Wednesday, September 11, 2013

THE THIEF (1952)

An apartment in the middle of the night. A phone rings… and rings and rings. Ray Milland wakes up but does not answer it. Instead he gets up and heads out into the streets where he makes contact with Martin Gabel. Gabel drops a package and continues walking while Milland picks it up. It turns out that Milland, a nuclear scientist, is a spy who has been ordered to take microfilm photos of top-secret documents and pass them along though a network of spies. He continues letting his phone ring and making covert contact with the other spies, but eventually, he winds up on an FBI watch list and gets into some big trouble on top of the Empire State Building.

The gimmick of this noir-looking thriller (lots of shadowy city streets well photographed by Sam Leavitt) is that it is a modern-era silent movie; that is, though it has a musical score and various sounds, there is no dialogue, not even title cards, as no one speaks. It's interesting but it gets old fast, and there seems to be no thematic reason for the silence; just, as I noted, a gimmick. Some stretches are compelling (a scene in a library, for example, and most of the nighttime street scenes), some are tedious (the repetitive scenes of the phone ringing). Milland does a nice job, and as a What's My Line fan, I enjoyed seeing Martin Gabel (married to Arlene Francis) in a substantive role. Rita Gam has a brief appearance as a potential femme fatale, but she's really just a tease. There is some interesting camerawork and nice visual compositions within shots, but overall it was a slog to get through. 90 minutes is way too long—at an hour, it might have worked better. The picture is from a dream sequence, featuring Gable at the bottom, superimposed over Milland's face. [DVD]

No comments: