Milland's Lost For Words
Just because you can do something does it mean you should? That was the question which I found myself asking when I watched "The Thief" from 1952 because this is a movie with no dialogue at all, just a musical score and sounds. Now on one hand it works because of Ray Milland who delivers an acting master class in how to tell a story by the way you react. But then on the other it makes "The Thief" hard work because you literally can't take your eyes off the screen for a second in case you miss something and the knock on effect of this is that because you have to concentrate for every second it makes it feel a much longer movie than it is, too the point that it starts to feel laborious.
Nuclear physicist Allan Fields (Ray Milland - Love Story) is stealing secrets for someone, taking photos of documents and then passing on the film which changes hands several times before leaving the country. But when an accident cause a film reel to end up in the hands of the FBI it forces Fields to go on the run from Washington to New York where he feels the net closing in on him as he waits to make contact with someone who can help.
Part of the reason why I feel that "The Thief" is laborious is because in truth it is a simple storyline. A scientist gets caught up in stealing secrets and when those stolen secrets are intercepted he feels the net closing in on him as the FBI put a tail on him. That is basically the whole movie wrapped up in one line yet here we have a movie which is just 85 minutes but feels like double that.
The reason why it feels so long is because with out words everything has to be really reiterated so when we hear the phone ring the first time and Dr. Fields ignores it we have to have it ring again so that we realise the significance of it. When he hands over the film which contains the pictures of top secret documents we have to have an elaborate series of switches to follow. And so it goes on to the point that almost everything has to be done twice so we can work out the important stuff which dialogue would have pointed out a lot quicker.
And to be honest it is a shame that "The Thief" becomes hard work because there are plenty of nice scenes from when Dr. Fields almost gets caught taking pictures of secret documents to the big drama at the top of the Empire State Building. In fact even some smaller moments like how we discover that the man we follow is a scientist is nice as is the way he discovers later on that he is being tailed by the FBI. It is just a shame that by the half way mark you feel drained because you have to concentrate so much on everything especially as something minor such as a dropped paper is important.
What makes all this worth while is Ray Milland who does deliver a master class in how to deliver emotion without the need for words. From the fear we see in his eyes to the way he prowls around his tiny apartment becoming more and more agitated we get to understand him and what is going on. It also helps that director Russell Rouse also gives us some nice visuals especially when he uses the grouting in a tiled room to make it feel like Fields is in a cage.
What this all boils down to is that "The Thief" on one hand is a good movie to watch because of Ray Milland. But then on the other it becomes hard work because you have to concentrate for its entire 85 minutes, trying to work things out making it feel a lot longer than it really is.