The Thief

  • 1952
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Spy

An unusual if not altogether successful film with a gimmick: none of the characters speak. Milland, an American nuclear physicist working for the Atomic Energy Commission, is persuaded by enemy agents to steal secrets and pass them to the Russians. He narrowly escapes being caught as he photographs documents one day, but his luck ends when one of the links...read more

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An unusual if not altogether successful film with a gimmick: none of the characters speak. Milland, an American nuclear physicist working for the Atomic Energy Commission, is persuaded by enemy agents to steal secrets and pass them to the Russians. He narrowly escapes being caught as he

photographs documents one day, but his luck ends when one of the links in the chain of spies transferring the microfilm out of the country is killed and a roll of film is found in his hand. The FBI starts to investigate everyone at the AEC as a routine measure and the spy ring sends a telegram to

Milland telling him to get out and leave the country. The FBI traces the telegram and discovers it came from a false name and address. Milland flees to New York and proceeds to Grand Central Station, where he picks up a suitcase from a locker along with a set of instructions telling him to go to a

cheap rooming house in a bad part of town. There he receives instructions to meet a woman atop the Empire State Building to receive his false passport and tickets. He is tailed to this rendezvous by an FBI agent, and when the agent starts up a ladder at the top of the building to come after

Milland, the aspiring defector steps on the agent's hand and causes him to fall to the sidewalk and his death. When Milland leaves the building he has to pass by the body and is obviously rattled by the sight. In his shabby room that night he cries. Later, as he goes to the ship that will spirit

him to safety, he stops and discards his false papers and waits outside FBI headquarters to turn himself in. The film ends confined by its own conceit, that of telling the whole story without dialog. While the effect is startling in the early stages, it bogs down in the middle as events happen,

but no one can speak to explain their motivations. What turns Milland into a traitor? The audience never finds out. The film does work on a number of levels, though, as a thriller, as a bleak film noir with a protagonist caught up in events he'd never have dreamed would happen when he made his

first step into the netherworld of espionage, and as a fascinating exercise in nonverbal storytelling rarely seen since the advent of the talkie. Milland is very good and occasionally magnificent, especially when he breaks down after killing the FBI agent. Gam, in her film debut as Milland's

seductive neighbor at the boarding house, is also memorable. The technical aspects are superb, especially the somber photography and the almost documentary style of direction. One of the best spy films to come out of the Red scare of the early 1950s. Oscar nominated for Best Score.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: An unusual if not altogether successful film with a gimmick: none of the characters speak. Milland, an American nuclear physicist working for the Atomic Energy Commission, is persuaded by enemy agents to steal secrets and pass them to the Russians. He narr… (more)

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