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