being on the run from both sides of the law. Although Ann-Margret had taken on a role that put motherhood before sexuality, that did not stop the Pressbook from carrying sexy photographs of the star, especially in the revealing outfit she wore as a cocktail waitress.

Ann-Margret epitomized the Hollywood rising star with movie contracts coming out of her ears, recently voted “Top Actress of the Year” by the Theater Owners of America, recipient of the “Most Popular Actress of the Year Award” from fan magazine Photoplay and featuring in a front-page interview in the Wall St Journal as the “Dream-Come-True-Girl.” That this was a serious drama was a challenge for the marketeers since she had won a devoted public through a string of lightweight movies.

But she was an easy sell compared to the unknown Frenchman Alain Delon so the marketing men set out to promote him as a “killer” – of men and women. He had spent five years in the marines, serving in Indo-China, catapulted into the movies through chance and by developing a “killer quality” with actresses, his name coupled, on-screen and off-screen, with the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Jane Fonda, Gina Lollobrigida, and Shirley MacLaine. He had the daredevil flair of Steve McQueen, with a fondness for speed.

Delon recognized the difficulties of breaking into the American mainstream. He explained, “No matter how popular an actor is in Europe, the distribution of European films which are shown primarily in art houses limits his growth. To be really successful one must also work in Hollywood.” His next picture, entitled Ready for the Tiger, was to be directed by Sam Peckinpah (that was never made, in fact).

The “go-go” score by Lalo Schifrin was also heavily plugged in the Pressbook which dedicated a full half-page enlightening exhibitors on how to take advantage of various tie-ins. The book by Zekial Marko, originally called Scratch a Thief, had been reissued in a paperback movie tie-in in a Fawcett Gold Medal edition.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

2 thoughts on “Selling Alain Delon and Ann-Margret – The Pressbook for “Once a Thief” (1965)”

  1. As I walked down the Criosette in a suit one Cannes, a group of street-kids mumbled something about Alain Delon at me; I took it as a complement. And that was the same day Lalo Shifrin ‘s limo nearly flattened me. I now realise I was living in the shadow of this film.

    Do you think anyone actually installed a safe in the lobby of their cinema?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The memoirs book is getting fatter by the minute. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody did ins tall a safe. In the States cinema managers called themselves “showmen” and were highly praised for stunts. I’ll see if I can dig out a few.

      Liked by 1 person

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