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The Thief (1952)

Cast: Ray Milland, Ray Milland, Rita Gam, more...
Director: Russell Rouse, Russell Rouse
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Studio: Image Entertainment
Genre: Film Noir, Vintage Noir
Running Time: 86 min.
Languages: English
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For his directorial debut, Ray Milland went out on a creative limb, resulting in the first American film since Chaplin's City Lights without any spoken dialogue. The Thief stars Milland as Allan Fields, a nuclear physicist who has sold out to a foreign power. With only a few tinges of conscience, Fields sets about to steal vital scientific secrets and smuggle them out of the country. With the FBI on his trail, he briefly hides out in a rundown tenement house, where he inaugurates a desultory romance with a sluttish woman (Rita Gam, making her auspicious film debut). On the verge of escaping without detection, Fields is forced to commit a murder and things quickly go downhill from there. The novelty of silence (except for natural sound effects) is intriguing at first, though it wears off rather quickly; still, Ray Milland deserves at least a gold star for trying. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

No word to describe it... by eifert July 30, 2004 - 2:57 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
The Thief is a black-and-white film noir style thriller. Ray Milland plays a scientist selling secrets to the enemy. He's a traitor being stalked by the FBI.

The movie uses no dialog. It's told by visual images and facial expressions. The movie was to gimmicky for my taste. Especially the scenes where Milland is being eyed by a dame while he's on the lam. Twenty or thirty years younger than Milland, she wouldn't look at him twice in the real world.

I recommend The Big Clock if you're looking for a good suspensful noir featuring Milland.

An Interesting Restriction by oldkingcole April 14, 2002 - 11:48 PM PDT
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
In literature, a lipogram is a text in which a particular letter is purposely not used. Tryphonius, a greek poet from circa 5th Century BC, is alleged to have written an epic poem in 24 volumes, each of which omitted a different letter of the 24-letter Greek alphabet. For a challenge, try writing anything coherent lasting more than a few sentences without using the letter 'e'.

Some call this a stunt, others find it to be a formal restriction, like choosing to write in verse, or to compose a canon in music, which can force the artist to be more creative to overcome the restriction.

In Thief, the formal restriction is that no dialog is ever uttered by any character. It is a sound film -- there is music, there are sound effects: creaky doors, footsteps, and so on -- but no one speaks. The challenge for the filmmaker is to convey a coherent plot without using dialog. This proves to be something of a challenge for the viewer as well, especially early in the film, when without the clarifying input of dialog, events can reasonably be interpreted in any of several ways. Even the identity of the characters is not completely clear at first.

However, as the story progresses, the number of possible interpretations for events dwindles and soon the story becomes clear: Ray Milland plays a guilt-ridden atomic scientist who has somehow been turned to "the other side" and is now smuggling scientific secrets out of his office to the enemy.

The film is an interesting experiment, though it runs perhaps a bit long for its material. Tightened up to a one-hour TV episode, it might have been outstanding. As it is, it is merely an interesting curiosity. I'm glad to have seen it, but I'm not surprised that it inspired no imitators.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.18)
17 Votes
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