It Takes A Thief: The Complete Series DVD Review

Timothy E

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It Takes A Thief is the classic but short-lived 60s spy TV series starring Robert Wagner as Alexander Mundy, the world’s greatest cat burglar who gets caught and sent to prison. Mundy is enlisted into government service by Noah Bain(Malachi Throne), the head of fictional U.S. spy agency SIA, to use his thieving skills for the benefit of his nation. It Takes A Thief premiered on ABC-TV on January 9, 1968, and aired its last first-run episode on March 24, 1970.







[SIZE= 24px]IT TAKES A THIEF The Complete Series DVD Set[/SIZE]



Studio: Entertainment One


Year: 1968-1970


Rated: Unrated


Film Length: 50 hours


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1


Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono


Release Date: November 15, 2011



The Series



It Takes A Thief was the brainchild of Roland Kibbee, a writer and producer with credits on everything from a Marx Brothers movie(A Night in Casablanca) and The Crimson Pirate to TV series such as The Virginian and Barney Miller. This series and the suave character of Alexander Mundy were said to have been inspired by Cary Grant’s performance as cat burglar John Robie in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. This title of this series and the Hitchcock film are both derived from the expression "It Takes A Thief To Catch A Thief."



There are few other actors of his generation that were capable of playing a "Cary Grant" part better than Robert Wagner, since Wagner was the living embodiment of suaveness and sophistication at the age of 38, when filming began on the pilot episode "The Magnificent Thief." The pilot episode was designed to be expanded and released theatrically if the series failed to sell to a network. In fact, the extended version of the pilot episode was released theatrically overseas even though the series was actually picked up by the ABC Network.



It Takes A Thief arrived when other spy series like Mission: Impossible and I Spy were still in vogue, and the series has more in common with those genre examples than it does with the Hitchcock film. The first 2 seasons were filmed almost exclusively on the backlot at Universal Studios, with the obvious exception of the pilot episode which was filmed on location at Expo ‘67 in Montreal. The producers began filming on location in Italy during the third season to give the series more of an authentic international flavor, although Universal Studios still filled in periodically to recreate international settings. Mundy’s boss and friend Noah Bain was replaced by other SIA overseers during this season after Malachi Throne balked at being forced to film all of his scenes in the U.S. while most of the cast and crew were on location in Italy. The third season did benefit from the location filming, as well as the introduction of Fred Astaire in a recurring role as Mundy’s father Alistair.



The actors appearing with Wagner on this series included Leslie Nielsen, Ricardo Montalban, Peter Sellers, Ida Lupino, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, Fernando Lamas, and many others. Writers for the series included Gene L. Coon(Star Trek), Dean Hargrove(Columbo), Glen A. Larson(Switch), and Elroy Schwartz(Gilligan’s Island). The catchy, original theme music was composed for the series by Dave Grusin.


The principal charm of this series is seeing Robert Wagner do what he does best, playing a sophisticated thief who can pretend to be someone else and get in or out of places in a way that others could not hope to achieve. Wagner’s Alexander Mundy is an extension in many respects of the role he played to great effect in Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther, and which he perfected in his roles in this series and in Switch(1975-1978).



Video



The series is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Entertainment One has done a nice job of bringing these episodes to DVD. This set marks the first time that this series has appeared on DVD, and the transfers were apparently created from 16mm prints. The video transfers are good but not great, as expected given the film sources. Some compression artifacts are perceptible periodically, but not excessively, in the form of mosquito noise. Black levels appear less than solid occasionally as shades of gray, and shadow detail is often obscured and lost in black crush. Although the video quality is not what it could be if 35mm prints had been used, the image is not terrible, even if it is not "terrific" either, to borrow one of Mundy’s catchphrases. Colors tend to be fairly muted, but I remember the series having this appearance when I used to see it in syndication. The video quality might have been a little better but it could have been much worse as well. To put the video quality in perspective, I have seen many TV series from the 1970s and 1980s that do not look as good on DVD as does It Takes A Thief.



