E1 Entertainment // 1968 // 3366 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // December 29th, 2011
International Locales. Beautiful Women. Guest Stars Galore!
Imagine a pair of back-to-back benches in the middle of a scenic public park. On one bench sits a woman, who appears to be reading a book, but who is also talking, apparently to no one. On the other bench sit two men, one feeding pigeons, the other smoking a cigarette, and talking, presumably to each other, though both are looking dead ahead the whole time. Occasionally something small, say a bottle of corrosive acid, passes from the cigarette smoking man to the woman. All of this is happening in broad daylight, and turns out to be a clandestine meeting between operatives on a top-secret assignment. Do you think there's any possibility the trio's behavior could be considered suspicious if it were being monitored by undercover surveillance crews? If not, then It Takes A Thief may very well be the program for you!
The Secret Intelligence Agency (SIA) has sacrificed two of its most accomplished operatives, coming not one whit closer to boosting that dispatch case of extremely sensitive documents last pin-pointed in Lisbon. Big brass wants results. Strike that: Big brass needs results, yesterday!!!
Sensing the boys in D.C. are just desperate enough to listen, SIA chief Noah Bain (Malachi Throne) hits 'em with an idea that's been tickling the underside of his brain and might just be crazy enough to work: "Espionage today is mainly larceny and homicide. The best people for that are thieves and murderers. If we want to steal something, let's hire a thief."
Hmmmm, interesting...Anybody in particular you're leaning towards? "Alexander Mundy, the best thief I ever met." Well, if he's so good, then how come he's behind bars? "Because I was the best cop he ever met."
Thus, on Tuesday January 9, 1968, the caged cat burglar was sprung from San Jobel prison and immediately held captive by a large, hitherto untapped audience, queuing for entertainment alternatives to comedians Red Skelton and Jerry Lewis in dueling variety hours on CBS and NBC. By the end of its first (half) season, It Takes A Thief had not only survived one of ABC's perpetually lowest-rated time slots, but went onto become one of only four of the network's programs to place in the top thirty Nielsen ratings that year. And though its leading man was initially resistant to the idea of committing to a weekly television series, this suave, debonair con man's caper-fest managed to do in sixteen weeks what nearly twenty years in feature films hadn't -- make a bona-fide star of archetypal "handsome actor" Robert Wagner (Hart To Hart).
Once released into Bain's care, Mundy (Wagner) finds himself quartered in a palatial mansion, robed in ultra-mod designer duds, handed the keys to a fleet of luxury vehicles, and generally allowed all the sun and fun he can handle. "You liked high living, that's what made you a thief," Noah tells him. "We want you well adjusted." There is, of course, one condition: the only stealing pretty boy Al does from now on is strictly in the name of national security. Not too much to ask, right?
Spoiler alert! The vast majority of the sixty six episodes that comprise It Takes A Thief: The Complete Series begin just this way:
Mundy is entertaining a lovely female guest in one of the palatial mansion's elegantly appointed living rooms, and just as he's about to close in on her luscious lips, Bain barges in with news that trouble's brewing in some banana republic. The military dictator's heavily guarded, highly booby-trapped compound houses ill-gotten gains, (almost always microfilmed records of some kind) sure to cause diplomatic doomsday for free world leaders and must be recovered toot sweet! Mundy then declares the mission impossible, not to mention suicidal, wondering aloud why anybody in his right mind would even consider such a cockamamie proposition. "Look at it this way, Al," Noah explains. "You can do the job, or you can go back to prison; it's your choice." "Some choice!" Al replies, flashing one of his patented, perfectly white-capped "here we go again" grins. Cue the international locales, beautiful women, and guest stars galore!
E1 Entertainment has gone all out in terms of packaging, ensuring that anyone unwrapping this box set will feel fortunate indeed. There are the 18 one-sided discs, sheathed in three colorful, photo-filled fold-out cardboard sleeves, one for each season. Season One spreads over four discs, while Seasons Two and Three are made up of six discs apiece. Each disc contains four episodes, with the exception of the fifth disc in Season One, which is a bonus platter containing Magnificent Thief, an expanded-to-feature-length version of the pilot, which was released theatrically in Europe.
Speaking of extras, the set's bonus features include two extremely entertaining half-hour interviews; the first with Wagner, and the second with writer-producer Glen A. Larson (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century); a set of four drink coasters; a colorful, photo-filled booklet featuring an informative (if a bit rhapsodic) essay by Cinema Retro writer Dean Brierly; and a numbered, "limited edition" Senitype," produced from a select single film frame image."
That's the good news. Now for the bad.
Though all 66 episodes are allegedly "remastered," these are some of the worst looking and sounding episodic television transfers I've ever encountered from a big studio release. The standard definition 1.33:1 full frames visuals are loaded with dirt and debris (most apparent in the opening of individual episodes), and extreme color variations with flesh tones being especially distracting. The Dolby 2.0 mono audio, is full of pops, crackles, and tininess, occasionally sounding as if it were recorded in an echo chamber. And there are no helpful subtitles to guide one through the occasionally hard-to-decipher bits of dialogue.
I'm not saying It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series is unwatchable, or that every minute is polluted by technical difficulties. However, it would be a dereliction of my duties not to point out the most important part of this lavishly packaged set is well below quality standards, even considering the show's age. Potential buyers are hereby advised to at least to be aware of what they'll be getting before plunking down a fair amount of money on it. May I suggest a test drive arranged through your favorite rental service?
I've come across several glib reviews of this set which make much of the series' value a purveyor of cool kitsch and clever escapist fun, but I seriously question how deeply any of these reviewers have waded into this collection. The episodic content is repetitive and, while the show was determinedly up-to-the-minute in its time, a lot of the groovy psychedelic effects (rooted in rich explosive colors and sounds) are blunted by these poor transfers.
If, like me, you haven't seen It Takes a Thief for many years, prepare for the possibility that your fond memories of sophisticated fun and edgy adventure might not square with the extremely dated, hokey reality of these adventures.
Review content copyright © 2011 P.S. Colbert; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 3366 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extended Pilot