The Thief (Rouse, 1952)

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The Thief (Rouse, 1952)

#1 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:31 pm

Anyone familiar with this fascinating noir oscurity? I was noodling around and picked it up, having never heard of it before 2 days ago, and grabbed it today along w the Sjostrom Outlwaw.

And what a great title it is... made just before the Parker film, Thief reminds me of JJ Parker's Dementia (aka Daughter of Horror), from the exact same time period, in that it is essentially an 1950's sonorized silent. Not a word is spoken on the screen! was the advertising tagline for this film (ring a bell?)

It even begins like Dementia... Ray Milland, a spy passing along secrets to the commies, wakes up in a darkened room and turns on the lamp, just like the 'gamine' in Dementia. Both are battling the forces inside their minds. Aside from the lack of dialog, the fantastic language of shadows and drifting camera (and location shooting), the similarities-- plotwise, at least I guess-- end there.

There's a disc from Wade Williams on the Image label which is absolutely beautiful-- especially at seven bucks. Sam Leavitts drifting, shadowy camera, and high contrast effects shine nicely. Cinephiles should not miss. Below is the contemporary review at time of release from The NYTimes
The Thief (1952)
October 16, 1952
Spy Melodrama at the Roxy
Published: October 16, 1952

It has been twenty-five years since the screen acquired the gift of tongues, and now with "The Thief," which arrived at the Roxy yesterday. Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, an enterprising pair of film artisans, are trying to prove that some movie yarns are better seen than heard. Their effort is a successful tour de force. For, generally speaking, theirs is a spy melodrama in which language would appear to be redundant. But it is a feature-length chase, occasionally repetitions, in which suspense is only intermittent, key reasons for the crimes are missing and logic sometimes hangs by a fragile thread.

Lest this carping be construed as major criticism, let it be noted that, aside from its novelty, "The thief' has its fair share of attributes. The fine photography of cinematographer Sam Leavitt, whose cameras have captured the lights of actual, and familiar, locations in Washington and New York, contributes strongly to the tensions of the hunt. The musical score by Herschel Gilbert is insidiously suggestive in creating atmosphere as well as indicating the emotions of the principals. And, above all, Russell Rouse, who also directed, has gotten a sensitive and towering performance from Ray Milland in the title role.

Mr. Milland, it should be pointed out, is not involved in a story destined for prizes in originality. The Messrs. Rouse and Greene are herely detailing the adventures of a nuclear physicist engaged in research in the Capitol who has become a traitor to his country by photographing top secret scientific papers of his colleagues for a foreign power.

The authors never bother to explain why our man has forfeited his allegiance to his land or for whom he is spying. They are concerned, in the main, with documenting his overly complicated methods as well as those of his yellow conspirators. And, when one of these shadowy and sinister figures is accidentally killed thereby revealing the spy ring to the T. B. I., the harried physicist, successful in escaping the long arm of the law, has a final change of heart that is morally gratifying but seems highly improbable.

Although there is little effort made toward eliciting multidimensional characterizations from the cast, Mr. Milland's portrayal of the traitorous scientist, a man whose motivations are not apparent, is superb. He is an educated man gnawed by indecision and slowly but surely wracked by fear, which turns him into an animal who inadvertently kills a would-be captor. That he makes an ultimate and unseemly turnabout is no reflection on an otherwise topflight delineation.

Rita Gam, a beauteous newcomer recruited from television, only indicates in her brief appearances as the temptress in the tenement hideaway used by Milland that she could fill a bathing suit neatly. And, unfortunately, Martin Gabel, Rita Vale and Rex O'Malley, as the conspirators, and Harry Bronson, as the ill-fated F. B. I. agent, are obvious play actors drawn from stereotype molds.

They are all involved in areas that are visually exciting, from the Library of Congress to the quiet, tree-shaded streets of Georgetown and to the subways, teeming midtown streets and the tower of our town's Empire State Building, in which part of this chase takes place. They have, too, an excellent assist from the sound track, which has recorded sounds of streets and interiors with fidelity and, often, dramatic impact. And they have a story that is simply a peg on which to hang an interesting novelty. Novelty, in short, is this melodrama's basic virtue.

Featured on the stage of the Roxy are Johnny Johnston, Jerry Colonna, and the ice-skating revue starring Arnold Shoda.

