Missing: 30 minutes of a forgettable film. Judge Paul Corupe isn't bothering to offer a reward.
Our review of It Takes A Thief: The Complete Series, published December 29th, 2011, is also available.
Now with 30% less plot!
Purchasing DVD versions of public domain films can be a tricky business—definitely a buyer beware situation, if there ever was one. Well, I'm here to tell all buyers that the time to beware is nigh: Koch Vision's It Takes a Thief matches a run-of-the-mill genre exercise with a wretched transfer to give consumers a thoroughly disappointing home entertainment experience. A sheer triumph of marketing over quality, this is the kind of misleading DVD release that should have been left behind with the VHS age.
Facts of the Case
A gang of petty thieves led by Billie (Jayne Mansfield, The Girl Can't Help It) make a big score on an armored van, but instead of landing on easy street, they find themselves on the road to frustration. Just before being pinched by the coppers on an anonymous tip, Billie's boy toy and partner Jim (Anthony Quayle, Guns of Navarone) buries the loot in an undisclosed location. When Jim gets out of the pokey five years later, Billie and the others are as eager to get their hands on the stashed treasure as the police are to stop them. As the pressure mounts, rumors circulate that Jim intends to double-cross his old friends and fly the coop. Nervous, Billie's new right-hand man Kristy (Carl Möhner, Sink the Bismarck!) goes out on his own and kidnaps Jim's son in an effort to nab the money for himself.
It Takes a Thief is part of the second wave of Koch Vision's "Cinema Sirens" series, a line of DVDs featuring public domain films starring the likes of Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren. Koch's first "Cinema Sirens" release of a Jayne Mansfield film was the Jack E. Leonard comedy The Fat Spy, in which she played purely a supporting role. Although more in the limelight this time, it's still a bit of a stretch to call Mansfield the "star," of this film. Even though her scantily-clad picture is plastered across It Takes a Thief's Criterion-reminiscent cover, an image that I can assure you appears nowhere in this film, Mansfield's scenes are few and far between, and even when she's onscreen, she offers very little to hold your attention.
Basically a film noir 15 years out of its time, It Takes a Thief is the kind of gangster movie that you've no doubt seen countless times before. Advancing the plot with such time honored techniques as copious spinning newspapers, tire-squealing car chases, and conversations littered with hard-boiled vernacular, this film is such a typical and lackluster example of the crime thriller that it is almost instantly forgettable. The crosses, double crosses, and mad scramble for the golden fleece only serve to remind the viewer of other, better films that appeared a good decade before It Takes a Thief, films that could have been watched instead of this one. In all, this completely unremarkable caper only has one thing to recommend about it—a selling point that Koch has so hopefully counted on—the presence of Jayne Mansfield.
Unfortunately, the buxom screen queen doesn't get much of an opportunity to act or, as you might expect in exchange, flaunt her wares. Mansfield appears seated for almost the entire first half of the film, and even when she does make the effort to stand up, her more bankable aspects are discreetly hidden beneath a needlessly extravagant wardrobe. Even though she is top billed, Jayne has very little screen time, which in retrospect is probably a good thing since she's scarcely believable as a criminal mastermind keeping hardened criminals in line and cackling as she causes police cars to crash. A femme fatale Mansfield is not, and this seems like a plain case of miscasting, fuelled by a desire to cash in on her diminishing stature as a sex symbol. Although she had several years of acting before her untimely death in 1967, this is one the films that saw her enter into a career tailspin that would include far more curious roles than the tough-as-nails Billie.
Just featuring a famous actress is not a good enough reason to rescue a film it into the digital age, where it will only serve to infuriate DVD consumers and clog remainder bins. Even as a minor genre obscurity, It Takes a Thief is clearly a disappointment, especially when stacked up next to Koch's other new Mansfield release in the "Cinema Sirens" collection, the surprisingly enjoyable Too Hot to Handle.
Let's get to the goods: Koch's unpleasant technical presentation. It Takes a Thief is subject to many of the same basic problems as Too Hot to Handle, but in this case, they are far more severe. Again taken from a TV print, the picture on this barebones DVD is simply awful, with extremely poor contrast, and an overall hazy appearance that can be approximated by looking at your TV through a screen window. Black levels fluctuate wildly, and the image is subject to both source and digital artifacts. The mono soundtrack has audible hiss, and distortion creeps in almost every line of dialogue, resulting in frequently indistinguishable conversations. It's hard to imagine that this release would offer any advantage over a VHS tape recorded in EP mode. Blech!
Quality isn't the only issue up for discussion here, though. Ten minutes were missing from Too Hot to Handle, a choice I find reprehensible at best, but this film is missing a whopping half hour of running time. The TV print has been pared down from 100 minutes to the scant 70 seen here. Much of the footage seems to be taken from the twist ending, which is extremely abrupt and doesn't build in a suitably suspenseful manner. The film most certainly would have been improved had the correct version been offered here. Koch, why even bother releasing a film in this shape?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With so much wrong, does it even matter what this film has in its favor? Nevertheless, there is one thing that the film does do well, and that's in setting up the right atmosphere. Real locations lend some believability to the proceedings, from rain drenched London streets to neon lights blinking outside hotel windows. Appropriately, the soundtrack also offers up some above average crime jazz to help amp the tension up a few notches.
This DVD is quite simply, a total mess; a butchered, almost unwatchable print of a film that isn't very good to begin with. Even die-hard Jayne Mansfield fans with probably want to avoid this one, at least until an acceptable version hits the shelves.
Koch is guilty of stealing 30 minutes of running time from this film and leaving their grimy fingerprints all over the paltry remainder. They are to remain in prison until they divulge the whereabouts of the missing footage.
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