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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Heist > Spy > Mystery > Crime > TV > It Takes A Thief – The Complete Series (1968 – 1970/Universal/E1 DVD Box Set)

It Takes A Thief – The Complete Series (1968 – 1970/Universal/E1 DVD Box Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Episodes: B-



One of the interesting developments in early TV drama is the idea that maybe you could do a weekly show about travel and instead of just a documentary show, it could be about globe-trotting adventures.  Of course like so many feature films, budgets were small at first and shows would cheat with stock footage and studio space standing in for a given place.  Unless the show was in one exotic locale (Hawaiian Eye for instance), that was the best they could do.  U.S. and U.K. TV shows started making such shows and when spies became popular, this accelerated.


The British company ITC (run by Lord Lew Grade) had their two largest live action hits internationally following this path with Danger Man/Secret Agent with Patrick McGoohan as no-nonsense spy John Drake and Roger Moore made a big star out of himself by making an international sensation of The Saint by playing crafty thief and troubleshooter Simon Templar.  More such shows followed on both sides of the Atlantic, but one of the best U.S. answers to this trend was It Takes A Thief.


Originally launched as a feature that played more in European theaters than the U.S., Universal and Lew Wasserman landed big screen movie star Robert Wagner to play Alexander Mundy, an expert crook who would now steal for the U.S. Government in the midst of The Cold War.  Not seen much since 1970s reruns, E1 has licensed the Ronald Kibbee-created series from Universal Television and It Takes A Thief – The Complete Series is now on DVD.


A mid-season replacement, the show launched January 1968 and was a hit for ABC, but Wagner was very well cast and it became the first of several hit TV shows for him.  For the first two seasons, Malachi Throne played his boss and the man who gave him his assignments from the SIA (not unlike Leo G. Carroll’s Alexander Waverly on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Patrick Newell’s Mother on the last seasons of The Avengers) which usually slows the stories down, but worked better here.  The actors had chemistry and only because Universal did not want to send Throne out to Italy when they did location shooting for the third and last season did he leave.


He was followed by other actors playing different characters with basically the same function (including no less than Joseph Cotton), but it was never the same and caused enough damage to the show that it folded afterwards.  However, Universal increased the star power including a cameo by Peter Sellers, occurrent role by Susan Saint James, great episode with Bette Davis as an older thief and in its greatest coup, getting Fred Astaire to play his father, an expert thief in his own right.


The first season is the most free-flowing and my favorite, but when the very successful Glen A. Larson took over, the show became very slowly but surely pushed into another refined direction that took away the raw energy of the first season and pushed it into a corner that led to its early cancellation.  He tried this same straight-jacketed approach with his Six Million Dollar Man TV movie sequels (the ones with the Dusty Springfield theme that tried to make Steve Austin into James Bond; see the DVD box set elsewhere on this site) but Universal rejected that new producer Harve Bennett made it a megahit.


The idea for It Takes A Thief seems to come from Alfred Hitchcock’s big VistaVision Cary Grant film To Catch A Thief (1954) where Grant is a charming thief, but a less-sighted influence is The Ipcress File, the 1965 spy film with Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, a crook forced to spy for the British that remains one of the most influential, landmark films of its kind from this series, to Jason King (series and character originally from the series Department S, both reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the Austin Powers film where Caine shows up personally.


Wagner fit the character like a glove much like Steve McQueen in Bullitt and the show had more great guest stars throughout its run including Simon Oakland early on, Ricardo Montalban as a competing, suave thief who could just outclass him, Bill Bixby as a dangerously dark competitor, Roddy McDowall as a thief who was more down and gritty than you might expect and Wally Cox shows up as does Gavin MacLeod and a great series of female guest stars including Cathy Lee Crosby, Stephanie Powers, Joey Heatherton, Yvonne Craig, Suzanne Pleshette, Senta Berger, Suzy Parker, Tina Louise, Barbara Rhodes, Linda Marsh, Lynda Day George, Madlyn Rhue, Wende Wagner, Martine Beswick, Denise Nicholas, Dana Wynter, Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Jessica Walter and Karin Dor, plus fine turns by Ida Lupino, Elsa Lanchester and Hermione Gingold.  That is not even all the stars who show up, but you’ll have to see the rest of the series to find out.


Late in the show, it tried to be more counterculture with a show featuring The Fifth Dimension that has to be seen to be believed and the final episode get pro-environmental.  This happened to The Saint and even the animated Spider-Man that began in 1967, but the show had its run and folded while it was on top for whatever reasons it did.  It proved Universal could make such a show well and has not been seen much, so its return on DVD is very welcome.  Yes, some of the technology is dated (though some of the items and not just props from the show are more valuable than you’d think) but the plots work and Mission: Impossible fans who have not seen the show will enjoy that aspect of it.  The Cold War and limited budgets date it, but it is a classy show like nothing we see today and that speaks for itself.


As for Wagner fans, they’ll wonder where the complete Switch and next Hart To Hart seasons (starting with three) are, but It Takes A Thief – The Complete Series offers plenty of fun until then and makes for a solid set.



The 1.33 X 1 image transfers vary from colorful to somewhat faded, so some of the prints used are not Technicolor, but likely fading EastmanColor, Fuji or maybe Agfa.  All the shows were shot in color and thoroughly lit to take advantage of new color TVs, but I wished the transfers were more consistent like recent Universal releases of Six Million Dollar Man, so expect more variation than usual.  If it were any worse, I would have had to lower my rating.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono fares better often showing their age, but sounding better more often overall including the Dave Grusin theme song, though I liked the Season One version better than the slowed-down replacement in the later seasons.


Extras in coasters, nice 35mm Senitype frame carded and a nicely illustrated booklet on the show with an informative essay by Cinema Retro writer Dean Brierly in the nice box that includes everything, plus the bonus DVD in the Season One paperboard foldout adds a longer theatrical version of the pilot telefilm Magnificent Thief, brand new interview with Wagner called King Of Thieves (after an episode) and recent interview (2010) with Producer Glen A. Larson (made for Madman Entertainment in Australia) called A Matter Of Larceny.



If you like this kind of show, ITC and Lord Grade launched their own variant called The Persuaders with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as two rich playboys in trouble with the law and forced to do spy-like missions.  Even more money was put into that show and it just came out on Blu-ray, which we covered at the link below.  You can compare the two shows and see how popular this format really as at the time, though It Takes A Thief and The Persuaders (with its location work in Monte Carlo) were the peak of these shows.





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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