The Happy Thieves

Dullsville

The Happy Thieves (1961)

     When an actress can establish herself as a sex icon, this status combined with decent acting skill makes for an easily successful career, for a time. The trouble is, however, how that star maintains her box-office draw and studio prowess when her good looks start to age. Rita Hayworth is one such example. She played many sweet, pretty parts before making a smash as the title character in Gilda and spending a portion of her career playing similar roles. She was a fine performer, but studios did not care much as the woman got older. A busy career that started in the 1930s petered out in the ’60’s and she was certainly showing physical maturity in ’61’s The Happy Thieves.

     Hayworth nevertheless holds her own in the unfortunately dull story of a trio of art thieves who find themselves coerced into a more difficult theft. At the opening, Hayworth’s Eve waits outside a castle as skilled thief Jim (Rex Harrison) purloins a Velázquez painting from his host’s home and replaces it with a forgery, created by artist Jean Marie (Joseph Wiseman). Eve then smuggles the real painting into Paris but discovers it missing when she reunites with Jim. The stolen art was restolen by a Dr. Munoz (Grégoire Aslan) who also has a photo of Jim conducting the original theft. Munoz blackmails the group into stealing a Goya from a museum.

     Although the actual theft of the Goya during open museum hours is conducted in a low-tech Mission Impossible-type manner, the crime is unfortunately accomplished in connection with the murder of a bullfighter and does not quite go off without a hitch. The group’s blackmailer also turns up dead and the authorities soon discover the forgery.

     The Happy Thieves is appropriately titled as it certainly is a light-hearted crime plot. The story, however, is a bit of a snooze. None of the characters comes off as particularly sympathetic with the soft-spoken Eve standing out as the most innocent of the criminals. Hayworth’s character does not really fit the mold of a thief, but that is part of why she is effective in her smuggling role. Harrison, meanwhile, is a lacking love interest for Hayworth as the romance between the two is minimal despite the man’s plan to land a big enough score for the two to live on indefinitely together.

     Alida Valli also makes an appearance as a duchess who plans to marry the murdered bull fighter and gets her own revenge. Despite the decent cast, The Happy Thieves leaves me with nothing to take away as making the flick worth watching. It is not particularly unique in its plot and offers no stand-out performances.

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3 Responses

  1. The plot sounds rather convoluted. It is sad that after reaching a certain age actresses are forced to make less-than-desirable role choices–ala Bette Davis.

    • Agreed. Anything to keep working or keep relevant, I guess.

    • I would say Bette Davis did better than most. Most of her contemporaries simply disappeared into retirement once their looks faded.

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