DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
THIEF, THE (director/writer: Russell Rouse; screenwriters: Clarence Greene; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: Chester Schaeffer; music: Herschel Burke Gilbert; cast: Ray Milland (Allan Fields), Martin Gabel (Mr. Bleek), Rita Gam (The Girl), Harry Bronson (Harris), John McKutcheon (Dr. Linstrum), Rex O'Malley (Beal), Rita Vale (Miss Philips), Joe Conlin (Walters); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clarence Greene; United Artists/Image Entertainment; 1952)

 
"A silent film in the true sense of a silent film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Russell Rouse ("The Oscar") directs and co-writes this unique but tedious spy/Red Scare thriller set in New York City. There's no dialogue throughout. It's a silent film in the true sense of a silent film. The gimmick of silence (except for natural sound effects) never caught my interest, but as the film drags laboriously along after the novelty wears off it becomes downright annoying. It seems contrived, and serves no purpose or does the gimmick make the film more interesting. But at least with no dialogue we don't have to listen to a lecture on patriotism or any shrill anti-Red dialogue 

Dr. Allan Fields (Ray Milland) is an award-winning nuclear physicist employed by the Atomic Energy Commission research laboratory in Washington, who has become a spy for an unnamed foreign power. In the opening scene he arises from his bed fully-clothed without answering a ringing phone according to a pre-arranged code (three times, pauses, then rings three times again) and goes outside, where in the deserted nighttime residential street a man waiting for him (Martin Gabel) lights a cigarette and throws the packet in the street before disappearing. Fields retrieves the packet and reads the message in his room. It leads Fields to use his micro-film camera and take shots of secret documents in the office of another scientist at the A. E. C. building. Through a vast network chain the stolen document hid in a canister reaches New York City, but one of the couriers is killed in a traffic accident by Central Park while clutching in his hand the document. 

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Fields comes under suspicion by the FBI and the fearful man stays overnight in a seedy NYC hotel, rooming next to a sexy woman (Rita Gam, her film debut) who shuts the door in his face when she realizes he's ogling her. Fields awaits anxiously for the hall phone to ring so he can know his next move. When he's contacted, he's tailed by an FBI agent (Harry Bronson) to the Empire State Building. The alert agent notices he's contacted at the observatory tower by a well-dressed woman (Rita Vale) and pursues Fields as he climbs the stairs to the top. Fields stomps on the agent's hand and the agent falls to his death, and when the amateur spy realizes what he did he breaks down and cries. He then gives himself up to the FBI, but what were his motivations for spying are never drawn out. What we get is a tense mood piece through the excellent dark visuals delivered by cinematographer Sam Leavitt. It shows a lonely and alienated unsympathetic man on-the-run, who is trapped in a shadowy world of chaos but is not fleshed out in his  character so we never become concerned with his plight as a human interest story.

It comes with an Oscar-nominated score.

REVIEWED ON 2/24/2005        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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