The episodes appear to be complete and uncut in their original network format. The average runtime per episode is in the 50 to 51 minute range, which is consistent with an hour-length show from that era without commercials. Syndicated episodes have footage trimmed down to a running length closer to 46 minutes. I was not fortunate enough to see these episodes in their original network run but nothing has been cut as far as I can determine. The closing credits of each episode even include the original Universal logo from the late 1960s, and many of the third season episodes include a promo at the beginning that It Takes A Thief is presented "In Color." I believe that the pilot episode "The Magnificent Thief" was transferred from a PAL source since the running time of 65 minutes is slightly shorter than it ought to be even without commercials, and the audio seems to run at a slightly higher pitch than the remaining episodes. It is worth noting that the extended version of the pilot episode seems to run for the correct time and at the correct audio pitch, leading me to believe that this extended version was transferred from NTSC masters.



Audio



The English Dolby Digital mono tracks are fine, given the age of this series. Dynamic range may be lacking compared to a modern TV series, but certainly no worse than any other series of the late 1960s. Dialogue is rarely if ever rendered incomprehensible by music and sound effects and volume level is appropriate and does not require any artificial boosting.



Special Features



The special features include all of the following:



Extended Feature Length Version of pilot episode "The Magnificent Thief"(1:39:23): This extended version includes additional scenes shot on location at Expo 67 with Robert Wagner and Senta Berger. This version was released theatrically to help the producers recoup their expenses in the event that the series had not been picked up by a network.



The King of Thieves: Interview With Robert Wagner(29:48): The star of It Takes A Thief appears in this recent interesting and informative interview done specially for this release.



A Matter of Larceny: Interview With Glen A. Larson(28:27): Series writer Glen Larson later created Switch for Wagner, and discusses his work on It Takes A Thief in this interview done specially for this release.



A nicely designed booklet is included with photographs from the series and an overview of the series by writer Dan Brierly.



A set of 4 different colorful drink coasters is also included as well as a numbered senitype with a 35mm film frame of Robert Wagner in his role as Alexander Mundy.


The packaging of this set may be considered a special feature considering its unique design. The packaging resembles a miniature hat box with a removable lid. The box is very attractively designed but a little on the flimsy side, like some hat boxes. Each of the 3 seasons of the series comes in a separate set of fold-out sleeves with each disc in a separate compartment of its sleeve. A listing of each episode title, synopsis, and original date is included on the face of each compartment corresponding to the disc stored therein. The fold-out sleeves are designed to sit flat, one on top of the other, at the bottom of the "hatbox." Complete series sets that include episode listings and original airdates are more desireable and accessible for fans who want to locate a specific episode. The fold-out sleeves are not the best form of storage for discs, however. Care must be taken in removing and inserting the discs from the sleeves, since the discs may be prone to scratching even with proper precaution.



Conclusion



It Takes A Thief is a fun and entertaining mash-up of the heist and spy genres, like Mission: Impossible, although this series is a little more tongue-in-cheek. The video and audio presentation are adequate but not exceptional. The special features with new interviews from Robert Wagner and Glen Larson are worth watching and the inclusion of the feature-length version of the pilot episode is very welcome. If you enjoy 1960s TV spy series, you could do a lot worse than to watch Robert Wagner in one of his signature roles in It Takes A Thief.
 

JohnHopper

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I just read your review and I can't believe it. Are you aware that you are promoting the worst DVD release of 2011 in terms of quality and care? Are you biased, blinded, on a payroll or unable to distinguish between quality and trash? This release is a disgrace. None of the prints are restored and it shows and Universal provides garbage prints with scratches and dirt to E1. Worst, some boxsets are reported to have missing discs or blank discs. Amazon refuse to send replacements for that lowdown boxset. FINAL JUDGEMENT: rent it!
 

