Posted: 11/14/2011

 

It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series

(1968-70)

by Jef Burnham



Now available on DVD from Entertainment One.


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There are so many reasons for you to buy It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series. This late-1960s espionage series appears for the first time ever on DVD in this terrific release from Entertainment One. The 18-disc collector’s set features all 66 episodes of the series’ three seasons, digitally remastered, of course, in a beautiful, display-worthy package. We’re talking well over 50 hours of material here for a little under $100 (price quoted from Amazon.com).

Created by Roland Kibbee, who had previously written The Bob Newhart Show and the Marx Brothers vehicle A Night in Casablanca, It Takes a Thief was inspired by (not adapted from, mind you) Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film, To Catch a Thief. The series opens with the release from prison of master thief Alexander Mundy (played by Robert Wagner of Hart to Hart) by governmental espionage agency SIA. In exchange for his freedom, Al is forcibly enlisted by the SIA to apply his specific skill set to matters of national security. That’s right, Alexander Mundy is a thief for the government! This makes for one hell of a unique twist on the average espionage series as every episode features a heist at the center of its climax (and I do so love heist pictures!). Typically, Mundy is tasked at the outset of each episode, by his handler Noah Bain (Malachi Throne), with retrieving some MacGuffin or other from an emissary/spy/terrorist/what-have-you of a fictitious foreign nation. Along the way, Al invariably becomes involved with (or should I say, woos) a beautiful woman, whose role in these affairs varies from episode to episode. Complications ensue. Al comes out on top. Return to stasis. Repeat. It’s a marvelously effective formula, if obviously derivative, aided in no small part by the series’ psychedelic score and deliciously 1960s trappings.

I think it’s important to note that It Takes a Thief boasts an incredible array of guest stars throughout. The series becomes something of an I-spy game of A-list actors with guest stars including Fred Astaire (who is in fact a series regular playing Al’s dad), Bette Davis, Peter Sellers, Joseph Cotton, Raymond Burr, Bill Bixby, Gavin MacLeod, Eve Plumb, Ricardo Montalbon, Richard Kiel, George Takei, Teri Garr, Roddy McDowall, John Saxon, Julie Newmar, Frankie Avalon, Susan Saint James, Leslie Nielsen, and Cesar Romero.

The visual presentation here is surprisingly pristine, given the age of the source materials, and maintains the series’ original 4:3/1.33:1 full frame presentation and mono soundtrack. This is not to say there isn’t any debris or flaws to be seen whatsoever, of course, and occasionally the colors appear a bit on the desaturated side. But it’s an overall impressive presentation nonetheless. The set boasts an extended, feature-length version of the series’ pilot, “Magnificent Thief” (a.k.a. “A Thief is a Thief”), in addition to the hour-long edit on Disc One. (The pilot notably guest stars John Saxon as the scar-faced villain and features an amazing fight on a trampoline.) Other special features here include “The King of Thieves: An Interview with Robert Wagner” and “A Matter of Larceny: An Interview with Glen A. Larson” (Larson, who would later create Battlestar Galactica, wrote 19 episodes of It Takes a Thief). Unfortunately, that’s it for disc-based features. They are supplemented, however, with a booklet featuring a retrospective essay by Cinema Retro writer Dean Brierly, a reproduction of a 35mm film frame from the series courtesy of Senitype, and seriously one of the best bonuses I’ve ever encountered in a DVD set based on sheer kitsch alone. Included in this special collector’s edition is a limited edition set of four Robert Wagner/It Takes a Thief coasters! Granted, I never knew I needed Robert Wagner coasters before this, but Entertainment One has graciously set my world straight. Two of the coasters depict Robert Wagner in silhouette with the title of the series superimposed over his body, while the other two simply read: It Takes a Thief. They’re pretty damn cool.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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