Saturday, February 4, 2012

It Takes A Thief: The Complete Series DVD Review

Fusing the heist and espionage genres, It Takes a Thief was an action-adventure series that was inspired by Hitchcock’s 1955 Cary Grant film, To Catch a Thief, and was among the last of the 1960s spy television genre.  Stealing to finance his life as a playboy and sophisticate, Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner) was the world’s greatest cat burglar…until the day he got caught.  But thievery skills are an asset in the world of espionage, so Mundy is pardoned when he agrees to use his wily ways to help steal for the SIA, an American espionage agency.  Technically under house arrest, Mundy then travels the world over, performing daring acts of thievery in the name of Uncle Sam.  He also works closely with SIA department head, Noah Bain (‘70s TV mainstay, Malachi Throne), his boss, aide, friend and watchdog. 

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The sixties were a good time for television as shows were getting more ambitious and were set on a world stage instead of a dusty western town that had been seen countless times.  Shows like I Spy changed the way people viewed television with it’s emphasis on location shooting around the world and the new exciting spy genre.  James Bond played a role in bringing in the concept of a suave, debonair agent and his jetset lifestyle and many television shows followed his example.  It Takes a Thief took the lifestyle but tweaked the conceit of the show from being about a spy to instead showcase a master thief whose talents have been co-opted by the U.S. Government.
When the show opens, Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner) is in prison after finally being caught and is serving a very long sentence.  In fact just before he makes a daring escape, he learns that he’s been given a pardon by the man who originally captured him – Noah Bain (Malachi Throne) who has come to make Mundy an offer to steal for the government in exchange for his freedom.  Seeing Mundy’s disbelief, Bain tells him “Hey, look, Al, I’m not asking you to spy. I’m just asking you to steal,” which from there on is included as part of the opening titles.
The choice between prison and working for the government’s Secret Intelligence Agency (SIA) is an easy one for Mundy, especially when he finds out that his cover will be that of an international playboy that has a constant coterie of lovely women around him.  Mundy’s new focus in life is trying to seduce his handlers and perform the occasional task given to him by Bain.  Those tasks usually involve Mundy stealing something, impersonating someone, or infiltrating something and they take place all over the world.  One day he may be in the United States and another in Monaco to steal some crown jewels.
Over the course of the series, the cast changed with Throne being replaced by Edward Binns as Mundy’s boss when Throne left the show when his demand to be allowed to join the cast during the third season’s filming in Italy was refused.  Fred Astaire also joined the show during the third season as Mundy’s equally larcenous father who playfully said, “I’ve heard of stealing from the government, but stealing for the government?”  His father’s presence added a lot of fun to the show when he joined Mundy’s missions.
The show also benefited from an enviable cast of guest stars that included: Raymond Burr (“Perry Mason”, Rear Window), Susan Saint James (“Kate & Allie”), Gavin MacLeod (“The Love Boat”, “Mary Tyler Moore”), Tina Louise (“Gilligan’s Island” ), Bill Bixby (“The Incredible Hulk”), Ricardo Montalbon (“Fantasy Island”, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan), Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane, The Third Man), Richard Kiel (The Spy Who Loved Me), George Takei (“Star Trek”), Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein), Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) and Julie Newmar (“Batman” ) and Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther, Dr. Strangelove), Frankie Avalon (Grease), and Bette Davis (All About Eve) and Cesar Romero (“Batman”, “Falcon Crest”).
While the show’s dialogue veered from being clever to being groan-worthy, the heists that Mundy does to achieve his goals are always interesting and creative.  I suspect more time was spent coming up with novel ways for Mundy to steal things instead of writing the scripts.  You’d think that a show that basically entails Mundy doing something sneaky every episode would get old, but the cast and the variety of inventive heists make the show continually appealing.  Robert Wagner’s Mundy makes for a fun and suave companion and he’s a precursor to his role as the super cool “Number Two” in the Austin Powers series.

Video (3 out of 5 stars)

According to the press information, all sixty-six episodes of this set were digitally remastered but without seeing what they looked like before that, it’s hard to judge how well this have been improved.  The show is presented in a  full-screen 1.33:1 ratio and it looks pretty much like what you would expect a show from the 60s to look.  Detail is average, colors are muted, and it looks frequently soft.  There’s also a layer of grain present throughout which is noticeable but not bad enough to make you want to turn it off.  Black levels aren’t as dark as they should be and night scenes tend to be a little murky.  None of these issues are that surprising for a show this old, but this is probably the best version we are going to get so if you are fan of the show, you might as well pick up this set.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars)

This mono mix is definitely the weakest link of this set but it does the basics well enough to allow viewers to understand the show.  Dialogue is clear and Dave Grusin’s jazzy score sound decent enough with the music emphasized more than the dialogue.  Sound effects are also louder than the dialogue and I would have preferred a more balanced mix, but it does the job.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This set comes in a thin cardboard box with some extra goodies. My review copy came directly from Entertainment One, so it was packaged well and arrived undamaged, but I could easily see this set getting damaged during shipment.
This 18-Disc Collector’s Set Includes:
  • Extended Feature-Length Version of the Pilot Episode “Magnificent Thief” – This set comes with the original pilot that was sold overseas as a movie.  It’s nice to have this included since it sets up the entire show although some of the characters in this never show up again which is unfortunate, especially for some of the beautiful ladies!
  • The King of Thieves: Interview with Robert Wagner – A look back at the show with the star of it himself.  Wagner is gracious and fun to listen to as he talks about the show and his character.
  • A Matter of Larceny: Interview with Glen A. Larson – A look back with writer/producer Glen A. Larson who talks about the making of the show and provides some dry yet interesting facts.
  • Limited Edition Senitype (reproduced 35mm film frame) – An actual piece of film of Robert Wagner from the show.
  • It Takes a Thief Exclusive 4-Piece Coaster Set – Some cool drink coaster with the show’s logo on them.
  • Collectible Booklet with retrospective essay

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)

If you are a fan of sixties era spy shows, then there’s a good chance you will enjoy this show.  Robert Wagner provides a credible performance as they wry Mundy who cheerfully makes his way through life one job at a time.  Malachi Throne lends the show a nice counter-point as the gruff Bain who keeps Mundy in check.  The show also benefited from some fantastic guest stars which really adds a lot of fun to the series.
Order your copy today!

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