Did you know that the legendary Kirk Douglas went overseas to star in a Eurocrime Thriller alongside Giuliano Gemma and Florinda Bolkan? Considering he never bothered with a spaghetti western perhaps the cleft chinned icon thought he’d jump onto the latest rush of popular genre films being made abroad with American stars like Bronson and Palance. Let’s not forget Kirk did make a 1954 Peplum feature in Italy when he starred in Ulysses long before Steve Reeves donned the Hercules toga.
Sadly I’ve no idea why Kirk took on the role of a safe cracker looking to make one final score due to the fact that the film and it’s costars are overlooked in his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son.
But don’t let that stop you from picking up a copy out of a second hand store bargain bin and watch Kirk as the master thief with The Master Touch.
As the film begins, Kirk, has just been released from a three year stint in prison. Before he can even get a welcome home kiss from his wife, Miss Bolkan, he’s strong armed by a gang of goons over to meet with Wolfgang Preiss who has a can’t miss opportunity to score over a million in cash from a hi-tech safe. Kirk’s last go around with Preiss netted him the three stay in prison so he kindly rejects the offer.
At lease that’s what he’s willing to let Preiss believe.
Through happenstance, Kirk, will meet and befriend Gemma. The young man is currently working as a trapeze artist at the local circus and his hi flying skills and agility could prove very handy in Kirk’s blossoming scheme. All against the wishes of his wife who fears another long separation should Kirk get caught once again by Reinhard Kolldehoff who stars as the local Police Inspector keeping his eye on Douglas.
All the while Kirk is working with Gemma to teach him the art of safecracking, his young protege is at odds with one of Preiss’ goons, Romano Puppo. The two engage in a number of altercations and most memorably in a required car chase in the classic style of guerilla filmmaking that Eurocrime thrillers are known for. It’s outrageous but damned if it isn’t entertaining.
The public domain copy I picked up ages ago runs just under 96 minutes yet the IMDB lists the film at 112 minutes. Sadly that’s not surprising if you’ve tried to hunt down some of these genre pictures from overseas. Perhaps the missing footage might offer up why Preiss disappears from the film after his lone scene with Kirk and maybe why the planning stage seems a might too quick at times. With a little luck maybe Master Touch will get picked up for restoration by Arrow or Kino Lorber Studio Classics in it’s full 112 minute version.
Having started his directing career in Peplum adventures in the early 1960’s, Michele Lupo, had just directed Gemma in another 1972 release, the western Ben and Charlie. Following The Master Touch he’d work with another American actor who had found everlasting fame working abroad, Lee Van Cleef, in the entertaining crime drama, Mean Frank and Crazy Tony costarring Tony Lo Bianco and the popular sex siren, Edwige Fenech.
The eventual heist that Kirk pulls off could have used a little more drama and while Kirk is stealing enough money to retire on, he has Gemma pulling off a small time safecracking job at a pawn shop to serve as a cover operation that he intends to incriminate himself with. A minor job that will score him a minimal sentence in jail while Bolkan waits for him with enough cash for them to retire on.
At least that’s the plan. What Kirk doesn’t see coming is one hell of a good plot twist leading to a violent confrontation and shootout as the film comes to close.
The 1970’s offered little in the way of Kirk Douglas “classics” though there were a few memorable turns with movies like A Gunfight, Posse and The Fury. Master Touch was released overseas in 1972 but it took a couple of years to find a distributor in National General Pictures to reach North America. While the cast around Douglas is dubbed into English, thankfully he isn’t as was the case with some foreign titles and well known actors hitting North American theaters.
Costar Giuliano Gemma was by this time an acting veteran having appeared in numerous westerns, Bond knock-offs and crime dramas. On a side note I once was dealing with a client at my office who mentioned he was a fan of spaghetti westerns and specifically Gemma. He was quite surprised I knew exactly who he was talking about. Another feather in the cap of this self proclaimed movie buff.
As for Miss Bolkan, I’ve only seen a small handful of her film appearances including Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin but it’s her wonderful turn as a sexy temptress opposite Malcolm McDowell in 1975’s Royal Flash that I think of when her name comes up.
Two names that jump off the screen if you pay close attention to the opening credits for film aficionados are Ennio Morricone and Tonino Delli Colli. Morricone’s musical scores are legendary while Colli was a noted cinematographer. Both men worked with Leone on Good Bad and Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and the director’s swan song, Once Upon a Time in America among numerous other titles.
Thankfully Master Touch was released in here in North America which has allowed me to add the lobby card set and the original one sheet to my collection of all things Kirk Douglas here in the vault at Mike’s Take.