The Happy Thieves
by Jef Burnham
Now available on on-demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
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“There’s a touch of larceny in all successful men,” Jimmy Bourne (played by Rex Harrison) declares in director George Marshall’s (Destry Rides Again) hilarious comic heist film, The Happy Thieves. In truth, Jimmy himself embodies a bit more than a touch of larceny, for, despite the appearance that he is a wealthy socialite, he is in fact the brains behind a trio of successful art thieves.
Accompanying him in his criminal endeavors are his alcoholic mistress, Eve (Rita Hayworth), and Romanian art forger, Jean (Joseph Wiseman, Dr. No). After positioning himself socially in proximity to those in possession of rare works of art, Jimmy replaces said paintings with forgeries by Jean, after which Eve smuggles them through customs. But when Jimmy’s heist in the opening of the film goes awry, he is blackmailed into stealing a priceless Goya from the Museum de Prado in Madrid during hours of operation. The ensuing heist is every bit as suspenseful as you might expect a cinematic heist to be in spite of, or perhaps precisely because of, the general levity of the rest of the film.
Something that really surprised me about The Happy Thieves is the role Rita Hayworth plays. Hayworth is of course better remembered for her roles in Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai some 15 years earlier. Both roles found the actress playing dangerously seductive women; but here she plays the reluctant criminal— able to function in her duties as an art thief only with the aid of alcohol. She’s the perpetual neurotic naysayer of the gang. Typically this role would be reserved for a character actress rather than a leading lady (not that it isn’t a lead role, mind you); but it just goes to show what an diverse talent Rita Hayworth was.
Keeping in mind that the Limited Edition Collection’s releases are on-demand DVD-R format discs produced from the highest quality sources available, it is simply wonderful to have these titles available to viewers, no matter what condition the source materials are in. As such, some films in the Collection are bound to look better than others. But that’s the nature of the program, really. These are, after all, made from the highest quality sources available. That being said, the available prints of The Happy Thieves used for this transfer were in obviously rough shape. There is no small amount of debris, scratches, or blemishes present in the transfer. Luckily, however, the film made it into the Collection before the film stock was able to degrade further.
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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