THE THIEF, written by Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse; directed by Mr. Rouse; produced by Mr. Greene; executive producer, Harry M. Popkin; released by United Artists.
Dr. Allan Fields . . . . . Ray Milland
Mr. Breek . . . . . Martin Gabel
The Girl . . . . . Rita Gam
Harris (F. B. I. Man) . . . . . Harry Bronson
Dr. Linstrum . . . . . John McKutcheon
Miss Philips . . . . . Rita Vale
Beal . . . . . Rex O'Malley
Walters . . . . . Joe Conlin

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david hare
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#2 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:02 pm

Not seen, and damnation and all but I can't get it through dvdpacific (only fucking amazon.) Am also unfamiliar with Russel Rouse but his name has been mentioned more than once over the years by other more learned tongues than mine at a_f_b etc. Other titles praised include New York Confidential (with Broderick Crawford sparring with Richard Conte for Warners 1956) and House of Numbers (with Jack Palance as evil and good twins "inside" San Quenton, 1958.

These seem to be held in the same sort of esteem as the totally MIA Irving Lerner Murder by Contract with Vince Edwards as the psychopath - a briliant movie.

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Cash Flagg
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Re: The Thief (Rouse, 1952)

#3 Post by Cash Flagg » Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:06 am

The ending is a bit of a letdown, but otherwise a moody, tense piece of noir with a great central performance from Milland - he manages to convey so much with a simple facial expression. Rouse also wrote the screenplay for D.O.A. I particularly agree with a line from Time Out's review of the film: "The moment at the end, as Milland waits despairingly for word of his escape, and the teasingly sexy girl across the hall (Gam) closes her door in his face as she realises he is watching her, is one Bresson might have been proud of."

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#4 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:24 am

I found it to be a masterpiece of mood, originality, and redemption absolutely along the lines of Robert Bresson. Its a great stew of Parkers Dementia, Hitchcock + american noir + Robert Bresson.

I kept thinking of Diary of a Country Priest, and A Man Escaped. The incredibly well distilled, quiet mise en scene, so well pared down (with performances and plot driven by the looks in the eyes) that words are not neccesarry throughout a relatively convoluted series of conveyances, the path towards self-realization and some kind of redemption (returning to the fold shall we say doesnt necc have to be corny, as an idea in and of itself.. the guy just has to be decent).. the sense of carefully measured and ladeled solitude, with encounters so carefully endeavored upon that it creates the atmosphere of the apprehensive, quiet motions of Bressons "models", or pickpocketing interludes in Pickpocket.

I loved this film! Masterpiece of mood, direction, and performance (but I always love Milland). And of course utter originality. I'll be spinning this disc many more times over the years. For seven bucks (and the print-transfer well commends) its a must own for a lover of noir, suspense, Bresson, b-masterpieces, obscure classics, etc. DONT MISS!

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dr. calamari
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#5 Post by dr. calamari » Wed Jul 16, 2008 10:41 pm

I thought this one sounded should, I own it! A couple of years ago I bought a Xerox box full of DVDs from someone who was moving out of state, for something ridiculously low, like $25. In the box were several fairly obscure noir-ish discs, several recent popular movies, and some Criterions (which I sold on eBay).

And The Thief...reading your assessment, Herr Schreck, makes me want to watch it. I'm sure it will live up to the glowing recommendation you've given it, and even if it doesn't, I'll have seen something unique.

Thanks for the tip!

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#6 Post by impossiblefunky » Wed Jul 16, 2008 11:20 pm

This was the inspiration for I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED.

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Dr Amicus
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#7 Post by Dr Amicus » Thu Jul 17, 2008 3:53 am

So that's it!

20 years back, in my undergrad days, I saw this as a double bill with another noir (same original author? possibly) on 35mm in our campus cinema. All I can remember about it is:

a) WOW!
b) the female lead was seriously pneumatic (I think I went to see it with a lesbian friend who had words to say about her dress sense...)

And then promptly forgot the title. So thanks for reminding that this was the film I saw and loved.

Now if I can just remember the other film on the double bill, I can post this in the double bill section!

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Re: The Thief (Rouse, 1952)

#8 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 25, 2010 4:58 pm

Finally watched this disc I picked up a while ago and I have to agree with all the praise. A fantastic little film that wears its gimmick surprisingly lightly - after all, why would somebody as completely isolated as Milland's character need to talk? Lots of visual style in evidence, and the filmmakers' emphasis on routine and process really amps up the tension (as do the frequent silences). It almost came across as a kind of noir Jeanne Dielman - the two films would at the very least make for a memorable double feature. (But I doubt that's what you're looking for, Dr Amicus!)

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