MGM // 1961 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // June 17th, 2011
I'm trying to be dishonest, darling. Honestly, I am.
The deeper that studios delve into their older catalog material, the more forgotten dreck starts to rise to the surface. Sometimes, viewers get treated to a rarely seen minor classic, and with Rita Hayworth (Gilda) and Rex Harrison (The Agony and the Ecstasy) on a cast list, it seems like an okay bet. Too bad The Happy Thieves is more like the first way, a lame heist flick that fails just about everywhere.
Eve Lewis (Hayworth) and Jimmy Bourne (Harrison) are lovers and partners in crime. Art thieves of the highest order, they can take anything away from almost anywhere. After one successful heist, though, the painting that Eve is carrying through the airport is stolen from her. Now, in order to repay their buyer for the loss, they must take on the ultimate challenge: to steal a massive Goya piece from one of the most tightly secured museums in the world.
The Happy Thieves is slow and drab, overlong at less than 90 minutes while stretching the story to the brink of plausibility. Director George Marshall (Destry Rides Again) somehow pulls no tension out of a heist movie story, which I really didn't imagine was actually possible. Partly, it's because there are too many laughs in the caper scenes, but mostly because the direction is bland and totally lacking in style. It's hard to believe The Happy Thieves was released in 1961, the same year as West Side Story, The Hustler, and The Guns of Navarone. It's a stodgy film in comparison and feels twenty years older.
The characters are thin and stuffy while the script is filled of failed wit. The worst thing, though, and a total killer for a romantic heist movie, is the chemistry between the leads. I like Harrison and Hayworth well enough, but as a couple they're a dud; a pair of electric socks produces more heat than these two. Individually, their performances are fine, although Hayworth doesn't have a very-well defined character, but there's nothing between them. A supporting cast of international talent, including Alida Valli (Suspiria) and Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man), try to add a little color, but they can only do so much. By the time any of them showed up, I was already desperately bored.
You can tell that a label really cares about its product when the description on the back of the box has nothing to do with the actual film. It reads, "A dapper art thief enraptures a wealthy heiress, then steals a priceless painting from her estate." Now, this sounds like a plausible plot for a movie called The Happy Thieves and, yes, Rex Harrison is dapper, but that's as far as any of it goes. It brings to light the shameful fact that this MGM Limited Edition Collection, which is not a discount series in spite of the fact that they are DVD-R on demand, is just a slapdash cash grab that MGM puts zero effort into producing. It might bother me more if this movie had any actual merit, though.
That said, it's really not the worst disc in the world. It features an average image transfer that is generally error-free and clean, but has a little too heavy of a grain structure and some weak contrast. The sound is acceptable for a mono mix, with clear dialog and music, but it's nothing special. No extras.
I wanted to like The Happy Thieves, I really did. I like heist movies and I like Rita Hayworth, but this is one of the most lifeless examples that I've ever seen of both.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated