Sunday, September 20, 2009
Day 245: The Thief (1952) - Rank 3.5/5
When I discovered "Dementia" at the beginning of the year, I was blown away by how unique, stylized and evocative the film noir was. The very concept of a complex story told without a shred of dialogue was ballsy to me. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that "Dementia" was not the original film noir to use this premise. There was another tale of intrigue told without a single line spoken, and not only that, but it was also created three years prior.
Ray Milland stars as a nuclear physicist who engages in research by day and moonlights as a spy for an unnamed foreign power by night. It's clear from the get-go that Milland's Dr. Field's is a nervous-natured character who wants out of the espionage game, but doesn't have the gumption to tell his cohorts to take a hike. But when one of the members in the spy ring is killed in a moment of pure circumstance, microfilm containing the photos shot by Fields traces the authorities to his place of work, sending the prominent physicist on the run.
The problem with "The Thief" is that it never builds a great deal of suspense and I had trouble sympathizing with Fields. Furthermore, his character struggles to make things right and that turn of heart makes the story too treacly. I like my noirs like I like my humor - dark. "Dementia" was beyond dark - it was downright nightmarish, and the surreal concept of telling a story dialogue-free seemed apropos to the style. With "The Thief," the abstract, "Silent" angle felt wasted in a by-the-numbers script. "The Thief" is not a terrible production by any means, but if it can be said that it influenced the creation of "Dementia," then I certainly think the minds behind "Dementia" learned from their predecessor's mistakes.