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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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Mr. Arkadin

Ring a Ding Ding

Mr. Arkadin (1955/1962)

     Citizen Kane was the only film over which Orson Welles had absolute control. It was his first screen endeavor, but because it caused so much controversy and upset numerous parties, studios refused to give such outright power to the man again. Although Mr. Arkadin feels very much like a Welles production, the master complained the picture was a disaster because it was heavily edited without his input. The story has ties to another Welles movie, The Third Man. His character in that cult classic, Harry Lime, became the subject of several Welles radio plays and also inspired the plot of Mr. Arkadin

     The picture, filmed in several locations in Spain, was released overseas in 1955 and in the U.S. in 1962. It was filmed as a cooperation among French, Spanish and Swiss movie authorities and definitely has a foreign film feel to it. The flick is something that today would be called an art-house movie, but that is not to say the story is inaccessible.

     The story is told primarily by a man recounting his recent investigatory efforts to an old man, cold and ill whom for some reason the protagonist wants to remove from the building because someone is out to kill him. Our lead is Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) who tells a Mr. Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) his plight began with the witnessing of a murder. A man named Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) was stabbed by a peg-legged fellow who later shoots it out with the police and is killed himself. Before Bracco dies, he whispers to Guy’s girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) two names: Gregory Arkadin and Sophie. The information is supposedly worth a great sum of money, so both Guy and Mily begin to search the man out. Welles as Arkadin is a wealthy, powerful man and is difficult to approach, so Guy goes after him through is daughter Raina, played by new-to-film star Paola Mori.

     When Guy finally gets and audience with Arkadin he mentions what little information he knows, but instead of being outraged at the attempted blackmail, the man offers to pay him to dig into his past. He claims he woke up 30 years prior in Zürich with a large sum of money and no memory. Guy moves around the world from one knowledgeable party to the next, but part way through his investigation discovers Arkadin has been following and in some cases predicting his next move. When he finally locates Sophie (Katina Paxinou) and learns she has no intention of blackmailing Arkadin for the money he stole from her years ago, he thinks his work is nearly finished. He need only find Zouk to ensure he will not bother the mighty Arkadin. The trouble is, not long after leaving Sophie, both she and the man who led Guy to her have been killed.

     Visually Mr. Arkadin is very stark and unsettling. Welles employed low and canted angles and filled scenes with much clutter and often creepy images –Welles himself being one of them. The storytelling also works to rush the plot along. Guy seems to instantly jump from one location to another, which is consistent with the hurried manner in which he recounts the story to Zouk. Although the editing, which was outside Welles’ control, did not quite employ jump cuts, it did at times stitch two shots together in unnatural ways.

     Although the plot of Mr. Arkadin is at times difficult to follow (and the Criterion Collection re-editing of the picture even claims to make it the easiest version to watch), it is still an enthralling tale. None of the characters is particularly likeable besides maybe the women. The romantic plot between Guy and Raina is only a minor aspect, however. This is by no means a romantic movie. Nevertheless, the mystery and the conclusion are enough to keep one fixed on the action.

Source: TCM.com

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