Jack P

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Excuse me, but I was one of those Amazon customers who had a situation where I was missing a disc, and they sent me a replacement set in 24 hours. Also, while the overall quality is not up to snuff with top of the line releases, it's certainly better than the quality of 16mm prints I take for granted in Timeless releases (and I will add that I doubt these are 16mm prints; they look like tape masters from the early 80s). To call this "garbage" is ridiculous.
 

Doug^Ch

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I agree with the reviewer 100%. I feel that this was a fine release, and I feel sorry for anyone who feels otherwise. I have been very pleased with everything that I have seen so far.
 

Neil Brock

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Is it a great, CBS quality (minus all of their cuts) release? No. But its the best we're going to get. The fact is, Universal doesn't remaster too many of their shows from the 50s, 60s or 70s. Maybe they would for themselves, if they felt it was worth their while. For instance, The Virginians look great but that was because they sold it to Encore and Encore footed the bill. The last season of the show, The Men From Shiloh, wasn't sold in the deal and so Timeless' release is from decades old 16mm transfers and cut besides. Anyway, E1 did the best the could under the circumstances. And the only way to get something done on 35mm from Universal is to pay their outrageous transfer costs. I doubt E1 was going to shell out close to a half million dollars for that, not if they wanted to stay in business. Bottom line is, this is the best quality you'll ever see on this series unless Universal is able to sell it to a major national cable service that will pay for a remastering.
 

66KIMBLE

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Neil Brock said:
Is it a great, CBS quality (minus all of their cuts) release? No. But its the best we're going to get. The fact is, Universal doesn't remaster too many of their shows from the 50s, 60s or 70s. Bottom line is, this is the best quality you'll ever see on this series unless Universal is able to sell it to a major national cable service that will pay for a remastering.
It's presently seen on Antenna TV in NYC which may be seen nationally on Tribune owned stations on Saturday evenings. Perhaps you can judge from there.
 

Neil Brock

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Antenna TV, ME-TV, RTV are all kind of bargain basement networks. They aren't true national cable networks in 100 million homes but are more like content providers for station's extra digital channels. They don't have the revenue base to pay for any remastering.
 

66KIMBLE

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Neil Brock said:
Antenna TV, ME-TV, RTV are all kind of bargain basement networks. They aren't true national cable networks in 100 million homes but are more like content providers for station's extra digital channels. They don't have the revenue base to pay for any remastering.
I see what you mean. Just a thought.
 

Wvtvguy

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I was looking for some new old shows to buy and thought I’d give this a look. I think I saw a good at Amazon for only $469.00.

Say what? ?? Guess I’ll have to pass on this one.
 
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bmasters9

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I was looking for some new old shows to buy and thought I’d give this a look. I think I saw a good at Amazon for only $469.00.

Say what? ?? Guess I’ll have to pass on this one.
For now, I'll have to do likewise on that Mill Creek Hunter all-in-one-- $170 is still too high for me.
 
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albert_m2

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It was odd that this show was licensed to the company who released it (hadn't heard of them prior to the release and don't even know if they are still around). I'm glad I picked up the series at the time, but it deserves to be in print. Maybe Mill Creek?
 

GMBurns

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I'm glad I purchased the It Takes a Thief set when it first came out. The packaging was weird and the prints aren't great, but it's a fun series and I have enjoyed the 60's nostalgia.

E-One has only ever released a few things, but they are shows I have loved having in my collection. The Baron, Ellery Queen and Cimmaron Strip have been great fun as well.
 
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Lecagr

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I bought the It Takes A Thief DVD set about two years ago after it already had gone out of print, found a used set in very good condition on ebay. Episodes are uncut and have the "Universal City" bumpers after the closing credits. Malachi Throne is missed in the 3rd season but the season 3 episodes are still fun and entertaining. One episode I really enjoy is "A Very Warm Reception" from the 1st season, this has become one of my favorite episodes.

Another thing about these It Takes A Thief episodes, when I watch episodes it seems to me there are moments when Robert Wagner bears a strong resemblance to Bob Costas from NBC Sports. :laugh:
 
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ScottRE

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Didn't I read somewhere that the 35mm masters were destroyed in the Universal fire and these prints were all that were left? I just pulled this set out last night for the first time in years and the prints are fine for what we have. They actually look marginally beter than TIme Life's Six Million Dollar Man set. I don't mnd prints that show their age, really. As long as they're watchable and complete, it's almost like watching them back in the day when local stations would run 16mm prints over crummy signals.
 

DeWilson

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Didn't I read somewhere that the 35mm masters were destroyed in the Universal fire and these prints were all that were left? I just pulled this set out last night for the first time in years and the prints are fine for what we have. They actually look marginally beter than TIme Life's Six Million Dollar Man set. I don't mnd prints that show their age, really. As long as they're watchable and complete, it's almost like watching them back in the day when local stations would run 16mm prints over crummy signals.

Here we go with the vault fire myth again! Here's the full, real story.

The Vault that went up in flames was a "working" vault where the syndication (Edited and unedited) broadcast tape transfers, some shot on tape shows,and 35mm prints for theatrical re-release were stored. NOTHING from Universal was lost except some shot-on-tape shows that have mostly (but not all) been recovered from other archives,vaults,storage,overseas,etc. (As for Universal Music Group holdings, that's another story completely)

All the original 35mm elements are safe and sound on all the Universal/MCA/Revue Shows in their master storage vaults - the reason some shows have not turned up is simply because the studio does not want to spend the money to transfer series unless they can recoup costs. Look how long it took LARAMIE to turn up with new prints, because it was sold to one of the cable Western Channels. COZI-TV ran heavily edited, but new transfers on a select number of NAME OF THE GAME (including at least one episode that ENCORE MYSTERY didn't run in the 1990's) and RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (including a couple of episodes RTV didn't run)

Universal did discover at least one bonded vault, perhaps more, with 16mm prints when they archived their holdings after the fire. There of course were also syndication prints in circulation at the time of the fire that didn't need to be replaced because they were already out there being used by broadcasters and cable casters.

As this was a release licensed out by a small label and not from Universal Home Video, It was too cost prohibitive for uncut transfers to be made for IT TAKES A THIEF from the 35mm elements, so they used what they could access affordably - thus the prints used in this set. The same thing (except one episode that was transfered) with the release of THE MEN FROM SHILOH. (Also a licensed release) 16mm and older transfers were used, except for that one episode.

TIMELESS also took the cheap way out - rather than pay high costs for transfers from the 35mm masters, they rounded up from collectors and film dealers 16mm prints of several Revue/MCA-TV Shows that had been out of syndication and circulation (officially) for years - I personally know the film dealer where they got 100's of episodes from - all ironically from cleaned out bonded vaults in the 1980's and early 1990's. You can thank this source for the bulk of the Soldiers of Fortune, and State Troopers as well as episodes of Riverboat, Checkmate,Arrest & Trial, M-Squad and several others on those releases.
 
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Lecagr

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Well, I didn't present it as fact, only that I read it. But thank you for clearing that up, it's a relief.

I still don't mind the prints. :)
The DVD set of It Takes A Thief is very good, it's become one of my favorite DVD sets. It's a fun series, episodes are uncut and the audio level is crisp and clear. Some DVD sets have a problem with the audio level being too low and the sound is soft and muffled. This is not a problem with It Takes A Thief.
 

Rick Thompson

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Thanks for the word on the set's packaging. I was considering buying the set, but will wait till such time as they put in standard packages. Bulky and flimsy space consumers are something I don't need.
 
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JoeDoakes

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Thanks for the word on the set's packaging. I was considering buying the set, but will wait till such time as they put in standard packages. Bulky and flimsy space consumers are something I don't need.
It's oop and that's never going to happen. If you can find the set, there are more practical cases you can easily buy that will hold the discs if that's what you want.
 

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